WATN #2 - Roberto Merhi
It's not often in the modern era of motorsport you make it to the pinnacle of motorsport and then find yourself back in the feeder series of the said ...pinnacle.
Diving back into our 'Where Are They Now' series, we discovered another Spanish driver with a fascinating career. I have vague memories of the 2015 season. I remember Nico Rosberg going on a rampage at the end of the season as Lewis Hamilton beat him to the title once again, winning 3 in a row. The last of Nico Rosberg's wins in that triple header at Abu Dhabi saw a young Spanish driver come home in 19th.
A driver that had missed the previous three Grand Prix no less. That man was Roberto Merhi bringing home his cash strapped Manor Marussia HRT Virgin Lotus Racing car. Does it matter which of those back marker teams it happened to be in the end?
Hailing from Castellon in Spain, Roberto's early career looked quite steady. While in his first few years contesting various Formula Renault or Formula 3 championships, he showed pace. He'd pick up wins or podiums here and there, racing for some of the lower Formula's more established names such as Jenzer or Hitech. By 2008, roughly two seasons into his career, he'd already finished runner up in Formula Renault 2.0. Clearly, there was pace there.
In 2009 though, having shown his talent in various Spanish and Formula Renault series, he finally made the jump to a more regional Formula 3 series. Results throughout this season were pretty average, with a few podiums in the Formula 3 Euro series being the highlight. At this point, you'd be forgiven for thinking this driver probably wouldn't be pulling up trees in anything other than a tractor.
However! There were still six or so years to go before he'd make his Formula 1 debut. After another teething season in 2010, 2011 saw his talent 'unleashed'. Having now joined the famous Prema team, he stormed the Formula 3 Euro Series winning the title by a 121 points! The boys got some pace! It's interesting to see some of the names in the field he beat, drivers in the 2011 season included Artem Markelov, Carlos Sainz, Tom Dillmann, Daniel Abt, Felix Rosenqvist and Daniel Juncadella. That field contained drivers who went onto do fantastic things in motorsport.
2011 also saw him walk the Formula 3 International Trophy, a field that also feature guest appearances from Valteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz, Kevin Magnussen and Antonio Felix da Costa!
All of his antics in 2011 though, resulted in him being made a part of the newly reformed Mercedes Benz Junior team. Mercedes at this point were two and a bit seasons into their return to F1 which has been going ...okay at best. Either way though, to receive a call up from one of motorsports historic names as a junior driver is no mean feat.
This would perhaps be the highlight of his junior career as the next couple of seasons were spent propping up the DTM field. In his first season, only himself and Susie Wolff failed to score points despite completing a full campaign. In 2013 however, with his old F3 rival Daniel Juncadella around, he somehow managed to pull out a second place finish and 26 more points than the previous seasons 0.
At this point, you'd probably be looking at his career and thinking it could go either way. So many drivers with talent often do extremely well in junior formulas, but once they're in a top level competitive field, seem to disappear. It should also be mentioned that throughout the 2012 season, as a Mercedes Junior Driver he also had Michael Schumacher as a mentor. So the fact that he ended up with zero points that season is slightly confusing.
After two seasons in DTM he found himself back in open wheel cars. In 2014, he'd contest in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship. Pre-reformation of F2 and along with the GP2 series, you could consider this now defunct championship a right of passage to Formula 1. Throughout this season he also joined Virgin Manor Marussia USF1 team as a test driver. Likely through their Mercedes links.
A third place finish in the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 championship saw him earn his first and only campaign in Formula 1. What's interesting is that despite being an F1 driver for most of the season, he still contested the 2015 Formula Renault 3.5 season in parts. Unless you are a test driver, it's very unlikely that 5 years later you'd see this happen in F1.
Whilst managing both championships, he did manage to ruin a certain Nicolas Latifi's race in Formula Renault 3.5! What's striking about his career up until now is that he's often crossed paths with a lot of drivers who make up the modern day F1 grid in some way or another.
Also, that crash would Latifi would see him banned for the next two races ...however, he would not return. Mr. Billy Big Bollocks F1 Driver or something?
The 2015 F1 season also left a lot to be desired. In a season where he tried to manage a junior championship in conjunction with a team that would probably finish last in Formula Renault, he found himself being dropped for other journeyman drivers like Alexander Rossi. The closest he got to scoring points was at the British Grand Prix, 12th place.
Unfortunately though, the machinery both Roberto and his teammate had that season were considered to be a literal sack of shit. If seven, yes seven drivers had not retired they'd have likely finished 19th and 20th as they were 3 laps down on the Mercedes at the finish line.
This would however be the peak of his motorsport career, something that once started brightly fading into obscurity.
But where is he now?
Since 2016 he's raced in various fields of top level motorsport championships. Driving the early Formula E cars and LMP2's in the WEC has pretty much been the highlight. In 2016, he was still a 'Manor driver', contesting in WEC and failing to finish the Le Mans 24 hours.
In 2017 perhaps came the biggest sidestep post his F1 career. He ended up in Formula 2. Very rarely do you find drivers who contested F1 for at least one season, ending up in F2. His 2018 campaign saw him score some podiums in F2! At Monaco he was beaten by Artem Markelov and err... Sean Gelael. His podium at Yas Marina saw him behind maybe slightly speedier drivers in Lando Norris and Antonio Fuoco.
Since 2019, he's been contesting the Asian Le Mans Series. Again here, managing a third place here or there. It's strange to see how some careers pan out in motorsport, but it does seem like he has a long career in sportscars ahead like many former F1 drivers before him.
At only 29 years of age, his career has seen him part take in many different forms of motorsport and many of the top championships drivers aim to drive in. In my view, he still has time to accomplish great things beyond his junior series achievements. Just needs the right backing as the pace is clearly there!
If he's achieved anything in his career though, it's his fantastic set of hair. 👌