This Formula 1 season must feel like a copy of 2014 for Sauber. The team is now at the very bottom of the Constructors’ Championship and has yet to score a single point in 2016. The last time the outfit finished a race within the points was 10 months ago at the United States Grand Prix. F1Zone.net caught up with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson to discuss the team’s lack of performance and how this impacts his own development as a driver.
The Swedish driver is used to success, having scored victories in most of the categories he raced in before graduating to Formula 1 with Caterham in 2014. Now he needs to cope with the fact that he is racing at the back of the grid and not for points or victories. “This is Formula 1: every team builds its own car, having different budgets and resources,” he explains. “As a driver, you are coming from junior categories where you are always fighting for victories and pole positions.
“Before Formula 1 I was going into a racing weekend with the goal to win. Now I need to mentally focus a bit different. I need to look more at my own performance and analyse if I could have done something better or what is the maximum I could have achieved that day, and not focus too much on positions. I think that the mindset is something you have to learn: not get frustrated but accepting the situation. Of course I want to win races in Formula 1 as well and hopefully one day I can do that. But it’s a case of building up, taking it step-by-step and if I do a good job here then maybe in the future I will get that opportunity.”
Ericsson hasn’t scored a point since last year’s Italian Grand Prix, but believes it is still a realistic target this season as some major upgrades are been planned for the next round at Spa-Francorchamps. “We always go to a race weekend and target points. It’s been a bit tougher this year than last year but we need to keep working hard and hopefully we will get some updates that can help us compete in the points too.
“We are here and we are trying to do the best we can and we need to be here and take the opportunities when they present themselves as you never know in a race what will happen. Other people can have problems and even if we are not fast enough at the moment we can still finish in the points if we have a good race.
“They see you did a good job even if you are P15”
No driver enjoys racing at the back of the grid and that can sometimes raise frustrations, which has a negative spiraling effect. Ericsson is convinced that a strong attitude mentally can keep drivers away from trouble and enable improvements, even with the restriction his machinery.
“I am more mature now and learned as a driver how to handle these kind of things,” he said.
“We are not where we want to be as a team but this is not something that gets me frustrated. It is a bit disappointing but we know where we are and we had some hard times on the financial side which means we haven’t been able to develop the car as much as we wanted to. I feel like I’ve been performing at a very good level this year even though the car has maybe not been as good as we hoped, but I’ve been very happy with the way I drove and I need to keep on doing that.”
Despite not having the opportunity to drive a faster car and show everyone his real potential, Ericsson is not worried that racing for a team that struggles can have a bad influence on his career path. Moreover, he insists that a driver can still learn plenty of new things even if the car he drives offer him limited experiences.
“Maybe not for everyone watching you show what you can do because you’re at the back [of the grid] but I think for the people in the paddock, they know what material you have, how quick your car is so they see you did a good job even if you are P15. For me it is important to keep on doing good qualifying sessions and races and this will help me in my future career”, he explains.
“I think you can always learn and as far as I’m concerned I am very happy with the performance level that I have reached at the moment. But it can always be better and I am aiming to become better every time I drive. In Formula 1 you can never be happy and satisfied, you need to always push yourself and try to become better.”
Asked if she he still enjoys racing in these difficult conditions, Ericsson had no hesitation: “I love it.”
“We’ve been running at the back but I still had some great races, with a lot of great battles. We are fighting every weekend with Renault and Manor and sometimes other cars as well and it’s a lot of fun.”
Learning the hard way
During his first Formula 1 season with Caterham, Ericsson had to dig deep in order to drag the car higher up the grid than it deserved. As hard as it was, he admits that experience helped him develop as a driver. “Caterham was probably the last team on the grid, the car was very poor so it was a very challenging year. Coming to Formula 1 is a dream come true but you also want to show what you can do and with the car we had I couldn’t do that. For me it was difficult and I got a bit frustrated. Towards the end of the year I sort of managed to settle in and started to have some good results and do some good races.”
“I think I’ve learned a lot, especially mentally: to not give up and keep working hard. Even though it’s tough, you need to keep pushing hard and stay focused. It was mostly the mental side that I’ve learned but also how to work with the team as it is very different to the junior categories where you work with less people and in a different environment. It was not an easy year but for sure it helped me grow as a driver.”
In 2015 the Swedish driver got a much better car compared to Caterham and scored points from his first race with his new team Sauber. “Coming to Sauber, where suddenly at the beginning of the year we were in the position of scoring points, it was great.”
“Obviously it was another sort of achievement for me, so not only getting to Formula 1 but also scoring points in Formula 1. It was nice, even though at the beginning of the year I was not driving at my best level, maybe trying to prove too much what I could do and I think I over did that a bit. I was happier with the second half of the season when I was driving better, but all in one it was a good year.”