Father Jan didn’t quite crack F1, but his son might do just that after a meteoric rise. Next stop, McLaren…
In December 1995 a cheeky kart racer named Lewis Hamilton introduced himself to Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards, setting in motion a chain of events that led the mercurial youngster to make his F1 debut with McLaren in 2007.
Seven years on the team is again fast-tracking a promising protégé into a race seat. By coincidence, Kevin Magnussen’s path to the top started at about the same time as it did for Hamilton – when he was a toddler.
“When my dad was a test driver for McLaren,” he says, “Ron Dennis gave me a birthday present… and a letter saying I should call if I ever became as good as my dad.”
Many years later he made that call, and remarkably it paid off. Now the Dane has the opportunity to do what father Jan couldn’t, by fulfilling the potential he showed on his way up through the ranks.
Born in October 1992, Kevin was still only five years old when the older Magnussen’s F1 career fizzled out with Stewart GP in the middle of ’98. He had his first karting experience at the age of two and started racing when he was eight. The move to cars came in a low-key way in domestic Formula Ford in 2008.
“It was just for fun,” he says, “because we sort of gave up on my career as there was no money. The drive was for free, because my dad could only afford to pay for my karting, and after that we didn’t have any opportunity to move on from there. My dad is not a great businessman…”
Fortune intervened when a sponsor approached Kevin and backed a season in Formula Renault in 2009. At the end of the year he remembered that promise from Ron Dennis. “I had a lady helping me, a friend of the family who is now my manager. I showed her the letter and she immediately called Ron. That was the time when Ron was stepping down from the race team, so we had a meeting with Martin Whitmarsh and I became a member of the Young Driver programme.
“It was amazing. The previous year I thought I was not going to be a racing driver and had started welding in a factory, working with metals. It was a very big change in my life, coming from being a normal guy working in a factory to suddenly doing what I loved. So I have a lot of appreciation for what I do.”
The McLaren link helped to open doors and, after impressing in German and British F3, he moved into Formula Renault 3.5 in 2012, finishing seventh in his first season. Already experienced in the Woking simulator, he also made his mark with a stunning Formula 1 test debut in Abu Dhabi that November.
With key McLaren insiders fully convinced of his potential, the momentum began to build.
A second F1 test at Silverstone in July provided further evidence of his talent, and then in October he was confirmed as 2013 Renault 3.5 champion, having beaten a strong field in some style. When plans to place him in another F1 team came to nothing, Whitmarsh took the bold decision to dump Sergio Pérez and create a vacancy.
Eyes will be on the 21-year-old in 2014, and perhaps the most fascinating aspect is that his father is arguably the textbook example of a driver who failed to deliver on his early promise. The fiercely determined Kevin is very much his own man.
“Up until now I’ve been happy that he has not been a great part of my career,” he says. “He still has his own career going on [racing for Corvette in US sports car racing]. Of course I’ve always been very interested to know what he did, and he’s told me stories of his life and career in motor sport. I know what happened. He was a great talent, but maybe he wasn’t prepared for the pressure you get in F1.” Adam Cooper
Career in brief
Born: 5/10/1992, Roskilde, Denmark
2008: Danish Formula Ford, champion; Formula Masters
2009: Formula Renault, 2nd in NEC
2010: German F3, 3rd
2011: British F3, 2nd
2012: Formula Renault 3.5, 7th
2013: FR 3.5, champion