Marcus Ericsson comes into this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix on the back of three consecutive points finishes. Since Hungary he has been 10th, 10th and 9th and while it may not look like much, it makes him one of F1’s current form men. It also strengthens his counter-argument to the opinion amongst fans that he is a mere pay driver unworthy of his place on the grid.
Before the Singapore Grand Prix last year I might have agreed with that assessment but it was at that race, one year ago, where he finally began to come good. An electrical issue hindered his qualifying and he started his habitual last but he finished the race as the leading car of the four back markers, holding off Jules Bianchi on old rubber for 15th. It was an eye-catching display and marked a genuine turning point in his season.
Before Singapore his stats – outqualified 10-2, outraced 5-1 – were not befitting of a driver who belonged on the F1 grid, but there was marked improvement thereafter. Ericsson only featured in two more races that season as he had already signed for Sauber when Caterham returned for the season finale, but he outqualified Kamui Kobayashi in both and delivered two impressive race drives, defeating Kobayashi in Japan. It was as if something changed in Singapore, literally overnight.
At the time, Ericsson attributed his good form to Caterham changing their use of their extremely troublesome brake-by-wire system. For almost the entire season they had problems with front and rear locking which were penalising Ericsson as he tried to gain confidence and command over his first F1 car. He was struggling for feel in the braking zone, which considering how much time an F1 car makes there, explains Kobayashi’s embarrassing average qualifying advantage of 0.842s. Tellingly, Ericsson said that it not only gave him confidence in the car but it was also mentally good for him, remembering “it was really great for myself as well to see that I could do it.”
Ericsson has always been a confidence driver, the kind who performs well under his potential when he is not feeling mentally or technically comfortable but who is as good as anyone when he is. In GP2 – where he debuted in 2010 – he mostly struggled until late in the 2012 season when he took a feature race win at Spa. It transformed him into one of the season’s strongest performers and began a run of six consecutive points finishes that included two more podiums. The pressure of his 2013 move to reigning champions DAMS seemed to unnerve him and he struggled again, taking just one points finish all season until a sprint race win in Germany kick started a run of consistent points and four more podiums.
It can be argued that the same thing has happened again this year. Riding high on the back of his 2014 form, he made a reasonable start to the season but suffered a pointless dip between China and Britain. However, since Hungary he’s put together a string of three points finishes and has been comfortably the strongest Sauber driver in qualifying and races. He credits it to a change in his approach to weekends, where he now works hard on Friday to perfect his car set-up, something that is key for that all important confidence.
Once again he’s detected and solved his issues, found his feet, and now his confidence is beginning to snowball. What he has proved is that he is a strong willed driver, the kind who doesn’t lose interest and just keeps working, the kind of driver who deserves to be on the F1 grid. Let’s see if he can mark one year since he finally hit his F1 stride with another strong performance this weekend.