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MARCH 16, 2016

Merhi says Mercedes strongest again

Although the action begins in Melbourne this weekend, Roberto Merhi is still not ruling out a role in formula one in 2016.

"It is what it is," the former Manor racer told Spanish radio Cadena Cope, referring to the team's decision to replace him for 2016.

"I am just happy I was lucky enough to have got a year in the world championship."

However, Merhi is still training hard and says he has "not ruled out" a last minute role.

It could be that he is still eyeing his old seat at Manor, with Indonesian reports suggesting rookie Rio Haryanto is trying to put together a budget to guarantee the entire season.

Haryanto's manager Piers Hunniset is quoted by the Jakarta Post: "We will find a way to have him stay through the season."

Meanwhile, when asked to comment on the start of the 2016 season, Merhi admitted he is not expecting the pecking order to have changed much over the winter.

"Realistically, I think F1 is the same as in the last two years, with Mercedes strongest," he said.

Merhi said Ferrari is next-best, although he questioned the retention of Kimi Raikkonen as Sebastian Vettel's teammate.

"I don't know what to tell you," said Merhi, referring to Raikkonen. "Today he is no longer the best driver."

A leading F1 correspondent, however, does not quite agree, even though most are assuming Raikkonen will struggle to keep his Ferrari seat for a fourth consecutive season in 2017.

"I admit that after the winter tests I changed my position a little," Michael Schmidt, a leading German journalist, wrote in a column for Turun Sanomat.

"The tests showed that Kimi seems to really like this new Ferrari. In Mercedes' analysis of the test, Raikkonen had not only the fastest individual laptimes, but he was also the best in the long runs," he added.