OK so, if you’ve just arrived from our last GP2 feature, you’ll already know at least three characteristics of Gustav Malja‘s personality: friendly, resilient, honest… and from now on, you should regard him as a respectful person: “I don’t know so much about him, but for sure Ronnie Peterson gave us the best moments for Sweden in motorsport. He was really strong, but I can’t remember because I wasn’t born! The results he had are really impressive and very cool, he was even on the verge of a championship when he died. Otherwise, I think Stefan Johannson was another good example, who drove for big teams in Formula 1. Maybe he did not have the best results, but he was there.” But what about Gustav himself? For sure he’s had enough time to make his own contribution to the Swedish racing heritage, albeit not in the pinnacle of motorsport. Or should we add humility for the profile we are drawing about him? “I’d say I’ve had a lot of nice memories. But the biggest one so far was probably when I won my first race in racing, in 2012. A very nice moment, because it was my first win and it became my real start.”
For Gustav Malja, it’s a pity that his country don’t have enough mountains to practice skiing, what forces him to travel to places like Austria (or to the few appropriate places to the north of his own land) so that he is able to enjoy his favourite non-motorsport activity. Overall, “Sweden is a culture crazier for trucks and tractors,” he admits; “We have really good drivers in rallycross. Jimmy is doing a great job. I think we’re growing in this small world of motorsport.”
Enter Jimmy Eriksson, another Swedish young gun who is trying his luck in this, the most renowned of the feeder series: “Overall, it’s been a tough season for me. I knew that, as a rookie, it was always going to be difficult. But I expected a bit more of success. I’m working as hard as I can to make the best out of it and finish the season on a high.”
He has his own strong opinions about the national topic: “If you look back only five years ago, there were no succesful formula drivers from Sweden. Now we have some names that are doing quite well. We have Marcus [Ericsson] in F1, Gustav in GP2, my younger brother in F3… The interest in Sweden is increasing and it’s nice to see it…”
…and enter Joel Eriksson, that said brother of him. Do they share their racing lifes? “We always learn from each other all the time. Right now, he is on a very high level himself. At the moment, we both can learn from each other. But he’s my younger brother, and in the past it’s been me who has always teached him stuff, particularly when he has been doing a first season somewhere, because of the experience I have in formula cars. Normally (but not this weekend), I’m always on his races and he is on mines. We always try to speak, to talk and to go through things together in order to improve. We have a very good relationship.”
“There is a good base in Sweden in terms of industry of engineering. I think we have a big support from our country and people wishes us a lot of success. Bear in mind that, for a small country like ours, we are fairly represented in motorsport.” But Jimmy Eriksson also falls into that category of people who feel in love with the Monza environment: “It’s really great to come here, because we have many races where tracks are really nice for you but there is not such atmosphere. Another good example is Hockenheim, there are lots of people. Compared to Sweden, our population is not very big and the races are small. In consequence, the national championship is of quite a low level.”
Jimmy has good memories from Monza: “I have been in pole position here, and last year I did really well until I had an engine problem [he raced in GP3 for Koiranen GP]. When the car stops in free practice, it’s tough to bounce back.” When asked about the critical points of the lap, Jimmy recalls that “for me it’s mainly about braking, especially in the chicanes, like Ascari, and into the Parabolica. Braking is the most important thing”… and here comes the due Spanish question: “My favourite track in Spain is Jerez.” “The television doesn’t do justice to it,” we point out; “Yes, Turn 3, Turn 6… are even nicer than what they look for TV viewers.” And what is the state of Anderstorp, another masterpiece of John Hugenholtz, aka “The Sixties Tilke”? Oh yes, Anderstorp, well… there it is. Shameful. It deserves better use.
It seems that Gustav is kind to point out at Jimmy as part of the very best representation of Swedish racing talent. In his view, which one is his compatriot’s strongest point? “I would say it’s never giving up. He’s had some tough time, and what I respect most about him is that he has a great ability as a driver.” Jimmy, it’s your turn. A few words about Gustav? “It’s hard for me, in my first year, to say something about him. But he delivers strong qualifyings.”
May we suggest another quality of Gustav that has catched our attention? It is his talent for race starts. Does he have any trick to perform that well in this area? “First of all, very good reflexes… as the ones I have! I train at Formula Medicine, where I do a lot of exercises that you need as a driver (including reaction time testing). You also have visual tests. Then, obviously, you need to have a good procedure for your starts, to be able to extract the maximum from engine and tyres.” Mind you, a driver that cares about having a center for training as renowned as Formula Medicine (and who has even paid a visit to Rob Wilson‘s school) is a driver who doesn’t settle to just put it all down to his own natural talent. With such an approach, he’ll get more stronger with time than any of us dare to imagine currently.
We try to dig deeper: “Do you think that you are building for yourself a reputation as a good starter?” “Yes, I think so”, replys Gustav inmediately; “I think a lot of people now respect me in the car, I guess that is in part thanks to my starts. But I don’t care.”
We can’t neither escape to the fact that Gustav Malja has insisted on talking about his test with Arden, with the suspect that he did it in a “lest not forget” manner. Now that Jimmy is onboard that historically honoured team, how does he think they could recover their past form? “I don’t know, but they’re really competitive in GP3 and 3.5. There’s a great potential in the team. What they should do, it’s not for me to say. At the moment I’m with them, and I want to make improvements with them.” Another driver with an adequate set of priorities, then. But for Monza, he assured us that “brake cooling is not that big a problem” as we might have thought; “it’s more about tyres”. And he was happy with Arden‘s top speed, by the way.
A few hours later, we met Gustav again… at the press conference for the Top 3 in GP2’s race 1. Our brain can’t stop replaying his quotes from our interview earlier in the day: “I think we’ve had so good race weekends so far in the end. Obvioulsy we want to have as many good results as possible. We put the target for every session and then we see. If we can get to the top 8 in race 1, that is a very good step in a race weekend. We were P6 in Germany and then P8 after a not perfect race for me.”
We approach him once again, this time to congratulate, while at the same time we celebrate our wise choice of protagonists for the weekend: “We told you so! We were sure you could do more big things from now ’til the end of the year [he’d got lucky with the chaotic Safety Car deployment, though…], remember?. But why did you lose the race winner Giovinazzi from your sight?” “I made a mistake exiting from a kerb, lost speed and got overtaken. From then on I wasn’t able to race Marciello. But without that error, I could have even won.”
Once upon a time, two great cinema actors had a chat about idiosyncratic clichés:
– “Want to know what’s the Spanish national sin?” told Fernando Fernán-Gómez to Erland Josephson, recalling an old saying from Spain.
– “No idea,” replied Josephson.
– It is jealousness.
– Wow… Do you know what’s the Swedish national sin?
Now we can tell it for ourselves: we’re not that different, after all…