Whilst Felipe Nasr was out on track for in the Sauber during the second test at the Circuit de Catalunya, Marcus Ericsson sat down for a chat with Sarah Merritt, to talk about his career so far, the importance of interacting with his fans on social media, and his helmet design.
Marcus, I can see you have had a passion for Motorsport from a very young age – racing karts at 9, winning Formula BMW with Fortec in 2007, then Formula 3, and Japanese Formula 3, which you won in 2009. Whilst reading this, I was surprised to see something I didn’t know – that you tested for Brawn GP in Jerez in 2009, their World Championship winning year. I’ve read that you received some great commendations from Ross Brawn about your drive. How did that test feel, on what I assume was your first time in an F1 car?
“I’d just turned 19 when it happened, and I’d had a very strong year in Formula 3. I had won Japanese F3, and I’d been on pole in Macau, finishing 4th, and I won some races in British F3.
I’d had a very successful season – I had some luck, but I like to think I deserved the chance to drive – and I got called up and they offered me the chance to come down to the young drivers test after the season. I was sharing the car with Mike Conway, with us doing half days each, and obviously it was a dream come true! Since I started karting, it was a dream to drive a Formula 1 car one day, and to drive the World Championship winning car was unreal. I just remember the car being so incredibly good – the acceleration, but mostly the braking.”
And Jerez is a great circuit for testing, it’s got great flow.
“Exactly, it was great. I remember after the first day, I didn’t do that many laps, but I was so tired in my body, and my brain. I had tension in my body because I was holding on to the steering wheel so hard because it was just this thing – I was finally driving a Formula 1 car! So then on days 2 and 3, I was feeling a lot more relaxed. I enjoyed it a lot more, but I really remember the first day as an amazing experience, but also very tough.”
After GP2, in which you raced in with various teams including DAMS, you moved to Caterham to make the step up to F1 and race alongside Kamui Kobayashi. Can you remember the anticipation ahead of your first race in 2014?
“It was also one of those moments where a dream came true. I remember thinking on the night before the race – “wow, tomorrow I am going to be out there driving a race with Kimi, Fernando and Jenson, guys that when I was karting at 10 or 11 years of age”. I was looking at them, and they were already stars in F1 while I was at home with my parents watching them. Now tomorrow, I’m actually going to be driving against them in the race!”
You’d probably best not tell them that as it might make them feel a bit old!
“Yes, that’s true! But it was obviously a very special weekend and an amazing experience.”
I read that whilst Caterham were having their financial troubles, you still flew out to the US GP in Austin, and instead of driving, commentated for Swedish TV. Did you enjoy that? Perhaps a future career?
“It was fun to see F1 from that side, and also the work that the media guys put in to make a good show for the fans. It was interesting to see that from another perspective, but I prefer to behind the wheel to being in the commentary box. Maybe one day when I am retired from driving it would be something to do – I kinda like to talk so it would probably be a good thing for me!”
After that came the move to Sauber in 2015, and in your first race with them in Melbourne, you finished 8th, scoring the first points by a Swedish driver in F1 since Stefan Johannson. Did that make you feel very proud, and did that get a good reaction back home?
“Yes, I was of course very proud of it, and as you say, it had been such a long time since, first of all Stefan drove F1 for the last time, and secondly, since he scored points.
It was a great success, and it was something that when I came to F1 was my big first goal in my F1 career, to score points. It was a great feeling, and the support that I got from back home was amazing as well. It was headline news in Sweden, and I got massive support on my social media sites, so it was very nice.”
Touching on home fans, your Swedish fans don’t have a “home race” to see you at. Do you see many that travel to see you, and what race do you consider as your home as we don’t take F1 to Sweden?
“It’s sad that we don’t have a Scandinavian grand prix, as there are 4 of us now; the two Finns [Raikkonen and Bottas], Kevin [a Dane] and myself.
A race in one of the Nordic countries would be something. It would be popular and very cool, although I don’t see it happening for the foreseeable future. Since I’ve come into F1, I’ve seen a big, big interest in motorsport and around the track, especially at the European races; there are a lot of Swedish flags. It’s great support and there’s a lot of fans coming out to races, especially here in Barcelona, and Budapest – I would say they are the two where I see most Swedish fans. It means a lot, it helps me get even more fired up!”
Social media is so important to connecting with the F1 Fan base, without whom there would be no Formula 1 – what more do you think you as a driver can do to engage with your fans?
“I use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as my official pages, as well as my website. I try to update them quite often, at least a couple of times a week, not every day though…”
Well you do have a job to do!
“…exactly, but I try – like when I travel to different places, and when I go down to the team for meetings – to keep my fans updated on what I am doing. Also, on race weekends and if I have the time, I try and do a short update every day on how the day was; if we had some issues, if it felt good, if it can be improved, etc. I try and do some short things. It’s very important because the fans back home, or wherever they are in the world, feel closer to you as a driver when they read your own words to them.
Unlike a few other drivers I do everything myself. I don’t have anyone else that writes anything. All my sites are my own words only, and I think that’s important.”
What is your favourite circuit to race at and why?
“I would say Suzuka in Japan. It’s one of the classic tracks on the calendar, and it’s one of the biggest challenges for a driver. It has all the different sorts of corners; the high speed flowing corners, the hairpins, the chicanes. It’s quite an old school track in a way, where you don’t have much run off, so if you make a mistake you lose time, and it’s not like you can overshoot in places. It’s a tricky track, and it takes time to get up to speed on it.
Since I was there in Japan for Formula 3 I have quite a lot of experience of Suzuka. I raced there a lot that year, so it’s a track I enjoy and I always like going back there. The fans are amazing. They are so passionate and crazy fans.”
On a day when you can eat anything you like (and I promise we won’t tell your trainer about this) what is your favourite food indulgence to have as a treat?
“I think a good burger, in a restaurant; a proper thick, meaty burger – that’s high on the list! What else unhealthy…(thinks)…a good cake or something like that is always nice.”
But you don’t get to do that very often, do you?
“Exactly. Usually it’s no burgers for me, but once in awhile you have to!”
Thank you for bringing your helmet along for me to look at. It displays a patriotic colour scheme that goes well with the car. Is this a similar design that you’ve always raced with throughout your career, and why did you decide on that design?
“The first time I had this sort of base design was back in 2009, before that I had some different ones. I went to the blue and yellow, and this sort of base. It’s changed through the years in detail, but the base design has been similar. And yes, the blue and yellow comes from the Swedish colours, and then I try to keep it simple, not too much mixing colours or lines.
I wouldn’t say it’s the nicest design in the world, but it’s distinct, clean, and I like it. For me it’s important as it’s something to connect to you as a driver – “there’s Marcus in the blue and yellow helmet with the white ring around it” – it’s something that is me. I used Arai for my early years, then since GP2, I’ve been with Bell.”
And this is your preferred visor tint?
“I’ve had some different ones, but I think the blue metallic one goes quite nicely with the colours. From the inside, they are the same – I like medium tinted, so that is what I usually have, unless it’s a dark day.”
What are your thoughts on the new qualification format?
“It was better the way it was. The qualifying has been great entertainment for some years. It’s been good TV, good for the fans at the track, and also for us drivers and teams. It’s intense, but you get the time to do your ‘tries’, and always by the end of Q1, 2 and 3, people are starting their laps. You see split times and it’s ‘he’s doing this time, he’s doing that’. So I think it was great as it was.
With this new system, I’m afraid it will take away some of the drama from qualifying. It will make people try to be on the safe side, so people will try and do their laps as early as possible in the sessions to not get eliminated. We will see less driving, so less cars out on track.”
Lastly, can you share with me your thoughts on this year’s car, how you feel about the season ahead, and realistically where you think you will and the team will position yourself for the first race?
“The car is definitely a step forward from last year. It feels more stable and high speed feels improved, so the down force is better. That’s positive, but we will have to wait bit longer to see what it’s like when we start optimising everything, but the initial feeling is good.
Here, I had a difficult day on my first day in the car. It wasn’t where we wanted to be – in the morning I had some issues related to the power unit that held us back, and then in the afternoon we got some running, and then we had the wheel come off at Turn 4. It’s never nice when it happens, but you go so quickly so you don’t really realise. I was alright!”
Thanks to Marcus and Sauber F1 team for their time in Barcelona.