Michael: Magnussen will boost McLaren in 2014
16 November 2013
After the team finally bit the bullet and announced that it was putting Kevin Magnussen in the race car for 2014 instead of Sergio Perez, McLaren's sporting director Sam Michael has said that it's the right decision and one that will help the team get the best possible start on a new era in F1.
"We haven't had a good enough car this year, I think that's been pretty well documented," admitted Michael on Friday ahead of the United States GP in Austin, Texas. "You look and assess where your capabilities are where you think you can improve and the view internally is that we could improve by going with Magnussen.
"We're in a very fortunate position at the moment with our young driver programme, in that it's very rich with talent and Kevin's just the first of the guys in that pool," Michael added. "I've come across lots of drivers in my time in F1 and when you see drivers like that come along, it's very important that you react and make the most of those opportunities.
"To be honest, it's not that much different with engineers and designers and all your people," he added. "You're always looking to add and improve the team. Clearly, the driver is much more in the public eye, because there's only two of them and they're in the race cars at any one time."
Michael said that there wasn't any one thing that had tipped the scales in Magnussen's favour as the crunch point came for making the decision, but that the time that the 21-year-old Dane's time as a test and development driver had allowed him to impress overall.
"We've factored all of those sort of things into what we're doing, including the testing he's done for us already, all the simulator work, his performance in the lower categories and any sort of work that we can do between now and the start of next season," said Michael.
"They're things that a team makes an assessment of internally. We take all the data we've got from all track running and all the input of the engineering and the systems that we have inside McLaren - every team's the same - then you make the call," he continued. "It's the same on any decision you take; the same sort of calls are made on all your staff. You are continually assessing how you can add and improve things and drivers are no different."
Normally a rookie driver is at a serious disadvantage against the more experienced rivals on the grid, but the comprehensive overhaul of F1's technical and engine specifications and regulations in 2014 will significantly level the playing field, making it the right time to gamble on fresh new talent in Michael's eyes.
"To be honest you can argue that either way: you can argue and say experience is going to count; you can also argue the benchmark is being reset," he conceded. "But ultimately it's four tyres on the ground that you drive as quick as you can around a circuit.
"I think with the rule change – and it is a huge rule change, on the powertrain and aerodynamics – the way you drive the cars is going to be quite different," Michael explained. "We've already done quite a lot of work in the simulator on that at this point and, if anything, it probably lends itself some good opportunities for change.
"It's going to be a development war all the way through the season and probably into the next year as well, it's such a big change to not just the powertrain but the aerodynamics," he continued. "When you have a slope so steep, then it normally means that you're far away from the optimum when you first make these type of changes.
"The powertrain is probably bigger in reality and probably more visible because you have such a brand new gearbox, brand new engine, completely new ERS system and don't underestimate how developed these current powertrains are on all fronts," he added. "I'm sure you will see different levels of reliability.
"We've got a good balance of Jenson, who's a world champion, plenty of experience, and if you're going to have the risk that you take of putting a young guy in – because there inevitably is – then it's a good time to do it."
And Michael was quick to add that letting Perez go wasn't an attempt to dump the blame for poor showing for McLaren in 2013 onto the departing driver's shoulders.
"The company took a view that it was time for a change and it doesn't in any way diminish the fact that we have not produced a good enough car this year," he admitted. "They are two separate issues and as a proper engineering-led company you have to be able to separate those two things and make your decisions accordingly."