Like father, like son: The McLaren Magnussen tale
Jan Magnussen had the world at his feet when he made is F1 debut for McLaren in 1995, but for one reason or another failed to make it all work in the big league. Now, 19 years later, his son, Jan V2.0, better known as Kevin, Magnussen is ready to make his debut… also for McLaren.
By Andy HallberyJan Magnussen won’t be in the Melbourne pitlane in 2014 to witness his son Kevin following in his dad’s footsteps when he makes his Grand Prix debut with McLaren. Jan was 22 years old when he substituted for the unwell Mika Hakkinen in the Pacific Grand Prix at the then named Aida Circuit. Kevin is currently 21. Like father like son.
Dad Magnussen’s own commitments mean he will be racing for Corvette in the famous Sebring 12 Hours – an event he where has already won his class three times. Sure he’d like to be in Australia to watch Kevin, but right now that’s as far as it goes. “I don’t want to be his manager,” smiles Sr. “I want to be his dad, and that’s it. We’ve become very close in and I want to be a good dad to him and be there when things go well but also stand right beside him when things go wrong. That’s all I want to do. McLaren has people there to do the rest.”
Jan’s own F1 debut came on the back of a meteoric rise that seemed destined to be heading for stellar superstardom. By his F1 debut he’d already been three time karting World Champion (2 x Junior, 1 x Senior), British F3 champion (breaking a record for the number of wins in a season, previously held jointly by Sir Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna), had finished runner-up in the FIA ITC series for Mercedes, and made that Grand Prix debut with McLaren. By the summer the following year, the Dane had added a race for the legendary Marlboro Team Penske in CART Indycars. Kevin was three years old.
In some ways – and Jan today is the first to admit it – looking back, he was almost too good. The opportunities landed at his feet: With what seemed like little obvious effort he was always at or near the front. He was still a smoker, for instance. “I was individual,” he says. “I did it my own way – I had nobody telling me what to do. And in doing so I let myself down.” Ron Dennis knew he had the talent and was adamant – despite being sponsored by Marlboro – the cigarettes had to stop. While to the outside world they had, those that knew Jan well also knew that the sales of Nicorette patches had gone through the roof! “Yes, that is true,” he admits. “I always had to keep my overalls done up…”
Dennis didn’t entirely give up on Jan though, and he remained the team’s test driver. In 1996 Magnussen had a call from his touring car employer Mercedes telling him to give Ron a call, as he “had something to say,” Jan recalls. “So I rang Ron, he never really gets hyped up and he just asked me in a matter of fact way whether I’d like to do the last three races of the season in the Indycar series? That came as a surprise to me!”
The chance came up after Penske and Hogan Penske drivers Paul Tracy and Emerson Fittipaldi had been injured at Michigan. For Fittipaldi, it was a career-ending crash. “I’d never really considered Indycars,” Magnussen says. “I’m from Europe and all I ever thought about was Formula 1.”
That F1 chance did come through another of his long-term supporters, and ended with that supporter – Jackie Stewart – also frustrated with Jan. The new team for 1997 was Stewart Grand Prix, evolved from the team he’d dominated the F3 championship with.
“Ron advised me against leaving McLaren,” Magnussen recently told the Danish press. “I wanted to be an F1 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 should have learned rammed into me by them.”
There was only frustration for Jan at Stewart GP. “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 too many times.”
Today, there’s no regret, just frustration. He still has a great career in sportscar racing with four class wins and three second places at Le Mans and the wins at Sebring. He was also twice a class champion in the American Le Mans Series. And he’s still only 40 years old.
“I let myself down,” Jan says, honestly reviewing his brief F1 career. “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.
“Since my time, McLaren has a fantastic programme for young drivers to learn in, like Lewis Hamilton did, and Kevin has too. He is part of the McLaren family. Any situation, any question there’s a guy to go to, someone to teach him. When I was there as test driver with Mika and David Coulthard, there was no coaching – just me and they hoped I’d figure it out.”Jan also sees the irony in his situation now, as a racing dad. “Yes, it’s strange,” he laughs. “It used to be that Kevin was the son of Jan Magnussen. Now, I’m known as Kevin’s dad! The really funny thing was this last week. I was asked to name the top three Grand Prix drivers of all time. Without hesitation, I said, ‘Kevin. Senna. Kimi.’ The writer laughed at me. He said ‘Kevin?’ I said yes, Kevin. Number one, Kevin….” The guy then laughed again and said: ‘I guess I understand. Kevin IS you, Senna and Kimi are like you…Individuals with minds of their own. Or are you just towing the line for McLaren Grand Prix drivers past and present?’!
“I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
Many thanks McLaren F1, Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes Benz-Motorsport, tv3.dk for their help.
Follow Andy Hallbery, @hallbean on twitter, and Romance Of Racing.