Caterham reserve driver Roberto Merhi has strengthened his case for a full-time race seat with the beleaguered F1 team by winning today’s Formula Renault 3.5 race at the Hungaroring in emphatic fashion.
The Spaniard enjoyed his first run out in a Formula 1 car in practice for the Italian Grand Prix, setting an impressive initial pace and finishing ahead of full-time driver Marcus Ericsson.
He was not able to make his grand prix debut at Monza as he had not completed the required running to obtain a super licence. However, he is thought to be in the frame to race in Singapore next weekend in place of Kamui Kobayashi.
In Hungary today, Merhi started the race from seventh place on the grid, only to catapult himself into second place by the end of lap one in damp conditions. He then enjoyed a battle with Fortec’s Oliver Rowland before passing (pictured) and pulling away. At the flag, his advantage was almost half a minute.
“We were not able to run to our potential in qualifying due to a red flag,” Merhi explained. “Happily, we made up for that at the start. There was a lot of water spray behind Oliver and I wasn’t able to see. He then made a small mistake that allowed me to get by.
“Afterwards, I was able to pull away while taking care of my tyres because this track is very demanding when it comes to tire wear, especially in drying conditions.”
Merhi’s win has also brought him back into the hunt for the Formula Renault 3.5 championship as points leader Carlos Sainz Jr. was forced to settle for fourth place after a poor qualifying result. The gap at the top now stands at 26 points with five races remaining, and both will be hoping to follow in McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen’s footsteps by lifting the championship at the end of the year.
Even if he does join Caterham in a full-time role until the end of the season, Merhi is likely to keep up his FR3.5 commitments as he looks to establish himself as a serious candidate for an F1 seat in 2015.