F1: McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen must grasp his chance as team principal Martin Whitmarsh admits they are taking a 'risk' with 'special driver'
Magnussen steps up to McLaren after winning the Formula Renault 3.5 series last season in which he impressed many with his mature approach
Monday 16 December 2013
It is rare in Formula One these days for a rookie to be handed his debut with one of the sport's leading teams.
But for the second time in eight seasons McLaren have opted to take that route, as they did in 2007 with a certain Lewis Hamilton.
It is perhaps expecting too much of Kevin Magnussen to have the same impact Hamilton did that remarkable campaign.
The now 28-year-old stepped on to the podium in his first nine races, winning four of the 17 overall, only to miss out on the world title by a solitary point and in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Magnussen, however, has so far made waves and impressed, to such an extent team principal Martin Whitmarsh opted to axe Sergio Perez at the end of last season and promote his Danish development driver.
It was at the young driver test in Abu Dhabi in November 2012 that the 21-year-old raised the eyebrows of all within McLaren.
In a Formula One car for the first time, and on only his third flying lap, Magnussen set a time that would have been good enough for sixth on the grid in the race the weekend before.
Whitmarsh described Magnussen's performance that day as "pretty bloody impressive", adding "he is bloody quick".
For the 2013 season, Magnussen's second in Formula Renault 3.5 Series, he was urged by Whitmarsh to prove he had what it takes by claiming the title. Magnussen did exactly that, and comfortably so by 60 points ahead of another rising star on McLaren's books, Stoffel Vandoorne.
Although he won the final three races, claimed five victories overall and stood on the podium in nine of the other 12 events, it was what Magnussen did in the opening moments of the first race that stood out for Whitmarsh.
"He put his car on pole and had Antonio Felix Da Costa alongside him," recalled Whitmarsh.
"At the start Da Costa outbraked himself into the first corner. The Kevin of old wouldn't have seen it and ... bump!
"But Kevin saw him and let him through, which went against all his instincts.
"I rang him immediately after the race and said 'Kevin, that is the most impressive thing I've ever seen you do'.
"Knowing he was lightning quick, he then had to learn how to win a championship, and that is what he did. He just impressed everyone through this year."
Magnussen added to that impression at another test at Silverstone in July, emerging quickest at the end of the first day after completing 110 laps.
"What was impressive was the consistency - there was not a single mistake," added Whitmarsh.
"I also happened to participate in the engineering debrief at the end of the day and he had a number of engineers around him and at least 20 on video conference.
"I sat there listening to his feedback, how clear and precise he was, the confidence, and realising 'This guy is special'."
Just how special remains to be seen, especially as many are likely to compare him to father Jan initially, and then Hamilton.
Jan also had the speed and talent, although not perhaps the application because after he, too, was taken on and nurtured by McLaren in the 1990s, his career failed to take off as expected.
After a promising debut in the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix as replacement for an ill Mika Hakkinen, rather than waiting for a permanent chance at McLaren, Jan opted to join the newly-formed Stewart Grand Prix in 1997.
There were flashes of brilliance, but not enough to convince owner Sir Jackie Stewart that Magnussen had a long-term future, and after just one and a half seasons the now 40-year-old was given the boot.
Kevin should hopefully progress further than his father, but as for following in Hamilton's shoes and becoming a world champion, that is another thing.
Whitmarsh is aware he is throwing Magnussen in at the deep end, but has no qualms he will swim rather than sink.
"We did it with Lewis, but how many times in your career does that happen because we could have had egg on our face," said Whitmarsh.
"The one thing I'll say - and I hesitate to say this thinking about it, but I'll say it - it was easier for Lewis because we pounded him with testing in a way you can't any more.
"So there's a risk, but we wouldn't be doing it unless we didn't think it would work out."
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