SEASON-ENDING WIN JUST ELUDES UNLUCKY MERHI AT HOCKENHEIM
Leading Formula 3 Euroseries team Manor Motorsport just missed out on race victory during the final round of the campaign at Hockenheim in Germany today, Sunday, 25th October, when a drying track late-on led to the demise of rapid Spanish racer Roberto Merhi.
Looking well placed to claim his maiden F3 Euroseries race win, Merhi held a cushion of almost eight seconds in wet conditions with eight laps remaining, having started the race from fifth on the grid. As a drying line became ever more prevalent though, the 18-year-old began to suffer with the reduction in grip from his treaded tyres.
On lap 18, Merhi was passed for the lead by Finnish racer Valtteri Bottas and although a podium still looked possible, unfortunate contact with the kerbs resulted in broken suspension and a bitterly disappointing retirement just four laps from the chequered flag. He was still classified as a finisher though in 13th position.
Pedro Enrique climbed through the order well from 21st on the grid -- after retiring from Saturday's 19th round -- and on lap 12 the Brazilian sat an impressive eighth. Slipping out of the top 10 during the final third of the race, the 21-year-old concluded the 20th round in 12th place.
Merhi was on the pace from the off during pre-event practice on Friday with the second fastest time and he continued his front-running performance into qualifying where he set the fourth best lap of 1m49.974 seconds (149.730km/h) in damp conditions.
Post session though, the Spaniard was promoted to third on the grid for the opening race when Frenchman Tom Dillmann was excluded from the qualifying results completely due to a technical infringement. Further behind, Enrique was 23rd quickest and so would line-up on the last row of the grid alongside Dillmann for round 19.
Getting away from third place well, Merhi attempted to run with front-row starters Jules Bianchi and Bottas but he soon had to keep his eyes on his mirrors due to a determined effort by French racer Jean Karl Vernay to challenge for the podium.
Merhi held his rival off well during the first half of the race but six laps from the finish he slipped behind Vernay to fourth position after running wide at the Mercedes Arena. In the end, he finished just 1.4 seconds shy of the podium while Enrique was unfortunately forced to retire on lap four.
Merhi concludes his maiden season of F3 Euroseries action seventh overall in the championship, a single point outside the coveted top six, with Manor Motorsport fourth in the team standings.
While the 2009 F3 Euroseries season has now concluded, there is one event remaining on the global Formula 3 calendar -- the prestigious 56th Windsor Arch Macau F3 Grand Prix which will take place in the former Portuguese enclave over the weekend 21st/22nd November.
Manor will field three cars with Roberto Merhi set to be joined by Columbian driver Carlos Huertas and Macanese racer Michael Ho. The latter was placed fifth overall in Formula V6 Asia this year while Huertas was joint-seventh in the 2009 British Formula 3 International Series with Daisuke Nakajima, brother of former Manor F3 driver and current Formula One star Kazuki.