Caterham rookie Marcus Ericsson had a tough baptism of fire at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. After missing out on all Friday practice running at Albert Park, the Swede had to pull out all stops in Saturday’s one-hour practice session before qualifying.
He outqualified both Lotus runners in a rain-hit session, and defied expectations to keep pace with the Marussias and Saubers before succumbing to a Renault power unit-induced failure just past half-distance.
Despite the disappointment of a DNF, Ericsson has taken a lot of positives and is looking forward to this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, one of the toughest events on the calendar.
Marcus sat down and spoke exclusively with Richard Bailey and Yassmin Abdel-Magied ahead of this weekend’s race…
How would you appraise your performance and state of mind after the Australian Grand Prix?
It feels good to have the first race behind me now; it was a very difficult race because of many reasons. We didn’t have much testing before Australia and it was a new track which I had never been on before and then everything that brings a new weekend.
It was a difficult one, but I am happy with my performance and I want to build on that now in Malaysia.
Being able to run ahead of Max Chilton must have been a good feeling, particularly given you may not have been expecting that level of competitiveness?
The pace of the car was a positive surprise for us, particularly in qualifying when we had no running on Friday. So we basically had to set the car up for the race in Q3 when you’d usually be focusing on preparing for qualifying, Kamui [Kobayashi] managed to get into Q2, which was also good.
I was up to eleventh at one point in the race and managed to even overtake Adrian Sutil at one point, so we were doing all right! Clearly the potential is there and we just need to work it out and try to optimise everything. We need to make sure we can finish the race; even if we can fight with people, if we don’t reach the finish line we are in trouble.
With no Friday running, how challenging is it to pull a limited program together in FP3 when you have no Friday running? What is your headspace like when you have this challenge in front of you?
It was really difficult. After the Friday, it was obviously worrying for me because I needed to learn the track, I needed to get into the weekend – particularly with it being my first F1 weekend. Everything was going on around me and it was a really really tough weekend mentally.
But I was happy that I managed to cope with it and I think I built up the pace step by step. I am happy I managed to do that. Given how the weekend panned out to that point, it would have been easy to just push too hard and put the car into the wall. But I am happy I didn’t do that, and instead took it step by step.
Given this is undoubtedly one of the most physically demanding weekends for the drivers because of the heat and humidity, what preparation have you done to get yourself ready for these conditions?
First of all I’ve been working really hard over the winter, so my physical state is as good as it has ever been. Obviously now, coming up to this weekend it has been a lot about drinking a lot of water and the minerals and stuff like that, you just build it up.
You need to start that quite early, so straight after Australia you need to start that process and when you get to Malaysia you need to have that in your system because if you only start to prepare today – one day before you start driving – it’s too late. So, you need to do that like at least a week before the race so that’s what we’ve been doing.
After Australia, I went to Macau, which was good. We did a lot of training there and was focused on getting into the time zone and everything that entails. We got here on Tuesday and we get outside and do some exercise, you know its a lot about adapting to the head and the conditions. I am not worried about it, it’s the same for everyone, and I am as fit as anyone so it should be fine.
Sepang hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for you in GP2 – you have a pair of thirteenth-placed finishes in four outings. How does this circuit sit on the scale of the places you will visit to race in 2014?
I think it’s a nice track to drive, it has a good mix of fast and slow corners. It’s not been very good to me in terms of results, so while some may feel like it’s not the perfect track or whatever for me, it’s still the third time here so I guess its time to do a good one!
I’m not worried about that. The positive is – unlike Australia – coming to a track where I’ve been before and I know the reference points, I know the lines and which kerbs to use or not to use, so already that is a big improvement from Australia where everything was new.
This track is difficult because it has quite a lot of corners which are a bit strange: you have a lot of braking at a curved approach, so you’re braking, downshifting and turning all at once, and that can make it tricky.
Obviously the heat makes it difficult for the tyres and also for the drivers as well. Also the one thing that you always have to keep in mind is the weather here: you never know when it’s going to start to rain, and if it starts raining, its not a shower, it comes down really hard. There are quite a lot of challenges around here usually, so it will be a really interesting weekend in that point of view.
What targets are you setting yourself this weekend?
It’s the same. Now that we saw it in Australia, we want to be in front of the Marussias and that’s a good start if we can do that, and then obviously we need to aim then for the next teams above that, like Sauber. For me personally I’d like to keep learning every session and get closer to Kamui, and then try and compete with him as well in the team.
It’s a team environment, but there’s still competition because your best reference point is your teammate. How much do you work together with Kamui? Do you learn a lot from his experience?
It’s important for a small team like us that we have two drivers who can work together. We discuss the car quite a lot together and how it feels, and so far its been working really well.
Kamui and I get along good. That’s the key for the rest of the year as well, that we as a small team need to be able to work together. But then there’s also the competition … so there is a fine line, but so far its been working well.
What assurances have you had from Renault after your DNF in Melbourne? Do you foresee improved consistency and reliability this weekend?
Renault is working really hard all the time to improve and I think they are making steps forward all the time. This is obviously important, because we have some catching up to do.
I think hopefully we can take some more steps this weekend. We need to have a more reliable car and I think we will have that this weekend, so hopefully it will be good weekend in that respect
There’s been a lot of talk about the new regulations, particularly the fuel flow discussion after the Australian Grand Prix. Do you have an opinion or position?
No not really, I haven’t really looked into it much. I have to focus on myself and what’s going on with us.
It’s obviously a shame for Daniel [Ricciardo] of course, and he did a great race and I was happy to see him up on the podium at his home race. But I haven’t really looked into it much, to be fair.
Malaysia represents the Caterham team’s home race. Have you seen a difference in the team’s approach or the level of interest in the team from fans in Malaysia?
Yeah, its nice. Yesterday we were out in KL and doing some autograph sessions and we have a lot of the Malaysian people supporting us. It’s really great to see that and hopefully over the weekend there will be a lot of support in the grandstands.
Does it make a difference as a driver to have support from the local fans support?
It’s always nice as a support but I also have had very good support back in Sweden. They have waited a long time for a Formula 1 driver so it’s about time for us that we have a Swedish F1 driver. The support back home has been great, and now that we are in Malaysia it’s been very good so far as well. It gives you energy, for sure.
Can you tell us more about your relationship with your engineers? How important are they in helping you settle in and in being able to optimise the car?
They are very important. I try to spend as much time as possible with my engineers, and I think especially for a rookie, there are so many things you need to learn.
So it is very important that you take time to sit down with the engineers, discuss different things, discuss why we’re changing this or that, why we’re going down a particular path. You as a driver get an understanding of what is going on, because that’s really going to help you while you’re driving and you then understand more whats going on with the car. So that’s very important for me as a rookie F1 driver.
Comparing it to GP2, it is different. Of course you are involved on the engineering side there as well, but there is so much more here in F1: you have more people, more telemtry and so many more things on the car you can change.
Given Formula 1 is still a new level for you, how much influence do you have in driving the set-up decisions on the car, or are you largely influenced by the engineers’ direction?
It’s a mix. I think the driver always needs to lead the engineering team in the right direction, particularly given many changes are derived from what you feel as a driver.
But it is also about what the data is saying and you have to measure that against what the driver is saying, so you need to have a good understanding of the car, and the engineers and the drivers need to understand each other well as well. Especially when you’re new in the team, when you work with new people you need to build up the understanding between each other so you can give feedback and so they can understand what you’re saying and what you’re wanting.
It could be a challenge sometimes, but it is also something that I’ve been learning and working on all throughout my career. At this level, it is something that is very important for a racing driver to be able to do, and the foundation comes at the beginning of you career. At first, you don’t really know what’s going, on but with experience you learn how to be able to influence the set-up, drive on the limit, but at the same time really try and feel the car to improve it further.
Do you have a particular set-up preference, in terms of how you like the car to handle?
I’m from Sweden, so I always like a bit of oversteer – perhaps it stems from all the driving I’ve done on ice! So yeah, I prefer to have a good front end.
We extend our thanks to the Caterham F1 Team’s media department for making this interview opportunity possible.
Images via RichardsF1.com and XPB Images