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The junior single-seater rival to F1’s Norris seeking career redemption

Plenty has changed since Lando Norris stormed to the FIA Formula 3 European title in 2017. But while Formula 1's newest race winner has gone from strength to strength in the years since, the Briton's closest rival that year is scrapping to get himself a full-time seat to remind everyone of his abilities

Joel Eriksson, Envision Racing

The entry list for Formula E’s Berlin double-header wasn’t short of new names, as the World Endurance Championship’s Spa clash last weekend offered the chance for some fresh faces to make their mark. While the likes of Formula 2 frontrunner Paul Aron was getting his first taste of racing in the all-electric championship, save for a 30-minute session in Misano last month, his team-mate across the garage was no stranger to Formula E.

Joel Eriksson returned to the grid after an absence of nearly three years, during which time the 25-year-old has all but fallen off the motorsport radar despite a junior career which promised much. In particular, battling future McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris for the FIA Formula 3 European title in 2017, with Eriksson pushing the young Briton throughout.

The campaign marked Eriksson’s second season in the junior single-seater category with Motopark, having finished fifth the previous year, while Norris joined full-time with Carlin after only sampling the final round in 2016. Come the end of the season, 53 points separated the pair with Norris taking nine wins to Eriksson’s seven as the duo proved to be the class of the field.

While Norris would make his F1 debut in 2019, Eriksson’s career took a different path which for the last six years has seen him race very little. But Norris’s recent victory in the Miami Grand Prix, his first F1 win after 110 starts, has spurred his former rival to make his own mark in single-seater racing, and in particular, Formula E.

“First of all, I’m very happy for Lando because he is one of the fairest drivers I raced against and I have huge respect for him – we had huge respect for each other on track and off track. So I’m super happy for him,” Eriksson tells Motorsport.com.

“I know I can be on the same level as him because it was always between him and me back in 2017. It’s not frustrating [to see his career] but for me it shows, I’m not saying I’m as good as him, but I know that I can be close to him, on the same level. And that’s just more proof to me that I have to keep pushing, I have to keep working to get a full-time race seat.”

Eriksson ran Norris close in the race for the 2017 F3 title, but their careers have taken different routes in the years since

Eriksson ran Norris close in the race for the 2017 F3 title, but their careers have taken different routes in the years since

Photo by: JEP

Although he failed to beat Norris, the rest of the grid Eriksson finished ahead of during that 2017 season certainly wasn’t lacking in talent. It included current Formula E drivers Maximillian Guenther, Jake Hughes and Jehan Daruvala, while Callum Ilott, who claimed a first outright WEC victory for Jota at Spa last weekend, was also a full-time entrant. So too were future F1 drivers Mick Schumacher and Guanyu Zhou.

With opportunities to move up the single-seater ladder lacking for 2018, Eriksson switched his focus to the DTM with the Racing Bart Mampaey BMW team. But two seasons only yielded one win, at Misano during his first year, and just a further two rostrums meant Eriksson claimed a best of 11th in the standings the following season.

His big break in top tier single-seater racing came courtesy of Dragon Penske in Formula E for 2021, having been signed as the team’s reserve driver before he was called into action to replace Nico Muller mid-season. A package lacking in general competitiveness, coupled with no seat time prior to his debut, meant Eriksson was always on the back foot and he was only able to muster one point from the final eight races with 10th in London.

"I’m still trying my very best to find a full-time race seat in Formula E and that has been my main goal for the last six years" Joel Eriksson

“The second the half of the season with Dragon Penske was quite a tough time because I didn’t have any testing or anything,” says Eriksson. “Then with the qualifying format they had back then with only one lap in qualifying, it was too difficult without any practice.”

Within the space of three years any momentum or credentials that Eriksson had built battling wheel-to-wheel with Norris had all but vanished, as the Swede was left to compete in one-off GT outings across Europe. A career lifeline came from Jaguar less than two years ago, though, as the British manufacturer hired Eriksson as a test and reserve driver for its Formula E effort that has given him hope of making a full-time return to racing.

“After the opportunity I got with Dragon I was a bit disappointed because I didn’t feel that I showed what I was capable to do,” he says. “I have to thank Jaguar for the opportunity they gave me one-and-a-half years ago, because they reached out to me and really wanted to give me a second chance in Formula E.

“They saw the potential I had. They picked me up again and gave me a chance again which I’m super grateful for.”

Eriksson got his first Formula E chance as a stand-in at Dragon Penske, but with no testing he struggled to make an impression

Eriksson got his first Formula E chance as a stand-in at Dragon Penske, but with no testing he struggled to make an impression

Photo by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images

A chance to race in Formula E again came last weekend in Germany, when Eriksson joined Jaguar customer squad and reigning teams’ champions Envision in place of Robin Frijns due to the clashing WEC round. In a chaotic pair of races that has become the norm in Formula E, Eriksson was eliminated in the opener after contact with Kelvin van der Linde, also a one-off replacement for Muller at Abt. But in the second, he was able to finish ninth and believes there was more potential in himself and the package.

“First of all, I’m really happy to score points but at the same time I’m very disappointed, I have to say, because the second Attack Mode activation didn’t work even though I was over the sensors,” he says. “It left us in a bad track position. I was in the middle of the carnage where all the crazy things are going on so I couldn’t advance from there. The potential was definitely there to be top five.”

For now, further Formula E outings appear unlikely, although his input for the Jaguar team is clearly valued and of great use given the Big Cat’s most recent success with Nick Cassidy has put the Kiwi to the top of the standings. Should race seats open up at either Jaguar or Envision in the near future, it’s not unlikely that Eriksson’s name will be in the mix, while interest may yet have been generated up and down the pitlane after Berlin.

“I’m still trying my very best to find a full-time race seat in Formula E and that has been my main goal for the last six years, since I did my first rookie test with Envision [under the Virgin moniker in 2018 at Marrakesh],” says Eriksson. “I will never stop trying, I will always keep pushing and always try to improve myself as well. My main goal will always be to find a full-time race seat.”

Eriksson is determined to get himself back on the Formula E grid full-time after his return with Envision in Berlin

Eriksson is determined to get himself back on the Formula E grid full-time after his return with Envision in Berlin

Photo by: Dom Romney / Motorsport Images

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