The first of my OTW series focuses on one of the most exciting career moves of the year. Marcus Ericsson has moved to IndyCar after an F1 career that spanned five seasons, and will race for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports alongside six-time race winner James Hinchcliffe.
The Swede had tallied up 97 F1 starts for Caterham and Sauber, with his final year in 2018 being undoubtedly his best. Scoring 9pts in the Sauber C37, Ericsson impressed but was overshadowed by teammate Charles Leclerc.
2019 heralds a new start for Marcus and a fantastic opportunity in the United States.
The IndyCar series is experiencing a period of growing popularity, mainly down to the improvement of on-track action.
The chassis provided by Dallara have been phenomenal since the introduction of the DW12 seven years ago, with the current UAK 18 car producing fantastic racing and increasing popularity.
Marcus Ericsson has spied an opportunity for success.
With all drivers having the same car – albeit different engines – the playing field is considerably more level than Formula One.
Here, drivers can display their talent, and receive just reward. The truly gifted drivers find themselves emerging at the top.
Take Robert Wickens, for example. Making his debut in 2018, the Canadian went on to have an extremely competitive rookie season, despite having last raced an open wheel car in GP3 in 2010.
The Canadian was able to display the talent that made him a multiple race winner in DTM.
Another example is Fernando Alonso. Argued to be one of the most naturally talented drivers of all time, the Spaniard flourished in his IndyCar debut at The 500 in 2017 with a shot of winning, before retiring with an engine failure just 21 laps from the end.
Drivers who are fundamentally quick waste no time in getting to the front.
Alongside Charles Leclerc in 2018, Marcus Ericsson was definitely competing against one of the best young drivers of the generation. In statistical comparison to his Monegasque teammate, Ericsson appears average.
In qualifying, Leclerc stormed to a 17-4 win over the season, and again came out on top 9-4 in races where both finished.
From the pro-Ericsson position these stats look pretty dire. However, some numbers indicate the likelihood of an impressive rookie season in IndyCar, and suggest why he is one to watch this year.
By the checkered flag Ericsson gained, on average, four positions a race, typically finishing just outside the points. This suggests that the Swede was able to take on those around him, and beat them on race pace.
Ericsson suffered four retirements all year, one less that teammate Leclerc, and on the average for all drivers.
Marcus is more likely to finish a race, and improve on where he started. In a series like IndyCar this could make for some impressive results very early on.
Fundamental to Ericsson’s success this year will be the team around him, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is a fantastic place to kick start his career stateside.
SPM have been responsible for bringing in rookies and helping them to success. Recent alumni include the highly regarded SMP Racing WEC driver Mikhail Aleshin, two-time Indy Lights runner-up, Jack Harvey, and most recently six-time DTM race winner Robert Wickens.
The team clearly have an eye for talent, and were responsible for giving 2016 IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud his first full season in 2012.
As far as teams go the Swede is in the right place, surrounded by a management team well rehearsed in breaking in rookies.
Finally, Marcus Ericsson has been public in his happiness behind the wheel of the IndyCar. This feeling of enjoyment is crucial to the success of a racing driver.
After his first test at Sebring, Ericsson displayed his excitement in a Q&A with Motorsport.com.
”I actually felt it was a lot of fun to drive,” he explained, “the sensation felt very good, very enjoyable.”
If Marcus is truly enjoying the experience of driving the Dallara-Honda IR18 car, then good results will surely follow suit.
One word sums up Marcus Ericsson’s 2019 season: opportunity. With the platform to display his fundamental talent, his ability to climb the race standings, and the superb Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team around him, the 28-year-old is in a prime position to impress this year.
Above all he is happy and excited by the season ahead. Keep an eye on Marcus Ericsson, as a happy driver is nearly always a fast driver.