Momentum is a big word in motorsport, and right now Roberto Merhi has it. The Zeta Corse driver took his third victory of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series season in commanding style at the Hungaroring on Saturday, and then followed that up by finishing second on Sunday to put himself firmly in the fight for the championship.
Merhi was one of a number of drivers to be caught out during the Saturday morning qualifying session by the red flag, and as a result could only qualify seventh. But rain before the race gave Merhi the opportunity he needed, and in a wet-weather master class, the Spaniard quickly moved into second place, before taking the lead when Oliver Rowland made a mistake. It was a great result that saw him take thirteen points out of Carlos Sainz Jr’s championship lead.
“In qualification things did not go as we wanted, we risked leaving it late to go to the new rubber, and a red flag did not give me to set a lap that I was capable of,” said Merhi on Saturday. “To start seventh on a track where it is so difficult to overtake as this one is was a big handicap, but it rained, and that changed everything.
“I felt very comfortable then, and after starting well I put myself up to second and attacking Rowland, until he went a little wide at the end of straight line and I was able to pass him. From there I took care of the rubber, and opened up a big advantage on all my rivals. Most important is the points that I have gained over Sainz Jr and step by step we are closing in and tomorrow we will have a new opportunity to try to improve again.”
On Sunday, Merhi took his third pole position of the season, but was not able to keep the lead into the first corner as DAMS driver Norman Nato made the best start to slot into the lead from third place on the grid, but Merhi was happy to finish second as it meant he closed the gap to Sainz by a further ten points.
“It was a pain that at the start I was not been able to maintain the pole position I took in qualification, but second place is a great result especially given the results of my rivals,” said Merhi on Sunday. “I have managed to reduce the disadvantage that had been so big, and although sixteen points is still a lot I now feel that the title is down to me, something that did not seem possible after the difficulties I had at the Spa weekend.
“I am going to enjoy the success of this weekend, but only today, because tomorrow I will begin to concentrate on the Paul Ricard weekend. From now on everything will be vital, and each point will be gold. I want to thank the Zeta Corse team for all the great work they are doing.”
Merhi is now only sixteen points behind Sainz Jr in the championship, having been a mighty eighty-six points adrift after the races at Spa-Francorchamps at the beginning of June. With four races of the season remaining, the dispute over Spanish supremacy for the title is well and truly on.