A Chat With Marcus Ericsson, IndyCar's Star Rookie Plucked Directly From Formula 1
Whether you come as a seasonal harvester or a points-scoring Formula 1 driver, America remains a land of opportunity.
After several frustrating years spent in mediocre Formula 1 cars where he couldn't strut his stuff, Marcus Ericsson found himself in a respectable Alfa Romeo Sauber last season which he used to score nine points, achieving 17th in the World Drivers' Championship, his best-ever result. Unfortunately for him, news followed shortly thereafter that he was out of a job, demoted to a reserve driver with the induction of Kimi Räikkönen from Ferrari.
Without a drive, Marcus had to ask himself some hard questions. Where are my skills needed? Where else can I race? Where do I stand a chance of winning?
Formula 1's estranged American sibling IndyCar ticked all three boxes, so Marcus set to work finding a way in. His foot in the door was the phone number of Sam Schmidt, former IndyCar driver turned founder of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The Drive spoke to Ericsson about how it all happened and where it might lead at the rebranding event where SPM declared Arrow Electronics to be its new title partner.
The Drive: How did this IndyCar drive happen? Did teams start trying to recruit you when news broke that you wouldn't drive F1 in 2019, or did you make this happen yourself?
Marcus Ericsson: "When I got the news I wasn’t going to continue in Formula 1, you know I started to look at different options, and I actually got to the contact details of Sam Schmidt. I gave him a call to see if there was an interest from the same side because it looks like a great team to be in and IndyCar was a series I was strongly considering. Straight away, there was a big interest from Sam and the team to make something happen."
TD: What does IndyCar offer you as a driver that F1 never really could?
Marcus: "I think the biggest thing is just that it's a one-spec series, where everyone has the same opportunities from the start, and that’s something that really excites me. But then, also, I think what IndyCar has—which is very unique—is that you have all types of tracks. You go to ovals, you go to street circuits, you go to road courses, so as a driver, you really need to be complete to be successful, and that's something I think which I think is quite unique to IndyCar."
TD: Speaking of street circuits, do you think your F1 experience will give you an edge on those courses once you get used to the Dallara DW12?
Marcus: "I hope so, yeah. I think you know that should be quite normal for me to get used to, and then obviously, the ovals will be a big new thing that's going to be a big challenge to get used to, but then hopefully, on the road and street courses, I'll be right up there straight away."
TD: What's the biggest difference between racing at a high level on road courses or street circuits like you always have and racing on an oval?
Marcus: "That's a good question, something I think I will have to find out throughout this year. But I think I have a great team around me, a great teammate in James, and I get to just lean on them and try and get as much help as possible from them to get up to speed. I think that will be the key for me to be successful."
TD: How does mid-race management of the Dallara work compared to your most recent Sauber F1 car?
Marcus: "It's more a driver here that makes a difference. In the Formula 1 car, you have so many tools on the steering wheel, so throughout the stint, you can change so many things, with brake balance and all these things, to really try and to help the car balance, whereas in the IndyCar you don't have that many tools, so it's more down to you as a driver to sort of adapt your driving, depending on what's happening with tires, etcetera."
TD: How does setup differ in the Dallara versus that Sauber?
Marcus: "The difference in Formula 1 is if you're missing something, then you can try and develop that, like a part or different things you can put on the car. Here, you have the car you have, and you have to work around that car, so you can only change the setup. You cannot build new parts for it, so that's the biggest difference that I have to get used to. Still, these IndyCars are very complex anyway, and you can do a lot of setup changes that make a big difference to the car's behavior, so I think there's something that I have a lot of knowledge of from Formula 1, to get a feel for the car, and know what I want to change. I think that knowledge is something I will have to use as much as I can now that I'm coming to IndyCar."
TD: How is it being put up against an experienced driver like James Hinchcliffe? Is he the kind of teammate you were hoping for?
Marcus: "I think, to be honest, he's the perfect teammate for me. He has lots of experience, but he's also a very humble and open guy, so already you know we’ve only worked a few weeks together, but he seems to very open to helping me get up to speed, and hopefully we will be able to work closer together and push the team forward and make the team successful this year."
TD: What would you say your goal for the season is?
Marcus: "I'm coming here to try and be up there, to fight for victory, so I'm not coming here to be P10 or P12. So that's the goal. But I have huge respect to the guys of been here for years and all the tracks in the series, so it's a big challenge. I set a bit of a personal goal to win a race. That would be a great thing to do, and then try and be as high as possible in the championship. But like I said, I'm not coming here to finish making up the numbers, I'm coming here to fight at the top, and that's what I'm gonna aim to do."
TD: Are there any particular races on the calendar that you’re looking forward to?
Marcus: "It's impossible to not say [the] Indy 500. I think every driver in every category in the world would want to do [the] Indy 500, so that's gonna be very very special, but I think apart from that, there are some great races like Long Beach, Laguna Seca—can't wait to get back to Austin, I love that track and city—it'll be fun. So there's a lot of cool races throughout the year that I'm really looking forward to doing."
TD: Are there any other styles of motorsport you'd like to sample while you're here in North America?
Marcus: "I mean, NASCAR is really cool, and I would love to go to a NASCAR race while I'm living over here, so that's definitely something I wanna see. I'm watching quite a bit of Supercross as well, so I'm gonna try and see some of those races as well. So, there's a lot of cool things they can do here in America."