19 December 2013
Magnussen ‘a risk worth taking’, insists McLaren F1 boss Whitmarsh
Signing Kevin Magnussen has echoes of 2007 for McLaren, but team principal Martin Whitmarsh would be happy if the Dane proves to be as competitive as Lewis Hamilton.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admits that hiring F1 rookie Jan Magnussen could leave the Woking squad with 'egg on its face', but prefers to believe that the Dane will acquit himself well next season.
Having seen a deal to place the new World Series by Renault champion with an F1 rival collapse, Whitmarsh took the decision to sign Magnussen himself, dispensing with Sergio Perez after just one season as he sought to keep the Dane on McLaren's books.
With McLaren needing to bounce back after a tough 2013 campaign, Whitmarsh accepts that the Magnussen experiment needs to work if veteran Jenson Button isn't left to carry the load, but is confident that the youngster will rise to the challenge in the same was as Lewis Hamilton did when McLaren hired him as a raw newcomer back in 2007.
"We did it with Lewis, but how many times in your career does that happen, because we could have had egg on our face,” Whitmarsh told Britain's Independent newspaper, adding that he the comparison does not necessarily entail Magnussen contending for the world title as Hamilton did in his rookie season, “The one thing I'll say - and I hesitate to say this thinking about it, but I'll say it - it was easier for Lewis because we pounded him with testing in a way you can't any more. So there's a risk, but we wouldn't be doing it unless we didn't think it would work out,"
Whitmarsh is clearly enamoured with Magnussen, who romped to the WSbR title in his second year in the feeder series having impressed the McLaren boss during last year's Young Driver test at Yas Marina. Despite his relative inexperience, and having not driven in an F1 car prior to that outing, the 21-year old set a time that would have been good enough for sixth on the grid at the same circuit, and he underlined his potential by impressing again during a similar test at Silverstone in July.
"What was impressive was the consistency,” Whitmarsh explained, “There was not a single mistake.
"I also happened to participate in the engineering debrief at the end of the day and he had a number of engineers around him and at least 20 on video conference. I sat there listening to his feedback, how clear and precise he was, the confidence, and realising 'this guy is special'."
However, it was another moment – not in an F1 car – that helped convince Whitmarsh that Magnussen had taken a major step towards becoming a more complete driver.
"He'd put his car on pole and had Antonio Felix da Costa alongside him," Whitmarsh revealed, "At the start, da Costa outbraked himself into the first corner. The Kevin of old wouldn't have seen it and ... bump! But Kevin saw him and let him through, which went against all his instincts. I rang him immediately after the race and said 'Kevin, that is the most impressive thing I've ever seen you do'.
"Knowing he was lightning quick, he then had to learn how to win a championship, and that is what he did. He just impressed everyone through this year."
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