A tale of Swedish F1 drivers
The news that Marcus Ericsson will make his Formula 1 debut with Caterham this year end a 23-year drought of Swedish Grand Prix drivers. Until now, the last time a Swede raced in F1 was Stefan Johansson’s in a Footwork in Canada, 1991.Johansson, on paper, should have had a winning career in F1 with two years at Ferrari, and one year at McLaren among his 79 starts. His best finish was second place, which he did four times. His final podium finish came unexpectedly with the doomed Moneytron Onyx team in 1989. He didn’t get beyond Friday morning’s pre-qualifying session eight times that year, so the third place in Portugal was a largely unexpected highlight. Not only was it Johansson’s last podium, it was the final time Onyx would score points.‘Little Leif’ has a fondness for the Onyx team, run by the more than flamboyant Jean-Pierre van Rossem. The Belgian played with the stock market, and made millions. But his fickle nature meant that politics and constant changes in staff gave no consistency, and van Rossem soon lost interest. Once the team was out of his hands it descended quickly to oblivion, and van Rossem was later jailed.”Overall I was very happy with that period,” says Johansson. “I took a big gamble to go with a new team in Onyx. I had an agreement with Ligier and could have had 1989 there if I wanted. I knew the staff at Onyx very well from when the team won in F3000 and I knew that they were very capable. I felt comfortable with the choice I made.”
While van Rossem was not everyone’s cup of tea in the F1 paddock, Johansson worked well with him. “Our relationship was very good,” he says. “I only have positive things to say about him. Many people wanted him pushed aside because he was rather eccentric. Personally I liked him enormously. He had a great sense of humor and he was very creative. His business way of thinking for the team to evolve was also one of his strengths. He ultimately fulfilled each promise to me, and even did more than we had agreed. Unfortunately we never had the opportunity to progress into 1990.”
The team was taken over by Peter Monteverdi and Karl Foitek. After just two races Johansson was replaced by Foitek’s son Gregor, but by mid-season, internal bust-ups, and a dire lack of funds and changing staff forced the doors to close on what had, at one time, been a promising looking race team.
Johansson recalls that 1990 season. “At that time I knew that my deal could be on or off. When van Rossem left, suddenly everything became more political. On that basis I knew that I had no future within the team. It was to be expected that under the leadership of Monteverdi the team would only get worse.”
Johansson only raced once more in F1, that 1991 Canadian Grand Prix. He won at Le Mans in 1997 in a Joest Porsche, teamed with Michele Alboreto and a young Tom Kirstensen. It was the first win for the Dane at the classic 24 Hours, and (to date) eight more have followed. Johansson is currently the manager of three-time – and reigning – IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.
At least Johansson had tasted success in F1, of the nine Swedes that to have raced in F1 so far, three of them (Bertol Roos, Torsten Palm and Conny Anderson) only made one start each.
With Caterham’s roots in Team Lotus, it’s fitting that’s where Ericsson will race. Nine of Petersons 10 wins came in a Lotus, as did Nilsson’s solitary victory.
Bonnier also competed in a Lotus, and Reine Wisell’s best finish (a podium at the United States Grand Prix, 1970) was in the famous red and gold of Gold Leaf Lotus.Which leaves two others. Slim Borgudd made 10 starts, his best a sixth place at Silverstone in 1981. Borgudd is without doubt better known for being a session drummer with ABBA, and carried the Swedish super-group’s logo on the side pods of his ATS car.Ericsson certainly has an uphill battle to be competitive with Caterham this year, the team finishing last in constructors points in 2013. As the 10th Swedish Grand Prix driver in 64 years, he is already in an elite group. Whether he will add to his country’s points tally waits to be seen.