F1's freshest rookie, Caterham newcomer Marcus Ericsson, admits that he is unlikely to be fully prepared for his debut at next weekend's Australian Grand Prix.
The Swede, who was added to Caterham's line-up shortly before the opening pre-season test in Spain, has shared the pain of unreliability with almost every other driver in the field as F1 gets to grips with its latest technical formula, but confesses that the satisfaction of finally making it to the top flight will still overshadow any issues that may arise in Melbourne.
“Honestly, I cannot wait for it all to start in Australia,” Ericsson insisted, “It will be my first ever F1 weekend as a race driver and I'm so excited about my debut season in F1 starting - and in Australia, a country with a lot of F1 history and seriously passionate fans, that's just going to be cool.
“I've been working for this chance since I started racing, and now it's finally coming true, thanks to all the people who've supported me, and to the team for giving me this chance.”
Caterham, which finished bottom of the constructors' table for the first time in 2013 and has still to score a point in four seasons, has been in the same mire as champions Red Bull when it comes to preparation for the new season. Saddled with a Renault engine that does not yet appear to be competitive – either in terms of performance or reliability – with its rivals from Mercedes and Ferrari, testing has been a mixed bag for the Leafield squad, with some glimpses of progress nixed by regular gremlins.
“The pre-season tests were tough but, at the end of them, we'd got through most of what we planned, so there shouldn't be too many surprises in Melbourne,” Ericsson insisted, “By the end of the tests, our reliability was best of the Renault teams and we ran through a race simulation, including the formation lap procedure, starts and pit-stops so, with the mileage we completed in both Bahrain tests, we're as ready as we can be.”
Since being spotted in the Interlagos paddock late last season, and immediately being tabbed as a potential Caterham signing, Ericsson has been fully focused on ensuring that he is ready for his big moment, but concedes that there are elements of the weekend that will still take him by surprise.
“We've done everything we can to prepare, but, honestly, I don't think you can ever prepare for what it'll feel like in the car, sitting on the grid as the lights go out in my debut race,” he noted, “However, that feeling will go very quickly and I know I'm ready to race.
“I've been back at the factory since leaving Bahrain and been driving the Melbourne track on the simulator, which means it'll only take a lap or two for me to get up to speed when we're there.”
The problems in testing meant that the 2014 F1 pecking order has yet to be fully established but, for what it's worth, Ericsson ended up ahead of more experienced team-mate Kamui Kobayashi both in terms of miles covered and times produced in the final Bahrain session.
“Since the tests finished, there's been a lot of talk about what'll happen in Australia but, until we're actually on track, it's impossible to predict what might happen,” the Swede pointed out, “We weren't able to do full performance runs on either of the last two days – for me, because it was my first ever lap on supersofts and I know how much more I will get out of them with more experience. For Kamui, [it was] a clutch issue problem [that] stopped him before he could have a go at supersoft runs, so I think the first time we'll really see where we are on pace compared to the other teams will be in qualifying.
“What we do
know is that, in the race itself, fuel and energy management strategies are going to be critical, so I'm glad we were able to work on them with Renault as much as we did in the tests. It might well be confusing for the fans, a bit like watching driver manage tyres was for the first half of last year, but it will all be clear when the chequered flag falls.”