There will be no Danes on the grid at the start of the 2013 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this Sunday, the first race of the Formula One season. This will be the fifth in a row that is unlikely to feature a home-grown driver.
However, following in the footsteps of his father Jan Magnussen, the last man to represent Denmark in F1 back in 2008, is a young 20-year-old currently attached to the racing powerhouse McClaren. He is widely tipped to succeed or, at the very least, better his country’s dismal record of just one point from 32 starts in the top tier of motor racing.
Kevin Magnussen’s career is in the ascendancy. In November, he earned his F1 superlicence after impressing in a F1 young driver test drive in Abu Dhabi, where he set the quickest time of the three-day event in the McClaren MP4-27. And earlier this month, McLaren’s sporting director Sam Michael told Sporten.dk that Magnussen, who joined McLaren’s Young Driver Programme in 2010, had the potential to be world champion.
Sure, Michael says that about all his trainee drivers – they wouldn’t be at McClaren if the team didn’t think they could one day fulfil their promise. But at least he’s still there, as he would be swiftly rejected if his ambition didn’t match McClaren’s.
“We have no interest in developing and supporting Kevin Magnussen to become one of Formula One’s also-rans,” Michael told Sporten.dk.
“At McLaren we have only one goal and that is to educate the new world champion in Formula One. And if we find that a young driver like Kevin Magnussen no longer aims to become world champion, we’ll immediately change our view of him.”
Michael dismissed the possibility that Denmark’s lack of success in F1, compared to for example Finland, might weigh against Magnussen.
“It may be hard for some people in Denmark to believe that they might have a home-grown champion in the near future,” he said. “But from my point of view, a driver’s background and nationality count for nothing.
The most important thing for us is that he is fast.”
For now, Michael wants Magnussen to focus on the 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 Series in which he will be racing for a new team, after leaving Carlin at the end of last season. Competing for French outfit Driot-Arnoux Motorsport, he will be seeking to improve on his seventh place finish in 2012, which included one win and three second-place finishes, in a championship generally perceived to be the tier directly below F1, which starts on April 6.
Seventh place would have disappointed a young driver who is used to winning. After winning the Danish Formula Ford Championship in 2008, aged just 16, and coming third in the 2010 German Formula Three Championship, he enjoyed a fantastic season in 2011 in the British Formula Three Championship, landing eight poles and seven victories on his way to second place overall.
And to add insult to injury, he finished one position below a fellow Dane. Marco L Sørensen, 22, racing for Team Lotus Junior Team, won in Spa and finished second in two other races in a season beset by technical difficulties, which cost him victories at Aragon and Silverstone. Despite this promise, Lotus left it late to renew his contract for this season, but last month his place was confirmed and he is set to lock horns with Magnussen once again. Could this be another famous sporting rivalry in the mix?
But despite his mediocre results on the track last year, Magnussen’s impressive performance in the Abu Dhabi test means that he is likely to be promoted this year to work on the actual race car, inching him ever closer to becoming a test driver for the team’s two designated drivers. That would put him an untimely injury away from getting a Formula One start – an eventuality that would make him the fifth Danish driver to do so.
It would be recent history repeating itself as it was an occurrence like this that led to his father making his Formula One debut for McLaren in 1995, when he stepped in to replace an unwell Mika Hakkinen. However, he didn’t get another drive and left two years later to race for Stewart in 2007 and 2008.
Kevin will not want to emulate his father’s F1 record. Despite being a four-time winner of Le Mans and winning the 1994 British Formula Three Championship at a canter, in 25 F1 races, Magnussen Snr picked up just one point – in his final race, the 1998 Canadian Prix – before he was sacked.
Magnussen’s recruitment by McLaren in 2010 was criticised at the time for being sentimental, and his father conceded last year that there was probably some truth in this, as did some of the senior personnel at McLaren.