Might have been Hamilton: Magnussen

Rubens Barrichello, Jan Magnussen, Stewart-Ford, 1998, 470150

Concluding the two-part series begun yesterday Ben Evans looks at the career of Dane Jan Magnussen (right, with Rubens Barrichello), another ex-McLaren driver who showed great promise in his pre-F1 career but never reached the heights expected of him in Formula 1.

In Formula Ford and Formula 3 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 it should have done.

Arriving on the Formula Ford scene five years later than McNish, Jan Magnussen?s pace during his rise through the British racing scene was astounding.

He won the 1992 Formula Ford Festival despite a 10s penalty for his heat and the final culminated in a do-or-die move around the outside of Oliver Gavin at Paddock Hill Bend. But the next year saw an underfunded year in Formula Opel supporting the European Grands Prix.

Magnussen bounced back in 1994, the stand-out year of his career. The Dane absolutely dominated British Formula Three, comfortably beating team-mate Dario Franchitti (now an Indy Car champion and Indy 500 winner) among others.

From that point on it started to go downhill. For 1995 Magnussen had a McLaren test contract and arguably should have got the nod for the full-time driver when Nigel Mansell stepped down from the team. But the drive instead went to Mark Blundell.

Magnussen eventually made his debut at the Pacific Grand Prix where Mika Hakkinen was sidelined by appendicitis. The Dane performed well and turned a few heads, but by this point the 1996 McLaren line-up was set – and David Coulthard would remain alongside Hakkinen until 2001.

Instead 1996 saw Magnussen driving for Mercedes in the International Touring Car championship, which collapsed at the end of the year. He also made some Indy Car appearances following the retirement of Emerson Fittipaldi.

Eventually 1997 saw Magnussen?s big break when he was confirmed as one of the drivers for the new Stewart team run by three-times world champion Jackie Stewart and backed by Ford. The first year saw a string of retirements and teething troubles, and the Dane was by and large outpaced by team mate Rubens Barrichello.

When Magnussen continued to struggle into 1998 he was dropped by the team mid-season, never to return to F1. Subsequently he has gone on to great success in sportcars in the USA and also the Danish Touring Car Championship. His teenage son Kevin is now putting in some eye-catching performances in his debut year of Formula Ford in Denmark.

So were McNish and Magnussen better than Hamilton? In terms of pure unadulterated raw speed the answer in both cases is absolutely. For me, Magnussen is the quickest driver I have ever seen – that includes Senna and Schumacher – and unquestionably the greatest lost talent of the past 20 years.

However unlike Hamilton, Magnussen never had the support around him, his lifestyle was not micromanaged. But, arguably, had the back-up been there, he may have ignored it. Puffing on cigarettes and a dislike of training is not an appropriate image for an F1 driver in today?s world.

Part of the problem in my view, was the Magnussen was so quick in junior formulae that he probably didn?t need to work on his driving as hard as others and that knocked on into the other lifestyle aspects of a contemporary F1 driver.

Allan McNish is maybe a similar case in point, although I feel that his career never reached the heights it deserved largely because it ran out of momentum. Whereas Hamilton has had an inexorable momentum throughout his career, McNish was left in a holding pattern as he was unable to get than F1 break. Had he moved into F1 in 1990 or 1991, I believe that he would have enjoyed at least a decade at the top of the sport.

In both cases I would also argue that throughout his career Hamilton has shown an improvement in his performance year-on-year, whereas both McNish and Magnussen were as quick as they were going to be by the time they reached F3. Whereas Hamilton really had to work for his success in Formula Renault and F3, both McNish and Magnussen jumped straight into F3 cars and blew everyone away.

This to me meant that both drivers maybe did not work as hard as they could have done to keep pushing to be totally complete drivers in the way Hamilton has done.

If Lewis Hamilton is the archetypal modern F1 driver then both Allan McNish and Jan Magnussen were examples of old school drivers, who were arguably the two quickest drivers of their generation, but never had the complete package required to be a successful F1 driver in contemporary F1.

Read the first part of this article: Might have been Hamilton: Allan McNish

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6 comments on Might have been Hamilton: Magnussen

  1. Johnf said on 31st May 2008, 13:40

    “So were McNish and Magnussen better than Hamilton? In terms of pure unadulterated raw speed the answer in both cases is absolutely. For me, Magnussen is the quickest driver I have ever seen – that includes Senna and Schumacher – and unquestionably the greatest lost talent of the past 20 years.”

    I think your loosing the plot somewhat with this statement. Magnussen never cut it in F1 pure and simple. Its all very well being quick in the sub formulae but it all means very little. Hamilton but in blindingly quick performances in the lower tier also and its all relative to the competition and the equipment. The fact is you do not know whether magnussen would have outpaced hamilton – certainly not in F1. And to suggest Magnussen to be quicker than Senna and Schumacher for raw pace is at best optermistic

  2. Rabi said on 31st May 2008, 13:55

    What it shows to me is that Hamilton has benefitted, as well as the next generation of young drivers, from the failings of managing and building talents such as Magnussen and McNish. The teams, and in particular McLaren, should have improved by now – why else micromanage Lewis’ career from day one?

    Also the first break into F1 does also help all the top drivers have had a break at the right time in their career, which is why it’s possible there were better drivers in the late 80’s and early 90’s due to the high number of teams (read drives) available throughout the 80’s.

  3. Steven Roy said on 31st May 2008, 19:01

    Ron Dennis described Magnussen as the most disorganised GP driver he ever met. For me he was born 20 years too late. Had he come into the sport in the 70s he would have been a legend but he came in at a time when you had to be fit and you had to be able to work hard to be a success. Magnussen was james Hunt but with a lot more ability. In some ways he was the guy Raikkonen is reputed to be off track.

    One of the things that was used against McNish was his size. There was a belief that his small frame could not handle the loads. of course he killed that stone dead with some of the unbelievable quadruple stints he did in sportscars but by then it was too late for F1.

    There is a big difference between being fast and being good.

  4. Ben said on 1st June 2008, 11:06

    I agree 100% with Rabi, had McLaren really worked in the way they have with Hamilton, with Magnussen in particular the story would have been very different.

    As for the quickest I’ve ever seen, some of the comments are making the assumption that F1 is the ultimate arbiter of a driver’s speed. I would very much disagree, the FFFestivals of the late 80’s/early 90’s had a far deeper talent pool than the F1 grids at the same time, controversial I know, but hunt down the DVD’s and you will see what I mean

  5. Steven Roy said on 1st June 2008, 20:22

    I think Magnussen was beyond redemption. If Jackie Stewart couldn’t straighten him out it is unlikely McLaren could.

  6. Michael K said on 2nd June 2008, 14:28

    “So were McNish and Magnussen better than Hamilton? In terms of pure unadulterated raw speed the answer in both cases is absolutely. For me, Magnussen is the quickest driver I have ever seen – that includes Senna and Schumacher – and unquestionably the greatest lost talent of the past 20 years.”

    That is a truly delusional statement. When he was in F1 he got beaten convincingly by RB, who in turn got spanked by Schumi over several years. I think this statement was put in there to bait some debate, but it is so bonkers that there is nothing to discuss. I suspect some special man-love issues are the underlying reasons here… ;-)

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