Another Import For IndyCar

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Earlier this week, we learned that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) has hired current Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson to drive the No. 7 car fulltime for SPM in 2019. He will drive alongside his future teammate, James Hinchcliffe.

Perhaps I’m showing how little I watch Formula One these days, but when I saw the headline Tuesday – I asked myself “Who?”

The thing about F1 is that no matter what caliber of driver you are, if your car is no good – you have no chance (see Fernando Alonso the last couple of seasons at McLaren).

Marcus Ericsson has been in Formula One for the past five years – the last four at Sauber. Back when I paid more attention to Formula One in the late nineties and early 2000s, Sauber was sort of a middle-of-the-road team. It seems their performance has tapered off this decade, and that’s being kind – their highest finish in the constructor’s championship since 2010 is sixth, and that was in 2012. Last year they finished tenth out of ten, their third tenth place finish since 2014. This year they are currently eighth out of eleven, with two races remaining.

My point with that little history lesson is to point out that I don’t really know if Ericsson is any good or not. Formula One has a way of making good drivers look bad and mediocre drivers look outstanding. It just depends on what you are driving. How else would you explain Riccardo Patrese finishing second in the 1992 World Championship behind Nigel Mansell. Had he been in anything else but that Williams FW14B with the active suspension – would Patrese have even been close to winning a World Championship?

Ericsson is currently sitting seventeenth in this year’s F1 standings. In nineteen races so far this season, he has a best finish of ninth, which he has done three times. In five years of Formula One, his career best finish was eighth – which came in 2015 at the season-opener at Australia.

Is Marcus Ericsson any good? Some of you who follow Formula One more closely than I do should tell me. His results suggest he’s a chronic back-marker, but as I pointed out – the greatest driver in the world can have horrible results in F1, when not in a good car. Apparently, Sauber is not a good car.

One thing I do know; there was a noticeable lack of buzz on social media regarding this hire. Did he bring money? I don’t know. I’m assuming he did. Why else would Sam Schmidt hire him?

As one notable IndyCar journalist said on Twitter, this hire certainly does not move the needle. When Chip Ganassi hired Swedish driver Felix Rosenqvist, most consider it a good move. He had impressed the team in a test and had a strong and diverse track record in various types of racing. The SPM hiring of this other Swede wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm.

I was hoping that Schmidt would hire an IndyCar veteran for the available seat. I’m not sure what Jordan King’s plans are, but he did a decent job in a partial role with Ed Carpenter this past season. Perhaps he has no interest in ovals.

One driver I was silently rooting for to get that seat was one that some will scoff at – Conor Daly. Many think that Conor Daly has been given enough chances to prove himself. I don’t. A full season with a Dale Coyne that was down that year and a full season in the second car at Foyt is not a good measuring stick.

I’ve always liked Conor Daly. I think he is funny, likeable and approachable. Some drivers can be standoffish. Daly comes across as an everyday fan and you tend to forget that he’s a driver. I think he could be a good ambassador for IndyCar and if given the chance in a good car, could get good results. If not Daly, how about Gabby Chaves? I would suggest RC Enerson, but he left Sam Schmidt in Indy lights on very bad terms. I doubt he was ever considered.

Marcus Ericsson could turn out to be a good driver and a great hire. Time will tell. But I hate to see former IndyCar drivers remain on the sidelines, while drivers few have heard of are brought in. That’s why I’m so sure that Ericsson is bringing money. Why else would Schmidt bypass drivers who know the tracks and the series, to go after such an unknown quantity?

One thing I was pleased about was that Ericsson is going to run in the No. 7 car. The No. 6 car is being held open for Robert Wickens, whenever he is able and wants to return to the cockpit. That was a class move all the way around, by Schmidt. Whenever that time comes, having three cars will be a good problem for SPM to have.

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “Another Import For IndyCar”

  1. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    I think we all need to give him some space and see what he does. Go back three years…was anyone impressed about the Alexander Rossi hire? It has turned out pretty well hasn’t it? Who knows, this could be great too. Let’s see what happens. (I would love for Daly to get a full shot)

  2. Funny Mr. Fitzgerald mentions Alex Rossi. I was at a private tour of SPM’s shop yesterday (for IMS Museum members, you should join), and the comments from the actual team Ericsson is driving for said he is a lot like Rossi, and all of them are very high on this kid. They took him on a tour of IMS Wednesday and he was blown away by the size of it.

    One other neat bit of info we were let in on yesterday is the fact that the whole team is putting “body wraps” behind them and are actually painting their cars again. They said the wrap adds too much weight and looks good from five feet away, but sponsors aren’t liking they way it looks closeup. One of the problems with paint was matching that fabulous gold color on Hinch’s car; after many tests they think they have it pretty darned close. The Dallara place on Main St. in Speedway has a dedicated paint room the teams are using, so look for more teams to go away from the “wraps!” IndyCar is a “Monkey see, monkey do” sort of sport, you know….

    Phil Kaiser
    Indianapolis

  3. James T Suel Says:

    I was on the tour that Phil Kaiser spoke of. I think his point was right on. F1 you could be a great driver and look like a bum, if not in the right equipment. So I would take a wait and see on him.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Ericsson has a lot of single-seater seat time, so if his talent should show if it is there. He should be competent at the very least.

    I would have rather seen a Road-To-Indy veteran who remains on the sidelines, sure, but I’m not disappointed with this. It will be interesting at least.

    • Same here. I’d have preferred Gabby Chaves (a proven safe set of hands, at this point) or Santi Urrutia (who would have won the Lights championship a couple years ago, if not for an unfortunate set of circumstances of team orders) or Aaron Telitz (a proven winner in Lights, but recipient of the worst run of luck and a team that had obviously been leapfrogged in setup and speed in 2018) than Ericsson, but I think Marcus will probably be a capable mid-packer (which is around about where his equipment will allow him to run, given that other than isolated races, the SPM cars tend to run behind the Penskes, the Ganassis, the Andrettis and occasionally the Rahals).

      As for how Ericsson stacks up with other F1 refugees, talent-wise, I always thought more of Alexander Rossi, and had higher hopes than most for him when he came to IndyCar. Rossi, after all, had finished 9th, 21st (in a weird, disjointed season where he drove for multiple struggling teams, and missed nearly half the season) and 2nd in his three years in GP2, with four race wins out of 54 starts. Ericsson finished 17th, 10th, 8th and 6th in his four years in GP2, with three wins out of 84 starts. I think the better comp for Ericsson would be the similarly unspectacular but steady Max Chilton, who finished 25th, 20th and 4th in his three years of GP2, with two wins in 62 starts. Max has been fine in an IndyCar, if not anything like a regular top-10 runner. I think Marcus will be awfully similar.

  5. Ericsson always seemed to come through as the worst driver on his 2 car team but apparently brought enough financial backing to keep him in a seat when much better drivers were cast adrift

    So ………. crappy F1 drivers can actually be pretty good if given half a chance in an equivalent car.

    My take, however, is that I always thought of Ericsson as a complete no talent butt hole when in a GP2 race he ran a competitor totally off the track for actually daring to try to pass him. As above, this sounds exactly like Rossi, …………… 2 pees in a pod as it were.

    And Wickens? He was selected by Toto Wolff for the DTM ride because he was a brilliant driver with no money so F1 was never going to work out for him.

    Rossi and Ericsson and no rules ……….. I’m nof liking this.

  6. From what I read he is simply another ride buyer.

    Conor is one fine young man, i had a chance to speak with him at RA this summer. he is upfront and candid when i asked him about IndyCar and his NASCAR rides.

  7. I thought he was good and competent, though unspectacular, in the GP2 Series. Almost everyone in the upper echelons of motorsport is or was a ride buyer, so branding him as strictly a pay driver wouldn’t be fair. He’s been good enough to justify staying in F1, but with the likes of Lando Norris and George Russell graduating from F2 (possibly with Alexander Albon and Artem “Marvelous” Markelov), Ericsson appears to be surplus.

  8. Phil: thanks for the wrap information.

  9. My choice would have been Aaron Telitz, a proven winner in the road to Indy lights series. Aaron started on dirt in northern Wisconsin. As Mr. Miller would say: “A hot shoe!”

    • In the real world Telitz would of been an excellent choice for the seat. But in the world we live in today it’s I have a seat available to the highest bidder.

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