By Ollie BarstowFollow @OllieBarstow on Twitter

You needn't ask a racing driver to speak of their true passion when they are living their dream, but how many would say they continue to dream about racing when they go to sleep each night?

Indeed, though no active driver will ever deny their love for racing, there is still the distinction of some that are evidently 'in love' with racing for reasons only a racer could truly fathom. Forget the lifestyle, the perks, the publicity... racing for the purest purist is lived, inhaled, absorbed. After all, in purist 'lore' if it has wheels and breathes fuel it can be raced...

As to which camp the current crop of F1 drivers fall into is up for debate, but there is one driver that has established himself as more than 'simply' a racing driver - he is an enthusiast.

Better still, he isn't one of the 'older guard' disillusioned by modern-day pomp, he is one of the new generation who could be forgiven for being rather more distracted by the parties, the girls and the status that come with being an international star. In fact, Kevin Magnussen would rather be caught watching YouTube...

Kevin Magnussen may be Renault's lead driver but he is also arguably one of F1's most dedicated enthusiasts...

"I think about F1 all the time... it's just my passion," he tells me as a matter of fact.

"I've watched races back on YouTube and there's so much stuff you can watch on the internet. Obviously just talking about it with all the great people I get to know in the paddock. I think it's interesting... I'm in F1 now, I'm one of the drivers. It's just interesting to know where all this came from."

His zest for racing is evident immediately. In my first meeting with Kevin, we are in fact conducting a '3 on 1' - a round table interview featuring myself and two other journalists asking questions. We each have our own agenda for our interviews and thus we're asking different questions.

Whilst my two peers focus on his season so far, his pleasure at securing a last minute deal with Renault and 'that' termination by McLaren, he answers comprehensively and honestly as if he has never been asked these questions before. I can assure you he has. Many times.

I however want to discuss Kevin's little known desire for all things F1 from a bygone era. We're not talking Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda or even Jackie Stewart's era however. Instead, Kevin's passion stretches right back to the early days of F1 when helmets were optional, the barriers were mere oil drums and race wins were celebrated with a hard-earned cigarette hanging from oil-slickened lips.

For a young man born in 1992, it's surprising to hear 'those were the days' - or words that that effect - uttered from such young lips, but Kevin has an acute recognition for the pure thrills and sensations that come with racing during this era and likens it to the greenest grassroots levels of his native Denmark, where he continues to stay involved.

"When I go to small races in Denmark, it's what I imagined what F1 would have been like back in the 60s and 70s. After the 70s it became a bit different. But 50s and 60s at least, people were only there because they love it.

"When you go to club racing in Denmark, people spend money to buy a race car and go and race, and many don't actually really have the money, but they spend it anyway because they love it and that's why I like those kind of things.

"Every single individual in Formula 1 back in those days, from how I understand it, it seems they were only there because they loved the cars and the racing. And they loved that racing atmosphere, the smell, that special thing that you can't really quantify.

"That is when a race car fires up and you can hear it and smell it - it was only that. That was the sole reason why people were involved."

This goes a long way to explaining why Kevin identifies his big racing hero as the legendary Sir Stirling Moss, not simply for his magic behind the wheel of a Vanwall, Lotus or Maserati, or the fact he remains rather backhandedly complimented as a 'the greatest driver to never win the World Championship', but because he raced anything and everything. All simply because he could.

"I think Stirling Moss represents everything that a racing driver should be and first of all, it's passion," he says, smiling broadly. "He loves motor racing and that is the sole purpose of why he's done what he's done his whole life. Not because he could get rich or be famous or whatever. He did it because he loved racing.

"He raced 80 races per year, much more than 1 per week, and earned maybe ?300 per race. Travelled around with these mechanics everywhere, raced with different cars everywhere. Sometimes Lotus Cortina, sometimes a Formula 1 car, sometimes a rally car or a Le Mans car, anything."

Starstruck: Kevin described meeting his hero Sir Stirling Moss as 'unreal'

As someone that grew up around racing by virtue of his father Jan, who made 24 F1 starts between 1995 and 1998, has competed under the stewardship of Ron Dennis and is now lead driver for the reborn Renault factory team, Kevin's somewhat boy-like admission that he coyly asked for an autograph from Sir Stirling Moss via a friend that knew him raises a smile on my face. It turns out even famous F1 drivers get star-struck.

Far from a mere 'squiggle' on a piece of paper however, that good friend - McLaren Group Director of Communications Matt Bishop - instead arranged a meeting between the two. Few in life get to shake hands with their childhood hero and you only have to witness Kevin in this mere moment of reminiscence to recognise just how much it meant to him.

"It was awesome," he continues, sitting up and getting animated in gesticulation as he recounts his day. "I asked Matt if he get me an autograph from Stirling Moss because I thought that would be cool to have. He said 'Kev, we can do better than that. I'll arrange for us to go and have lunch with Sterling and his wife Susie'. And we did, and we went to his home in London and had an awesome time and looked at all the pictures from back when he was racing and I heard all the stories and it was fantastic.

Incidentally, lunch was the gloriously British concoction of coronation chicken and Twiglets accompanied by a genuine fascination of the memorabilia that decorates Sir Stirling's Mayfair residence.

"It was unreal," he continues. "You walk in and the first thing you see is a picture on the wall signed by Fangio, to his friend. Actually signed by him, it's just crazy."

It is this enthusiasm and admiration for those that 'race anything' that makes his recent 'enforced hiatus' from F1 take on particular significance. Promoted to a McLaren F1 drive for the 2014 season after winning the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship, Kevin was demoted by the subsequent arrival of two-time champion Fernando Alonso for 2015.

Held on the sidelines by a flimsy assurance he 'could' be promoted again in 2016, Kevin was instead dropped altogether in October having barely turned another wheel - a DNS at the Australian Grand Prix his only 'competitive' appearance all year. Unshackled from McLaren's chains, a DTM and World Endurance test promptly followed in an eagerness to diversify his racing tastes. However, his appetite remained with F1.

"Not only did I watch the races and not race in F1, I didn't race in anything. I wasn't driving any cars. For me, it's a tragedy. It's not how I live, so it was a very tough year. And a very frustrating year."

Shining brightly briefly: Kevin Magnussen was forced into a 'tragic' hiatus after McLaren shuffle

Of course, Kevin's sorry tale comes with a happy open-ended conclusion after securing a last minute berth at the newly-revived factory Renault team for the 2016 season to lead its new charge on the F1 world championship.

Growing pains with a team still finding its feet aside, the historical resonance of a manufacturer celebrating 40 years in F1 is not lost on Kevin. It's fitting then that his most cherished F1 'moment' happens to be a very Renault affaire - Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve's iconic battle over second in the 1979 French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois.

Indeed, though the race was of course won by Jean-Pierre Jabouille, marking Renault's first success in F1, that wheel-banging, high octane second place t?te-?-t?te can be recounted corner-by-corner, shift-by-shift by Kevin, who giggles as he proudly informs me he has memorised the intense battle in full technicolour. Just don't tell Renault he was supporting Villeneuve, a driver he says he relates most to for the way he 'just pushes to see what happens'.

Kevin watches F1 clips on YouTube and can recount each moment of Gilles Villeneuve & Rene Arnoux's iconic French GP tussle

It's this attention to detail that Kevin says inspires him in his quest to return Renault to greatness as a manufacturer capable of challenging Mercedes, Ferrari and, poignantly, McLaren once more.

"It's just the whole history of F1," he continues. "For me, it gives me a lot of confidence that Renault not only with Enstone, but also as an engine manufacturer, they've won F1 World Championships as an engine manufacturer for many different teams.

"I have full confidence that everything is in place to do it. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but it's there for the future. And it's up to us to grab it and make use of it and make it happen."

Indeed, as gloriously retrospective and misty-eyed as Kevin's view on F1 is, his sight remains very focused forward on his goals of becoming world champion and he maintains he still gets 'turned on' every time his V6 Hybrid-propelled RS16 comes to life.

"I do miss the old V8 and V10 sound. But still when the engine fires up, I know what's going to happen. It turns me on and it gives me goose bumps because I know what it means. It means we're racing. And that's still beautiful to me.

"I have an ambition to be world champion. It's been a dream and a goal that I've had since I was a kid. So, it's not only because the cars are cool, it's also an ambition to achieve a dream."

So Kevin Magnussen does indeed dream about racing when he goes to sleep, but while he no doubt dreams about becoming world champion with Renault, we have a sneaking suspicion he has also imagined himself doing it in a Vanwall...

Final word to Sir Stirling Moss after his meeting with Kevin in August 2015

"It was a pleasure to meet Kevin, who I thought was a very nice young man. He was genuinely interested to hear about my racing career, which I found refreshingly unusual for a young Formula 1 driver of today. He really understands the importance of our sport's history. A few months after our meeting, I was absolutely delighted to hear that he'd got a race drive for Renault's new Formula 1 team, and I'm sure he'll do a great job for them."

 

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