Jan Magnussen – The F1 career that got away

When the Australian Grand Prix kicks off the 2014 Formula 1 season in March, Kevin Magnussen will become the latest son of a former F1 driver to race in F1 himself.  His father Jan raced once for McLaren-Mercedes in 1995 then 24 times for the Stewart Grand Prix team in 1997-98, before settling in to a career in GT racing.

The likes of Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill and Nico Rosberg have all followed their fathers – Gilles Villeneuve, Graham Hill and Keke Rosberg respectively – into the top level of motorsport, something Kevin Magnussen has now signed into with the McLaren team.

Let us have a look into Kevin’s father, Jan Magnussen’s F1 debut, at the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix at the Aida circuit in Japan, and his subsequent career in Formula 1.  Regular driver and future double world champion Mika Hakkinen was unwell with appendicitis so Jan stepped in to partner Mark Blundell at the team for this one race.

Jan 1

Prior to F1, Magnussen had broken the British Formula 3 record held by Ayrton Senna of most wins in a season, as he dominated the 1994 season with 14 race wins out of 18 starts driving for Paul Stewart Racing.  This got him noticed and signed to McLaren as part of their young driver programme.

The MP4/10 car and its upgrade, the MP4/10B the team used were not the greatest McLaren F1 cars ever made, and were the first with the Mercedes engine.  A lack of front-end grip was the team’s main handling issue, while the engine was often unreliable.

1995 Pacific Grand Prix – Qualifying Result

Pos

No

Driver

Team

Q1 Time

Q2 Time

Gap

1

6 David Coulthard Williams 1:14.182 1:14.013

2

5 Damon Hill Williams 1:14.289 1:14.213 +0.200

3

1 Michael Schumacher Benetton 1:14.524 1:14.284 +0.271

4

27 Jean Alesi Ferrari 1:14.919 1:15.131 +0.906

5

28 Gerhard Berger Ferrari 1:14.974 1:15.125 +0.961

6

15 Eddie Irvine Jordan 1:15.696 1:15.354 +1.341

7

2 Johnny Herbert Benetton 1:15.561 1:15.556 +1.543

8

30 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Sauber 1:15.942 1:15.561 +1.548

9

26 Olivier Panis Ligier 1:17.071 1:15.621 +1.608

10

7 Mark Blundell McLaren 1:15.652 1:16.166 +1.639

11

14 Rubens Barrichello Jordan 1:16.263 1:15.774 +1.761

12

8 Jan Magnussen McLaren 1:16.339 1:16.368 +2.326

*Times in bold represent the drivers fastest lap*

In his first official time in the car, in the old two-session qualifying format, Magnussen qualified an impressive twelfth on the 24-car grid, only seven tenths of a second behind his vastly more experienced team-mate.  David Coulthard took pole position ahead of his Williams Renault team-mate Damon Hill.

1995 Pacific Grand Prix – Race Result

Pos

No

Driver

Team

Laps

Time/Retired

Grid

Pts

1 1 Michael Schumacher Benetton 83 1:48’49.972 3 10
2 6 David Coulthard Williams 83 +14.920 1 6
3 5 Damon Hill Williams 83 +48.333 2 4
4 28 Gerhard Berger Ferrari 82 +1 Lap 5 3
5 27 Jean Alesi Ferrari 82 +1 Lap 4 2
6 2 Johnny Herbert Benetton 82 +1 Lap 7 1
7 30 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Sauber 82 +1 Lap 8  
8 26 Olivier Panis Ligier 81 +2 Laps 9  
9 7 Mark Blundell McLaren 81 +2 Laps 10  
10 8 Jan Magnussen McLaren 81 +2 Laps 12  

In the race, Magnussen followed his team-mate Blundell home in tenth position, albeit two laps behind race winner Michael Schumacher.  It was the best he could have hoped for in a new car for his first ever grand prix.  He did not put a foot wrong all weekend.

“It’s great for me not only to finish race, but also to make it to the top ten,” said Jan after his debut.

“I had a good fight with [Rubens] Barrichello at the beginning of the race and then towards the end I was closing up on Mark [Blundell]. Even if I had caught him I would not have overtaken though because I did not want to take unnecessary risks.”

Jan 4

Both then McLaren team boss Ron Dennis and then Mercedes boss Norbert Haug were full of praise for Jan’s efforts during his first race.

“Jan did an exceptionally good race for his first Grand Prix and I’m sure he is as pleased with his own performance as we are,” said Dennis.

“Jan was very impressive,” added Haug.  “In his first Grand Prix, he proved to be a real racer, setting the best lap times and being quick coming in and out for each of his three pit stops.”

Mika Hakkinen would return for the remainder of the 1995 Formula 1 season, and it would take Jan until 1997 to get a full-time drive in the sport with the newly formed Stewart Grand Prix outfit.  Ron Dennis advised Jan not to leave McLaren, but the offer of racing was too much for the Dane to turn down.

“Ron advised me against leaving but I didn’t hear a word he said,” said Jan.

“I just wanted to be a Formula One driver and I couldn’t see myself in a McLaren with the driver lineup they had at the time. I should have stayed one or two more years, to have all the things I didn’t have hammered into me by Ron Dennis.

“But McLaren were different then. Since then they have developed a fantastic programme for young drivers, which Kevin is benefiting from. It is a great team of people to have around you. He really is part of the McLaren family. They will take good care of him. For any situation, any question there’s a guy to go to, someone to teach him.

“In my time, though, there was no coaching, no teaching the ropes. There was just me and they expected me to figure it out.”

Jan 2

Jackie Stewart was full of praise for Jan Magnussen when signing the Dane for Stewart, calling him the ‘the greatest driving talent to emerge since Ayrton Senna’, but unfortunately his career at the team did not work out as either he or his team had hoped.  He struggled to match team-mate Rubens Barrichello, and only scored one point in total, for a sixth-placed finish at his final grand prix at Canada in 1998.  He would then be let go, replaced by Dutchman Jos Verstappen, and would never compete in Formula 1 again.  It did not help that he retired from 16 of the 25 races he would compete in.

“My biggest problem was that I didn’t have enough time in the car. It always blew up. We had a lot of mechanical failures. I remember sitting down watching the car burn on too many occasions.”

Jan would move into sports car racing with much more success, and was the 2013 American Le Mans Series champion alongside Spaniard Antonio Garcia, driving for Corvette Racing, winning the title on the same day Kevin would win the Formula Renault 3.5 series title.

But Jan regrets what happened to him during his brief career in F1, and knows he let only had himself to blame.

“I let myself down,” said Jan. “I wish I’d had another chance but Kevin is where he is today because of what happened to me. He can learn from my mistakes.

“He is much more mature than I was at 21. In fact there are no similarities. He’s super hardworking and much more organised than I ever was. I’m sure Ron [Dennis] was frustrated with me. I was a smoker, I didn’t train properly and was not at all organised. I was not ready for F1.”

We can only hope that Kevin Magnussen’s F1 career is more impressive than his fathers.  He seems to have the skill behind the wheel and the ambition to succeed, so we could expect big things from the Danish driver.  Jenson Button might just get a surprise or two in 2014.

Jan 3

“Kevin used to be the son of Jan Magnussen,” said Jan. “Now, suddenly, I am the father of Kevin Magnussen.”

Sources: http://www.theguardian.com, Autosport, FORIX

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