Might have been Hamilton: Allan McNish

Posted on | Author Ben Evans

Allan McNish, Toyota, Monaco, 2002, 470313

In the first of a two-part series F1 Fanatic columnist Ben Evans looks at two previous young McLaren drivers and asks why they never scaled the heights Lewis Hamiton has.

Watching Lewis Hamilton drive the race of his life on Sunday storming to victory in the Monaco Grand Prix, my mind couldn?t help wandering to the careers of two other McLaren development drivers, both arguably more talented than Hamilton, but equally neither anywhere near as successful.

Those two drivers were Allan McNish and Jan Magnussen.

In Formula Ford and Formula Three both McNish and Magnussen were once-in-a-generation fast. But after stunning debut seasons in F3, 1990 and 1994 respectively, neither?s career hit the heights they should have.

By the end of his debut season of Formula Ford in 1987 Allan McNish was a name hot on the lips of every self-respecting race fan. The cherubic looking young Scot looked devastatingly fast. This continued on into 1988 when, backed by Marlboro and teamed with Mika Hakkinen, the Dragon Motorsport team swept all before it in the British and European Formula Opel Championships.

It was no surprise when McNish moved on to F3 for 1989, again heavily backed by Marlboro and attracting serious McLaren interest. Although he ultimately finished runner-up and made several mistakes throughout the season, McNish was the star of the Championship. No mean feat in a year starring Hakkinen, David Brabham, Rickard Rydell, Derek Higgins, Otto Rensing and Paul Stewart.

By 1990 the McLaren link was firm, but the year started on the worst possible note when McNish was involved in an horrific accident at Donington Park where his car vaulted a barrier. He escaped uninjured, but a spectator was killed.

Although he won at Silverstone a few weeks later the momentum was lost and McNish did not have the year of success many had predicted. By this stage he was in possession of a McLaren test contract but thanks to the Ayrton Senna-Gerhard Berger partnership in the team had no immediate F1 openings. Several more seasons of F3000 saw mixed fortunes, the occasional win tempered with budget shortfalls and uncompetitive machinery.

A move to sportscars finally began to deliver the success he deserved, winning Le Mans for the first time in 1998. The ever-cheerful Scotsman finally got to F1 in 2002 with Toyota in their debut season of F1 and was unlucky to be dropped, together with Mika Salo, at the season?s end, a move which arguably set Toyota’s development back several years.

McNish spent a year as Renault’s third driver before returning to sports cars with Audi for whom he has been American Le Mans Series champion. He also drove for them in the DTM in 2005.

Tomorrow I’ll look at another driver whose pre-F1 career and ties with McLaren shared similarities with Hamilton – Jan Magnussen.

Allan McNish, Audi, Spa-Francorchamps, 2008, 470313

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Ben Evans

Contributing writer.