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Opinion

A simple solution to the IndyCar quandary of two ex-F1 racers

OPINION: Two of the IndyCar Series’ biggest stars, Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson, find themselves in oddly uncomfortable positions right now with their respective top teams. Is the simple answer for them to trade places for 2024?

Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Romain Grosjean – a 10-time podium finisher in Formula 1 – was expected to excel when he switched to Andretti Autosport last year. He had shown great promise with minnow team Dale Coyne Racing after crossing the Atlantic in 2021. But he lies 13th in points right now, exactly where he ended up in last year’s standings – not what he nor team owner Michael Andretti signed up for.

Also, the fact he scored as many podiums in his maiden season with Coyne (when he wasn’t doing most of the ovals) as he has in one and a half seasons with the powerhouse of Andretti makes for uncomfortable reading too.

Two poles this year, however, have shown the speed is there – and back-to-back runner-up finishes at Long Beach and Barber looked a surefire certainty for a contract extension. Since then, there have been three crashes and two very messy weekends in Road America and Mid-Ohio, tracks where you’d expect him to be running right at the front.

His latest race exit, when the steering wheel whipped out of his hands over the bumps at Toronto, sent him into the wall once again.

“When I was coming around that turn I just lost the steering wheel,” he rued. “It was a difficult handling recovery to make, and I lost the steering wheel in an attempt to maneuver it.”

He added: “We’ll just have to move forward from here and focus on the next one” – a comment that you could cut and paste on many of his post-race comments this year.

Marcus Ericsson’s situation is vastly different, even though he’s coming off his two worst finishes of the year.

Grosjean's time at Andretti Autosport hasn't yielded the hoped-for results

Grosjean's time at Andretti Autosport hasn't yielded the hoped-for results

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

He joined Chip Ganassi Racing in 2020 with backing from Huski Chocolate. That relationship blossomed with victory at the Indianapolis 500 victory last year and is backed up by two consecutive top-six IndyCar Championship finishes, and a close runner-up finish at Indy to Josef Newgarden this season. He also won the 2023 season opener at St Petersburg.

But so-called ‘pay driver’ Ericsson believes it’s time for him to be offered the kind of salary that the other frontrunners enjoy, rather than his nominal payment that is more than offset by the backing he brings via Swedish billionaire Finn Rausing. Ganassi, although publicly glowing about Ericsson’s ability, has to make his numbers add up – and Rausing’s financial support has been a strong asset – so you can see why he wants that to continue.

“I want to be treated as a top driver because that’s what I am in this series,” said Ericsson. “It’s where I wanna be and hopefully we’ll get to that point with Ganassi. I feel like I deserve that.”

One gets the feeling that the IndyCar driver merry-go-round might start to spin wildly next month, as contractual windows open up with some rarely-available top rides going spare

As we’ve previously reported, Ericsson vented to NBC’s Kevin Lee at Road America: “It feels like we are a quite a ways away. I see things one way. The team thinks that I should pay to be there and I feel like I should get paid.

“I am frustrated. There are at least 15 drivers that don't bring a budget — and I'd like to think I am one of those with the performance — but the team thinks otherwise. So that's why we're quite far apart. I've tried to play nice and make it clear I want to stay here. I don't understand and it's frustrating.”

Ganassi’s situation is further complicated by the likelihood of its superstar Alex Palou switching to Arrow McLaren next year – lured away by the promise of an F1 future – so can it afford to lose two of its top performers?

The solution? They simply trade places. In Ericsson, Andretti Autosport would get a proven performer with an excellent Indy 500 record, a race that Michael Andretti is hellbent on winning again as a team owner, having never done so as a driver. Assuming he retains DHL, which has been a longtime partner, he can afford to meet Ericsson’s salary demands.

And last, but not least, he’d weaken a rival team – both from a driver lineup and financial standpoint. Also, might he not be able to tempt an invested Rausing back into the F1 paddock with his new project, if he gets an entry?

Would Andretti be able to entice Ericsson from Ganassi?

Would Andretti be able to entice Ericsson from Ganassi?

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

Ganassi would therefore need a driver with race-winning potential and high profile to continue to satisfy its fine roster of sponsor partners. In Grosjean, it would get just that. It’s an anomaly that he hasn’t yet won an IndyCar race yet, and many a team owner down the years knows that when it gets a happy (and calm) Grosjean, it gets the best out of him.

Inheriting Ericsson’s #8 car would mean teaming up with his ace engineer Brad Goldberg, who formed a big brother/best friend-style relationship with the Swede. Another option would be to give Grosjean the championship-winning #10 ride that would undoubtedly inspire his mojo, and a change is as good as a rest.

On that car, Barry Wanser is probably the calmest strategist and team manager in the paddock, and engineer Julian Robertson seems to be able to magic an A-game car on any (and every) given race weekend. Either option would likely give Grosjean huge confidence on ovals, too. 

Of course, this being IndyCar, there’s a chance that either of them could win in Iowa this weekend – and with it being a double-header, both might! One gets the feeling that the IndyCar driver merry-go-round might start to spin wildly next month, as contractual windows open up with some rarely-available top rides going spare.

The fact is that both of these ex-F1 racers need to be sitting down someplace that suits them when the music stops…

Grosjean and Ericsson could be key players in IndyCar's silly season merry-go-round

Grosjean and Ericsson could be key players in IndyCar's silly season merry-go-round

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

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