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Unlocking the potential - exclusive Q&A with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson

02 Sep 2016

After a truly difficult start to the year, there were finally some rays of hope for Sauber in Belgium as the team brought some much-needed updates to their severely underdeveloped C35. Now, as Marcus Ericsson explains, it’s all about unlocking potential - both in the car and in himself - as the Swiss team bid to climb off the bottom of the constructors’ standings. And what better place to start than Monza, scene of a fine ninth-place finish for the Swede last year…

Q: Marcus, with no points on the board so far, this season must have driven you to despair. Why has it gone so wrong at almost every race weekend?

Marcus Ericsson: Ha, not every race weekend! We have had some sunshine this season. Yes the situation in the team has been difficult as the car has not been as good as we had hoped, which has made life pretty difficult. Now I hope that we will have a better second half - but for me as a driver I felt all season long that I’ve made steps forward, that I have developed and perform now on a much better level. I am pretty happy with that.

Q: If you say that you now perform on a better level, what exactly does that mean?

ME: I perform on a higher level consistently - fewer drops in performance - and my work with the engineers has also significantly improved in the way I am now able to set up the car much better. My understanding has made a huge leap forward. Of course getting more races under your belt is also something that adds to your maturity as a driver. And just because we are at the back of the grid doesn’t mean that we are not working as hard and fighting as hard as the frontrunners. It can be frustrating not being able to profit from all the hard work.

Q: Failing to score any points after 13 races is a poor state of affairs for the team. Why have Sauber not been able to come out of the slump? You drive the car and you are at the factory, so you must have an idea…

ME: The answer is simple: the financial side of the team has been so difficult, so the car that we put on the track at the first test was not the car that we wanted to have - to start with. Then we have not been able to develop that car. Until the last race in Spa we didn’t really have any updates on the car - everybody familiar with Formula One knows that you fall behind in that situation…

Q: As you mentioned, Sauber brought an update to the car in Spa…

ME: I think - after all - Spa was a good improvement. In FP1 and FP2 we were in the top 15 - then unfortunately on Saturday and Sunday we faced a number of issues that were holding us back. So Spa was a weekend that had a lot of potential on paper, but we couldn’t unlock it. Hopefully we are luckier here - but I think the full blooming of the package we will not see until Singapore.

Q: Your Spa race started in the pit lane because of technical difficulties and lasted just three laps. What exactly happened?

ME: It was a terrible shame. I was so excited to see how the car would work over a race distance with the updates - and then after one lap I was hit with gearbox issues. The next thing sixth gear was gone - and then it was game over!

Q: Your team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said that P11 in the constructors’ championship is not an option. What is the option? In reality you just need to score a single point to move level with Manor…

ME: Exactly! Well the midfield is very tight - and if you have so many teams that are in front of you you need a special occasion to finish in the top ten. You simply also need reliability - and we haven’t had that so far. There are still eight races to go so there is still time.

Q: How much is your situation also down to bad luck? Sometimes bad lucks sticks to you like chewing gum…

ME: No, I wouldn’t say that bad luck has much to do with it. It is simply the performance of the car that has not been good enough.

Q: Sauber have a new owner in Longbow Finance. Is there already a visible change at the factory in Hinwil? There is a saying that new brooms sweep clean…

ME: Yes, there is a massive change going on. The team has employed new people, which is very positive as new people bring new ideas. So the change is picking up and hopefully it will become more visible towards the end of the season. The potential of Sauber with its facilities is huge, so there should be a sound future in the coming years.

Q: Monisha also said that decisions over Sauber’s driver line-up will not be affected by the ownership switch. So where do you see yourself in 2017?

ME: I want to be in the best possible situation. If that is with Sauber or somewhere else I don’t know yet. Probably in the next couple of months we will see. My management is speaking to Sauber, but also to other teams. I have been in F1 now for two and a half years and as I said before, I feel that I have developed but have never been able to show my potential - so it is about time that my time comes! (Laughs) So 2017 will be crucial for me - to be in a competitive team.

Q: So you are sure that you will stay in F1 racing?

ME: No I am not sure. But, of course, it is the aim.

Q: Last year you’ve finished here in P9 - that means a small blue stripe on the horizon. Could it be here that Sauber change their fate and jump from P11 to P10 in the standings?

ME: Yep, this weekend last year was one of the best for me. I was in Q3 and scored two points. I hope it can be a deja vu here on Sunday. The track works super well with me and I am pretty confident that that elusive single point should be possible, especially as I had a very good go in both sessions today. I am not really sure if I should dream about Q3 tonight as this seems pretty unrealistic, but P10 in the race could be possible. I would absolutely would love to deliver that precious point - fingers crossed!