Roberto Merhi returned Manor Motorsport to the F3 Euroseries podium during the penultimate meeting of 2009 at Dijon-Prenois in France, thereby bringing to an end a barren run stretching back more than two months.
The 18-year-old, who had three other rostrum finishes under his belt prior to the weekend, raced to both his and his Dinnington-based team's first points finish since the Oschersleben event back at the beginning of August in Saturday's opening race. He subsequently converted a fourth-place grid start for the second encounter into a podium finish on Sunday.
Moving him back up the championship table into seventh spot on 36 points, Merhi is now just three points away from the coveted top six in his maiden campaign in the world's most competitive F3 series, and his weekend tally of eight points has consolidated Manor's top four placing in the teams' table to boot.
South American driver Pedro Enrique enjoyed a strong drive in the opening encounter, round 17, as he carved his way through the order from the back of the grid to a highly creditable 15th place. Sadly, his round 18 efforts were dealt a blow after being handed a time penalty for speeding in the pit-lane.
“It's been a long time since we were last in the points and on the podium – a couple of months for sure – so we're absolutely delighted to be back where we should be”, commented Manor Motorsport team owner John Booth. “Roberto's races this weekend have been fantastic, and Pedro has produced two very good performances as well – it's been a pleasing weekend for everyone.”
Lining up eleventh on the grid for the opening race, Merhi made an outstanding start and gained several places immediately as he climbed into the top six. The Spaniard then moved into fifth when Valtteri Bottas had to serve a drive-through penalty for a jump-start, and went on to finish almost four seconds ahead of his closest pursuer with a fastest lap time just three tenths of a second shy of the best of the race.
Sunday's 18th round began with Merhi lining up on the second row of the grid, and he raced very strongly indeed to take his fourth podium of the season in an outing that began with a multi-car collision and subsequent re-start. Enrique's 30-second penalty came as a result of a pit-lane speeding infringement following a spin, and he was classified a lap down in 14th position at the close.
“Hopefully at the final event in a couple of weeks we can end the championship with a win”, added Booth. “We're hungry to be back on the top step of the podium; it's been a long time, and the team deserves a win for all the hard work they've put in once again this year. Roberto deserves it too – his pace has been outstanding and his racecraft is equally impressive.
“Pedro had a very good drive on Saturday, but in the second race he unfortunately had a 30-second penalty added to his time for speeding in the pit-lane when he pitted following a spin. It was a shame for him to end an otherwise decent weekend that way. Now we're all looking forward to the season finale, which will hopefully provide us with some good results to end the championship on a high.”