The news that Marcus Ericsson will race for Caterham in 2014 was greeted with a general sense of apathy, as the announcement was somewhat overshadowed by Kamui Kobayashi’s return to the sport and Robin Frijns’s presence within the team.
Kobayashi spent three seasons racing for Sauber and remains a fans favourite due to his combative approach. Dutch youngster Frijns stormed to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2012 and while his bit-part GP2 campaign was erratic, he nonetheless scored a win for a rookie team.
But Ericsson remains a talented racing driver and he returns the Swedish flag to the grid for the first time since Stefan Johansson retired from the Canadian Grand Prix back in 1991.
Ericsson grabbed the attention of racing legend Kenny Brack and was surprisingly rapid during a maiden season in Formula BMW UK, a series which he won back in 2007. Ericsson moved up to British Formula Three in 2008 and finished in fifth place in the championship, behind only the trio of drivers racing for series top dog Carlin – including Jaime Alguersuari – and the impressive Sergio Pérez. Ericsson spent 2009 racing in Japanese Formula Three – a series he won – and in addition emerged victorious in two of the six British Formula Three races which he entered. He also claimed pole position for the prestigious Macau Grand Prix - beating a field which included future Formula 1 rivals Valtteri Bottas, Jules Bianchi, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Chilton – before going on to finish fourth in the main event.
It was enough to grab the attention of reigning Formula 1 champions Brawn GP, who ran Ericsson on all three days of the young driver test at Jerez in 2009. Former team Principal Ross Brawn was impressed. “Marcus had his first opportunity in a Formula One car this week and he has performed very well showing exceptional maturity in his approach and feedback,” he said at the time.
Ericsson’s logical progression was into GP2 but it’s fair to say that his results over four years in the series were underwhelming, as he finished 17th, 10th, 8th and 6th in the championships he entered. Nevertheless it’s important to remember that new team-mate Kobayashi finished 16th in both of his GP2 seasons (in 2008 and 2009), showing that GP2 form isn’t everything. For Ericsson, there have also been mitigating circumstances.
Ericsson claimed a victory in his maiden season and he was regularly close to scoring points elsewhere. For 2011 and 2012 he joined a team unable to return to past glories, but still ended the latter season strongly. For 2013 he should have developed into a championship contender, but he and DAMS endured a miserable first half of the season as reliability woes and clumsy accidents restricted Ericsson from a single top 10 finish until Silverstone. He nonetheless claimed two pole positions from the opening five races during his miserable run and finally returned to the top with an emphatic win in Germany. Further podiums followed in Hungary, Belgium and Singapore but perhaps Abu Dhabi was a microcosm of his GP2 career. Ericsson claimed pole position but was deemed to have exceeded track limits and was demoted to the midfield. He nonetheless had the speed and aptitude to climb onto the podium and eventually finished the championship in sixth place. His promotion to Formula 1 also means that GP2 maintains its record of having seen a driver progress into Formula 1 for the following season.
Despite his experience, Ericsson still has youth on his side – he turned 23 in September – and he could benefit from Caterham’s lengthy preparations for 2014. When it comes to rookie drivers in the sport there has been a tendency over the past couple of years to accentuate the negative traits of a driver, rather than highlight their positive aspects. The phrase 'more deserving' has been thrown around a lot. Ericsson's rapid pace demonstrated upon his transition into single-seater racing was shown regularly, if inconsistently, in GP2; if he can deliver on this promise then he has the ability to develop into a capable Formula 1 driver.