Sauber has announced that they have retained Marcus Ericsson to drive alongside Ferrari academy driver and Formula Two champion Charles Leclerc next season.
At an event in Malian, it was reviled that the Swede needed to fight for the seat after the Swiss team signed a technical partnership with Ferrari and Fiat. Earlier this week, it was announced that the team had agreed to sign a partnership with Alfa Romeo.
The sponsorship and technical deal came about Ferrari president, Sergio Marchionne took made it clear he wanted to get Alfa back on the grid. Alfa last competed as a team in Formula One in 1985, their team. Marchionne’s aim is to create a proving ground for young Italian racers, Ericsson’s close ties with Sauber’s owners eventually won out.
Sauber has gone through rapid change over the last few months following the appointment of Fred Vasseur as team principal. Vasseur scrapped a deal with the Japanese manufacturer Honda in favour of a deeper relationship with Ferrari.
Leclerc has had a sensation season in F2, the Monacan driver won seven races on his way to the title. Wrapping up the title in the standalone round in Jerez, the same weekend as the Japanese Grand Prix.
The twenty-year-old took seven race victories and three more podium finishes, while he also started a record eight races on pole, passing the achievements of former champions, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Leclerc has also worked with Vassuer; he won the 2016 GP3 title with his ART team. He has also driven for Sauber in four practice session in Malaysia, USA, Mexico and Brazil, finishing ahead of Wehrlein and Ericsson in the timesheet in Malaysia and Brazil.
He also drove in last weeks tyre test for the second time this season. In Hungary, he impressed many in that test by going fastest in the Ferrari on day one. Ending the test six tenths off Sebastian Vettel and ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
Ericsson’s Swedish backers are thought to be linked to Sauber’s owners and he will now complete a fifth season in Formula One. That’s the reason he is likely to have retained his seat, despite him being the only full-time driver not to have scored points this year.
The confirmation of Leclerc places the future of Mercedes backed Pascal Wehrlien in serious doubt, with Williams the only team left with a seat available in 2018.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted at the Abu Dhabi GP that there was only a “tiny possibility” of the 23-year-old joining the Grove-based team, with Robert Kubica the leading candidate to be Lance Stroll’s team-mate in 2018 following Felipe Massa’s retirement.
What could complicate the Williams situation further is title sponsor Martini would also prefer a driver over the age of 25 for promotional reasons.
Although chief technical officer Paddy Lowe insisted that could be worked around as the team look to secure the best possible line-up.
Wehrlein said in Mexico that he was not yet considering options outside of Formula 1 for next year, but he has been linked with a return to DTM racing or a switch to Formula E.
However, the Formula E season is just getting underway this weekend in Hong Kong and Mercedes do not have a works team, having deferred the entry until 2019 – 20.