Formula Renault 3.5 title challenger Roberto Merhi has revealed that he was close to retiring from racing altogether this year.
Following a dismal period with Mercedes in the DTM from 2012-13, the Spaniard made the bold move to return to single-seaters at the beginning of this year, joining the Zeta Corse squad in FR3.5.
However before things came good for Merhi, the former Formula 3 Euro Series champion had to suffer a tricky start and end to the season. “At the start, I was wanting to retire, because we were having problems and I thought ‘what is the point? Do I retire?’” He continues: “Then the team said ‘continue with us, try to get good results’ and I continued and got good results.”
With four races remaining, Merhi had closed the gap to eventual champions Carlos Sainz Jr to just 16 points with 100 still available.
However with the nimble the Zeta Corse machine proving a surprise package around the tighter, slower circuits, the Spaniard inevitably lost out when the set-up direction proved unco-operative on the final two quick circuits on the calendar, with Merhi eventually dropping to 3rd in the standings behind Pierre Gasly.
While disappointed with his final placing, Merhi feels a point has been made. “I [got] used to the formula car once again and I am pretty OK. My team also [did] a good job and when I ask for combinations or changes, they can do it and every time we change something, we think ‘well, this is working.’”
Despite finding himself in a championship fight, Merhi and the Zeta Corse team found comfort in a steep learning curve that leant closer to big changes in set-up, rather than incremental alterations. “Most of the time, things are working because we are going in the right direction and we quite like doing that, because it is not easy when you find something that needs work immediately. Normally it takes a while, like it does in other categories.”
Alongside his FR3.5 efforts, Merhi tested for the Caterham Formula One team in three Free Practice sessions, beginning at the Italian Grand Prix weekend in September. Merhi admits it was an opportunity he could not turn down. “After the [Hungarian Grand Prix], Caterham called me and said there was a chance to come and visit us and drive the simulator to see how I could go and they wanted to give me an opportunity to test the car in Monza.”
The Caterham team were recently placed into administration, effectively ending any immediate opportunities for further F1 tests; however the Spaniard was happy with his performances and the impression he made. “I am quite happy about the test, because I was quite competitive […] in the Formula One car and quite happy about the result.”
Asked whether any other opportunities are on the horizon, the Spaniard conceded that at the moment, “I don’t know.”