Merhi launches Formula Renault 3.5 title bid with standout Nurburgring weekend

Roberto Mehri

Roberto Merhi reignited the Formula Renault 3.5 title battle with a standout performance at the Nurburgring.

Zeta Corse driver Merhi was second to points leader Carlos Sainz Jr. (DAMS) in race one, then won from pole in the second outing as his rival tangled with Oliver Rowland (Fortec).

And, following his maiden series victory last time out in Russia, Merhi has now finished first or second in the past three races to claw back Sainz’s advantage to 39 points.

Race one belonged to Sainz, who had started from pole after a late qualifying lap put his just 0.025 seconds ahead of Rowland.

Sainz led away at the start and after some early pressure had soon built a comfortable gap over the Brit. He was made to work for his win, however, with a late rain shower making for treacherous going. He hung on, eventually taking the chequered flag four seconds clear.

Behind him Merhi made the most of the conditions, first passing Sergey Sirotkin (Fortec) and then Rowland to claim runner-up spot. The Russian also overhauled his team-mate for third, while the Brit hung to fourth. Marlo Stockinger (Lotus) and Matias Laine (Strakka) were next across the line, while Oscar Tunjo (Pons) - who only debuted at the series’ Spa round - was an impressive eighth.

Merhi went on to claim race two victory. And, just like Sainz, he did so from pole after comfortably beating the eye-catching Tunjo by over three tenths of a second.

Come the start, Merhi led into turn one while behind him chaos ensued. Tunjo made contact with Rowland, who in turn hit Sainz. All three were eliminated, with Sainz beached in the gravel and Rowland limping back to the pits. A second incident accounted for Beitske Visser (AV Formula), Meindert van Buuren (Pons) and Laine, bringing out the safety car.

At the restart Merhi and Mattieu Vaxiviere (Lotus) pulled away from the field. It was a brilliant performance from the Frenchman, who has been absent for almost two months with a back injury, as he shadowed Merhi all the way to the flag. In the end, however, he had to be satisfied with second to the Spaniard.

Vaxiviere’s Lotus team-mate Marlon Stockinger was third, with Sirotkin fourth. Meanwhile title challenger Pierre Gasly (Arden) recovered to eighth having qualified a dismal 21st.

The Nurburgring weekend leaves Sainz on 157 points with Merhi now second on 118. Gasly has 103, while Rowland is a distant 61 points shy of top spot.

The series has three race weekends to run, the next at the Hungaroring on September 13/14.