ROBERTO MERHICOM

Spaniard Roberto Merhi to fill Marussia hot seat

ENGLISH Formula One team Marussia has finalised preparations for its return to the track at this week's Australian Grand Prix, signing Spaniard Roberto Merhi as its second driver.

The English-based team, which missed the final three races of last season due to financial difficulties, and was later placed in administration, received a clearance to race in Melbourne late last week.

The outfit has been taken over by British businessman Stephen Fitzpatrick.

A long-time Formula One fan, Fitzpatrick said he would fund the team himself, and hoped to have a budget of about $A118 million for the year, with more than half of that expected to come from prizemoney.

Merhi (pictured), who turns 24 next week, joins Brit Will Stevens as the team's drivers. The Spaniard, who started racing in the Formula Renault 2.0 class in Italy in 2007, said he was thrilled to be making his F1 debut in Melbourne.

"It is a big responsibility, but I feel ready to make this step in my career and to show that I can make an important contribution to developing a team," he said.

Meanwhile, punters have got behind local hope Daniel Ricciardo to take the chequered flag at Albert Park, betting agency Sportsbet reporting the Aussie had attracted more money than all other drivers combined to win the season-opener.

World champion Lewis Hamilton was still the favourite at $2.10, ahead of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg ($3) and Ricciardo ($15).

- APN SPORTS BUREAU



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