At first, it was strange to see the name “Roberto Merhi” on the entry list for Formula Renault 3.5 pre-season test.
Had the Spaniard not parted ways with the HWA Mercedes DTM team after last season, Merhi’s presence could easily have been explained by his new Zeta Corse team wanting an experienced head during the test.
It would not be an unknown. Indeed FR3.5 veteran Marco Sørensen had spent time testing with the Signature-Renault F3 project only the week prior; however that theory is smashed by his lack of FR3.5 seat-time.
Thinking for a moment, Merhi’s considers his return to single-seaters. ‘It’s different, but not very different. The main difference is that it’s a big car – my maximum before had been Formula 3 and GP3.’
A comeback of sorts for Merhi? Maybe. A kid? At 23- years-of-age, he certainly is not, but the Castellón de la Plana native is in a position to use his racing knowledge to help shape the direction of the team.
Yet, pre-season preparation was still not what Merhi would call ideal, especially when one considers the number of circuits on the calendar with reasonably mid-to-high downforce corners. ‘At Motorland [during the pre-season test], it was difficult to find the limit, because there are not many fast corners, so we don’t really know the limit of the downforce in the fast corners.’
In reality, Merhi emerged from his DTM experience a wiser, if slightly damaged figure and for the Spaniard – who later signed with the Zeta Corse squad – the FR3.5 Series may just be what he needs to rebuild his reputation.
Let’s not forget that Merhi was, in 2011, the Formula 3 Euro Series champion. Such titles are not won with ease, but even still, it is a step up, as Merhi freely admits. ‘The big cars are a bit different, because in the race you need to be more [consistent] and save more of the rear tyres.’
But when Zeta Corse is referred to as a “new team”, one must look beyond the fact that they only entered FR3.5 at the beginning of the 2013 season. After securing some solid results in their début year, there has been something of an overhaul in the engineering department and very few of the original contingent remain, as the 23-year-old explains: ‘We […] have new people in the team; they have changed everybody in the team – there’s just one engineer who stayed, so we are learning, which is normal. At the moment, because of me and the team, we are a bit behind. At the moment, we are trying to find the limit of the car.’
Upon the opener, Merhi scored a podium – 2nd only to title contender Will Stevens – before taking a 9th place finish on Sunday. Not bad for a so-called first timer, but one can’t help but think there is more to come from Zeta Corse’s new star. Indeed the Spaniard is well aware of the need to improve in various areas. ‘There were a few mistakes and I need to work on that and there is so much more grip in the corners than the DTM, so you use a lot of downforce. In the end, the balance of the car was good, not perfect, but the best we have had, so I could push a bit harder.’
If anything, when he gets into his groove, this more determined Roberto Merhi may be an incredibly potent force. Whether the all-new Zeta Corse team can maintain the pace over the course of the season is unanswered.
There was some clear disappointment in Beitske Visser’s expression following the opening weekend of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series at Monza.
Making her début in the category, the 19-year-old spent the weekend lingering around the lower half of the field, eventually registering a DNF and a 17th place finish.
While not necessarily the desired result for Visser, it was not completely unexpected when one considers her journey to the category.
This graduation was never going to be easy – nor should it have been, for the Dutch teenager to make the huge jump from ADAC Formula Master. Skipping Formula 3, Formula Renault 2.0 and the GP3 Series was always going to be an extremely difficult job and in this, Visser handled her task admirably.
In the AVF machine, she was the slowest in the speed traps during pre-race sessions and at Monza – too much drag and too little top end speed on such a fast circuit is something that will only destroy a weekend.
But Monza is unique. The real test of team and driver make up will begin at Motorland Aragon in two weeks time.
Although the layout of the Spanish circuit contains what can be classed as a more “traditional” configuration, it does hold some of its own individual facets; admittedly not so extreme as to compare with Monza.
Whether Visser and AVF can adapt to those normalised aspects and twisting oddities remains to be seen, but it is clear that there is a lot of work still to be done.
And it is in that work ethic that Visser’s speed and confidence will be either won or lost. This is where the little things count and without them, the bigger picture will always remain out of focus.
Red Bull junior driver Carlos Sainz Jr took a dominant Formula Renault 3.5 victory at Monza this afternoon.
From pole, the Spaniard shot into an unassailable lead, managing to increase his gap over runner-up Marlon Stockinger in all but two of the 27 tours.
Fortec Motorsport’s Sergey Sirotkin made a fantastic start from 6th place to come home 3rd, securing his first podium of the season.
While stellar drives by the top three, the victory was never in doubt. At times, Sainz Jr made the task look easy, as he amassed a 10.8s lead over the course of the race.
Off the line, the 19-year-old looked assured as he made an unflustered start, easing his way through the Rettifilo chicane, while Stockinger fought off a charging Sirotkin and Luca Ghiotto.
Ahead of Sirotkin and Ghiotto was a slow starting Will Buller, followed Jazeman Jaafar who was forced to take to the run off area rather than navigate the Rettifilo.
Safe out in front, Sainz Jr took great care of his machinery to build a careful gap over his battling rivals. After only four laps, the DAMS racer was already 3.3s ahead and drawing further away with almost every tour.
Come the one-third mark, Sainz Jr had added just over one second to his lead and by lap 18; he was 6.2s down the road from Stockinger. Despite his already dominant lead, Sainz Jr kept his foot down and extended the gap to the field to take a win that many felt he could have had yesterday.
Stockinger did much to hold Sirotkin at bay; however as the Russian continued to push his Lotus rival hard, his pace began to falter slightly in the closing stages.
While Sirotkin remained reasonably close, the immediate pressure had been released from Stockinger’s shoulders, allowing the Filipino to assume a safe[r] 2nd ahead of the Fortec. With no threat from Sirotkin’s rear and no sign of mistakes in the offing, the podium was certain long before the end.
Ghiotto took top rookie honours in race two, thanks mostly to a fantastic start. The Spaniard launched away from 8th on the grid to 4th by turn one, while fellow rookie Pierre Gasly made an equally good start to jump from 9th to 5th.
The pair would not be separated by much for the duration of the event; however Gasly rarely appeared close enough to seriously press Ghiotto for position.
Next was the hard charging Nikolay Martsenko. From 12th place, the wily Russian picked up one spot from the line, before taking Zoel Amberg on lap two.
Thereafter, Martsenko found himself playing a rearguard attack formation behind a feisty Buller / Will Stevens battle.
Where Buller and Stevens pressed and pushed hard, Martsenko preferred to bide his time, with the Comtec Racing man taking both drivers as they fought over 8th and 9th.
Martsenko reeled Pietro Fantin in, eventually forcing his way into 7th position on lap 21, before doing the exact same to Jazeman Jaafar four laps later. Jaafar and Fantin would settle for 7th and 8th respectively.
Meanwhile, the Buller / Stevens battle would come to an end three laps later, when Stevens’ move around the outside of the Rettifilo failed, as Buller refused to give up ground.
Stuck in the gravel on the outside of the chicane, Stevens was out on the spot, while a damaged Buller spent the next few laps falling backward…
Roberto Merhi added a 9th place to his podium finish from yesterday, while Oliver Rowland drove excellently to charge his way to 10th spot and a point after being as low as 20th after lap one.
Sainz Jr leaves the opening round of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series as joint-leader in the points standings. With a win each, Sainz Jr and Stevens both sit on 25 points, while Gasly also enjoys 25 points, albeit without a victory.
The next round is at a very different track in North Eastern Spain in two weeks time, as the World Series by Renault package débuts for 2014 at the Motorland Aragon circuit.
Formula Renault 3.5 (Rd 1, Race 2, Monza) Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Carlos Sainz Jr DAMS 43:10.774s (27 laps) 2. Marlon Stockinger Lotus +10.835s 3. Sergey Sirotkin Fortec +12.524s 4. Luca Ghiotto Draco +19.137s 5. Pierre Gasly Arden +20.178s 6. Jazeman Jaafar ISR +28.477s 7. Nikolay Martsenko Comtec Racing +30.014s 8. Pietro Fantin Draco +33.845s 9. Robert Merhi Zeta Corse +36.393s 10. Oliver Rowland Fortec +36.959s 11. Norman Nato DAMS +41.465s 12. Matias Laine Strakka +53.086s 13. Zoel Amberg AV Formula +54.792s 14. Oliver Webb Zeta Corse +59.383s 15. Roman Mavlanov Zeta Corse +1m20.362s 16. Matthieu Vaxiviere Lotus +1m22.067s 17. Beitske Visser AV Formula +1m29.307s Retirements: William Buller Arden +11 laps Will Stevens Strakka +17 laps Marco Sorensen Tech 1 +18 laps Meindert van Buuren Pons Racing +20 laps
Josef Kaufmann Racing’s Kevin Jörg grabbed his first ever racecar victory in style this morning.
Jörg led the 14-lap distance, maintaining a reasonable gap ahead if Louis Deletraz and Steijn Schothorst.
The Swiss racer held a fearsome Deletraz off on the approach to the Rettifilo chicane on the opening, while Schothorst sat under Deletraz’ wing in the hope of following through.
Jörg, however, held steady and maintained a nose of a lead as the tight chicane unfolded, eventually pulling out a gap of six-tenths come the end of the opening tour. The gap bobble in and around half-a-second for several laps, until Jörg began to break away from Deletraz after five laps.
For Deletraz, the pressure was been felt from behind. Unable to filter through on the opening tour, Schothorst clung to the rear of Deletraz and refused to let go for several laps, pushing his Swiss rival to the limit.
Deletraz finally broke Schothorst in the second half of the race thanks to a series of circulations in the 1’49s margin, while Schothorst held steady in the 1’50s throughout the race.
As the race reached its final stages, Deletraz had lost a further two seconds to Jörg, ensuring the 18-year-old would finally claim his first success after 66 attempts.
For Deletraz and Schothorst, the pairing added to their solid results from yesterday, giving Deletraz 54 points and a ten-point advantage over Jörg going into the next round at Silverstone.
A stellar start and some mid-pack madness helped give Ben Barnicoat a respectable 4th place. The Briton started 13th in his Fortec machine, only for Barnicoat to emerge from the opening tour in 6th following chaotic scenes.
From there, Barnicoat took Andrea Pizzitola (lap 2) and Alexander Albon, the latter of whom pitted on lap 9.
Pizzitola followed home in 5th position, ahead of Raoul Owens (6th), Mathew Graham (7th), Seb Morris (8th), Gregor Ramsey (9th) and Josef Zaruba (10th).
Ukyo Sasahara removed himself from the action with a silly accident at the Ascari chicane on the opening lap.
2014 Formula Renault 2.0 NEC (Rd 1, Race 2, Monza) Pos Driver Team Time / Gap 1. Kevin Jörg Josef Kaufmann 25:47.306s (14 laps) 2. Louis Deletraz Josef Kaufmann +3.528s 3. Steijn Schothorst Manor MP +4.379s 4. Ben Barnicoat Fortec +12.144s 5. Andrea Pizzitola Manor MP +12.445s
The calm before the storm. Just a little moment of silence to block out the pre-race noise.
Luca Ghiotto is not alone in using this method to clear thoughts before a race; to picture the story unfolding.
With this being his Formula Renault 3.5 début at the historic Monza circuit, the Spaniard was hoping to make his name stick out somewhat.
Having qualified in 3rd place earlier in the day, part of that job was already done. Unfortunately for Ghiotto, this story would not develop how he wished.
A slow stalling start, followed by a lengthy pitstop to understand these difficulties left Ghiotto more than a lap adrift.
Hopes cut to ribbons, the Draco Racing man continued to circulate around, using what was left of the race as a sort of test session.
Today though, it will be another qualifying session and another race. There is little doubt that Ghiotto will push hard as he seeks to claw something back from this weekend and that could make him a very dangerous prospect indeed.
Caterham development driver and Strakka Racing man Will Stevens took a controlled opening Formula Renault 3.5 race of the season, while chaos reigned around him.
Series debutantes Roberto Merhi (Zeta Corse) and Pierre Gasly (Arden) filled out the podium respectively.
The Briton benefitted even before the race when poleman Carlos Sainz Jr failed to get away from the dummy grid thanks to an electrical issue, effecting the gearbox.
With two of his protagonists cleared, Stevens stormed passed the slow starting Will Buller and Luca Ghiotto take a stunning lead ahead of Merhi and Gasly. Stevens instantly began to pull out a gap ahead of his rivals, but this was annulled when the safety car was called at the start of lap two.
In a battle over 7th and 8th, Marco Sorensen exited the Parabolica alongside Jazeman Jaafar on the start / finish straight, with the former moving over Jaafar, pitching the Malaysian into the outer wall.
Meanwhile Sorensen flipped violently and slid along his roll hoop bar, before hitting the pitwall hard, spraying debris across the circuit. Thankfully both emerged unscathed. The stewards would later give Sorensen a five-place grid penalty for tomorrow’s race.
When the race went back to green on lap five, Stevens disappeared from the fight; the gap growing each time around. By lap ten, it was 2.7s; lap 15, it was 3.7s; then 5.7s on lap 20. The only time the Strakka Racing man appeared to ease up was on the final lap, by which point, the field had long since been defeated.
It was a perfect start for Stevens. “It’s a great result for me and the team. It’s been a long time coming and is a great way to start the year. It’s a lot different to where we were last year.”
After what was a tricky 2013 season at times, the Briton was keen to showcase one of the areas where he improved the most. “The start was mega. I had been working really hard over the winter on my starts. After the safety car, I pushed to build a gap, but then had to maintain it.”
Merhi, meanwhile, was far busier for a time. Returning to single-seaters for the first time since 2011, the Spaniard had to work hard to keep ahead of the aggressive Gasly; however once composure was gained, Merhi drew away while Gasly came under increasing pressure from Nikolay Martsenko.
With the Gasly / Martsenko fight hotting up, Merhi made a five-second gap to solidify 2nd spot, wrapping up a successful debut with the Zeta Corse team. “I had a perfect start, but the two guys in front had a bad one,” noted a cheerful Merhi. “After the safety car, I made a few mistakes and locked the front tyres, but the race was quite good.”
Gasly came under increasing pressure from Martsenko, with the pairing coming side-to-side through the Rettifilo chicane on lap 14; however the Russian made it stick one lap later to move passed Gasly, only for the Frenchman to take it back when Martsenko ran off track at the second Lesmo half-a-lap later.
The dirt on Martsenko’s tyres quickly destroyed his pace, allowing Buller to catch the Russian in the final tours. Buller’s poor start had dropped him to 9th place, but he pulled a few back following the Sorensen / Jaafar incident and another one when Ghiotto pitted.
A move on Roman Mavlanov on lap 11 gave Buller the space and time to attack Martsenko, with the Northern Irishman taking 4th from Martsenko on the final lap.
Oliver Rowland rescued 6th for Fortec after winning a long battle with Marlon Stockinger, while Rowland’s Fortec teammate Sergey Sirotkin did enough to take 8th. Zoel Amberg finished 9th for AVF and Meindert van Buuren closed out the top ten for Pons Racing.
Louis Deletraz grabbed the first Formula Renault NEC 2.0 win of the season at Monza this afternoon.
Ukyo Sasahara took 2nd place after he won a mid-race battle with Andrea Pizzitola, who would eventually complete the podium.
The Swiss racer led from start and refused to give up the front thereafter, during which he built up a respectable lead of 3.4s.
From there, Deletraz eased off somewhat, allowing Sasahara to get within one second of the lead, but such was Deletraz’ command, his position at the front was never in doubt.
Where Deletraz made it appear almost easy, for Sasahara, the opposite was true. The Japanese racer bogged down slightly off the line, gifting Pizzitola 2nd spot into the Rettifilo chicane. Sasahara pressed Pizzitola for several laps, with the Euronova racer eventually pushing through on lap four.
In his attempted fight back, Pizzitola ran wide at the Lesmo, and was punished by a tentative Liam Amweg. The Swiss Amweg could not hold the position though and Pizzitola retook the 3rd spot on lap six, holding the place thereafter.
Dislodged from his podium spot, Amweg faced a rearguard action from Steijn Schothorst until the flag, but held the Dutch racer at bay. Alexander Albon claimed 6th from Stefan Riener, when the latter retired from action on lap ten – an end that also promoted Kevin Joerg (7th), Raoul Owens (8th), Ben Barnicoat (9th) and Gregor Ramsey (10th).
There were a number of minor incidents on the opening lap, result in a few cars spun around, while Philip Morin crashed his Manor MP entry at the Lesmo during the tenth lap.
2014 Formula Renault 2.0 NEC (Rd 1, Race 1, Monza) Pos Driver Team Time / Gap 1. Louise Deletraz Josef Kaufmann Racing 25:57.545s (14 laps) 2. Ukyo Sasahara Euronova +0.822 3. Andrea Pizzitola Manor MP +3.568 4. Levin Amweg ART Junior Team +4.946 5. Steijn Schothorst Manor MP +5.780
There are plenty of ghosts that line the font stretch of the Goodwood Circuit in Chichester.
Famous names like Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Mike Hawthorn – all long since lost to this world – have raced here.
Goodwood is also the circuit where Sir Stirling Moss’ career ended in the shredded wreckage that was his Lotus-Climax machine during the 1962 Glover Trophy. Moss would never race top-class professional again.
As speeds increased, so too did the risk and Goodwood, now becoming like a pre-war relic, discontinued its racing activities in 1966.
A majestic layout indeed, but one that belonged to a different era.
It would take 32 years and the forcefulness of Lord March to bring the roar of engines back to Goodwood, albeit historics cars and contemporary sample examples, but there is little doubt that the ageing circuit has now solidified its position in the hierarchy of British motorsport.
The recent Members’ Meeting may do well to garner the attention and draw of the already existing Festival of Speed and Revival events, but any reason to visit Goodwood is good enough.