After spending the last five years in Formula 1, Marcus Ericcson has moved to IndyCar Series. The Swede had to unexpectedly miss the penultimate round of the season in Portland, having been called by the Alfa Romeo F1 team as a stand-in, in case the injured Kimi Räikkönen couldn’t race at Spa-Francorchamps the same weekend. Having the opportunity, ŚwiatWyścigów.pl’s Roksana Ćwik and Tomasz Kubiak asked him about the experience of racing in America.
Marcus, were you surprised by the reactions to the fact that you might replace someone for the Belgian Grand Prix?
I think I have a good following. I was in Formula 1 for five years, so it’s nice to see that people are excited to see me back in the paddock. It is positive for sure.
Is it difficult to combine the roles of a reserve F1 driver and a full-time IndyCar competitor?
No, I think it’s been good. IndyCar was my priority for this year and obviously I’ve been attending some Formula 1 races where there have been no clashes. It has been working out good and I got the chance to drive a F1 car during the tyre testing. I think it has been useful and I think I will attend some more races towards the end of the year. Obviously this is a special case, that I’m here during a clashing weekend due to Kimi’s injury. It all happened very fast and the plan is not to have such clashes in the future. Apart from that, I think it has been a good programme, combining IndyCar and Formula 1.
What was the biggest difference coming into IndyCar?
The cars are very different for sure. The downforce levels are very different and the cars don’t have power steering which makes a big difference in the way you feel the car. The next one is the tracks: in IndyCar you have ovals, street circuits and road courses, so every weekend you are racing on a different type of tracks, so you need to be very flexible as a driver and adjust. Also, every track was new for me and I had to learn it. We didn’t have so much testing, so it’s been a big challenge but I’m also enjoying it so far.
You are not afraid to put out some comments about Formula 1 in social media, so what would you change about it?
I follow F1 of course when I’m over in America and I put out my feelings when I think it’s necessary. F1 is a big topic that everyone discusses but the fact is that I’m enjoying IndyCar and how the field is so close together. In F1 there’s a hierarchy of big teams, the midfield and the rest, while in IndyCar everyone can win on every weekend because you have the same spec of cars. I think F1 is trying to get the field closer together with the new regulations and things like budget cap that are coming in the future. I think that is a great step for Formula 1 to level the playing field. I think that’s the biggest thing and also with today’s cars it’s difficult to follow closely, but again they’re making changes for 2021, so I think if the changes will go through, they will make the Formula 1 better.
Which car is more enjoyable to drive?
In terms of driving a one lap on an empty track, the Formula 1 car is just so impressive. The grip level you have, the downforce and the power makes it an incredible car to drive and it’s difficult to get that feeling anywhere else. But then what IndyCar really has is the racing. The cars are really difficult to control, so you’re always sliding around, always working with the car and the racing is really close – you can be close to each other and even touch each other a bit. The racing in IndyCar is a lot of fun. They are very different series and I find enjoyment in both of them. It’s difficult to say that one is particularly better than the other one.
How would you sum up your rookie season so far?
I think I had some good speed for sure, but the results have been a little bit disappointing. I want to see what I can do in a year two, because I think that I will improve a lot.
Do you like some of the smaller tracks that IndyCar goes to?
I like the old-school type of tracks that are really bumpy, have different kerbs and little runoff areas. It makes it a little difficult. Today in Formula 1 they are making the tracks wider, with standard kerbs and a lot of runoff area. I think it’s great from a safety perspective and we need to be pushing for safety, but at the same time it’s important to preserve the character of the tracks and not make every track perfect. In America you go to some tracks that are incredibly bumpy and difficult to drive, but it also makes it a fun challenge.
You mentioned the bumps. How much can you do to the car to make it handle better?
Damping is pretty much the only area you can develop in IndyCar and it’s a big area. I think the top teams have a little bit of an edge in this department as they have bigger budgets to develop that better. Beyond that, you still have a lot of tools with the springs, suspension geometry and all the other adjustments you can make to improve it. That’s the thing – it’s a spec car, but these are cars where you can a lot of setup changes to get it to your liking.
How is it to work with Hinchcliffe?
It’s fun. He’s a good guy and obviously very experienced but also a funny guy outside the track, so I think we have a really good working relationship.
Do you like the different dynamic with having three or four teammates with Jack Harvey and Robert Wickens also involved with the team?
Yeah, I think it’s been fun to have some more teammates. Obviously Robert has been helpful as well, even though he’s not been driving, he’s been helping out, coming to a few races and trying to keep in touch. It’s been very helpful to learn from the experience of my teammates, it had allowed me to improve my performance.
What’s your take on the fact that races in IndyCar are run to some vastly different formulas, with 500-milers and double-headers thrown into the mix?
I think it’s fun. I think the way IndyCar is, with different types of races, different tracks and different lengths makes it exciting and also exciting to watch. I like that it’s different every weekend and we have e.g. Saturday night races, run under the lights. I’m a fan of that.
How was your first experience on the oval?
It was certainly different to anything that I have done previously. My first test was in Texas, which is a superspeedway with some really high banking. It’s been one of the toughest track that I’ve been to, so it was not easy, but quite quickly I felt comfortable and confident on the ovals. The Arrow SPM team did a great job to give me a stable car that allowed me to get the confidence as a driver, so that was helpful. I was trying to take it step by step and not rush it. I’ve been really good on the ovals all year, even if the results aren’t as good as the actual pace I had. I think that my adaptation to oval racing has been really positive.
Talking to the drivers, some of them seems to be scared by the idea of oval racing.
I think IndyCar is a great series the way it is. It’s tough for the drivers to show their level on the different types of tracks and I respect if some of them don’t want to do the ovals. It’s a very different thing and there are higher risks associated with them, but I like them and I think they make for some fun races. It’s just that different opinions from different people.
You had some bad luck and mechanicals along the way, but the podium in Detroit had shown what you can do once you have driven the race, so that looks very promising for next year.
For sure, that’s what I’m saying as well. Every track is new for me, but on the tracks where I had a test before, I’ve been really strong. Detroit was a double-header and after the first day of racing, the next day I was right there and finished on the podium. You have to remember that in IndyCar you go up against guys that have been there for 5-10-15 years, so they know every track in their sleep and I come there with no experience with these tracks. For sure it will take a bit of time but that’s why I’m eager to see what I can do in a year or two and I want to stay there for next year and show what I can do when I know the tracks and the racing a bit more. Then I can really show my potential and I think I can be right up there at the top.
Did you feel that you had some kind of an advantage coming into Austin?
Yes, I had some advantage there for sure. Unfortunately I got a penalty for unsafe release when I was running in the top 5, so that was very unlucky, because I think otherwise I would have had a top 5 finish there. For sure it was a good one when I knew the track, but the problem was that we had a two-day test there before the season, so everyone had learned the track and that advantage was not as big as it could have been.
How would you compare the safety of both series?
I think that both series are doing everything to push the safety forward. Obviously in F1 for a couple of years there we have the Halo, while IndyCar is preparing to introduce its windscreen. It’s always important to push for safety in motorsport, but then at the same time by running at such high speeds as in Formula 1 in IndyCar, there will always be some risk involved and you can’t hide away from that. I think that from what I see, the sport is improving all the time and making it better for us, drivers, so that’s all we can ask for.
Tell us about the experience of running in the Indianapolis 500.
It was a very special weekend and one of the best weekends that I have ever experienced. The whole month you are building up to the 500 and then comes the race and there are 300,000 people in the grandstands. It was a very special thing to do and I would love to come back next year. For me it’s the best motorsport event in the world.
You have beaten Fernando Alonso…
I think it was a shame for the poor Fernando but also for the race. It would have been good if he had been in the race as he obviously creates a lot of interest. In one way it’s not good, but on the other hand it shows how difficult it is to even qualify for the 500 and how tough the event is. Still, I think it would have been better if he had made the race.
Did you like the extra fan activities like a parade though the city and the pit-stop competition?
It’s a bit different in America, compared to the Formula 1. You have the fan accessibility and there’s some positives to that for sure as you get to spend more time with them, but I don’t know how it would work out in F1, because it’s very different. As I understand, it’s been like that in America forever and I think it’s nice.
There are always some harsh comments when someone is being screwed by a caution. Do you like the way races are run in America?
Sometimes it’s a bit unfair when you get a yellow at a bad time, but is usually evens itself out during the season, as sometimes you loose by it and sometimes you gain though it. From what I understand, there have been less cautions this year than in previous seasons, as race control is really trying to keep the races green to make them less random. I think it’s good but it’s also part of the charm that in IndyCar you can never give up as there can be a caution that works for you and suddenly you will be right up there again. I think there are more positives than negatives to it.
If you were to made the decision now, would you take a F1 drive over staying in IndyCar?
It’s a very difficult question, I don’t know which one I would pick. At the moment I’m focused on IndyCar and I see myself being in IndyCar next year and after that. I want to see what I can do in IndyCar but at the same time I don’t want to close any doors. Having said that, I still see myself being in IndyCar in 2020 and beyond.
What’s your take on McLaren getting into the partnership with your team?
I think it’s great for SPM and McLaren to team up. I think they can be strong. I don’t know how it will affect me, we’re still in discussions about next year, so nothing is decided but I think in general, for the team and IndyCar, it’s great that they are coming in and it will be good for everyone involved.
Finally, do you have any timetable on getting to know your future?
As a driver, you want to have it sorted as early as possible. Let’s see if we can get something together in the next month or so. At this moment I don’t know and it’s always like that at this time of year. It depends on many things.