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The Driver Files: Jan Magnussen

IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport.  All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.

The next driver featured is the Dane who came with big potential and left with relatively little to show for his efforts midway through 1998, Jan Magnussen.

Jan Magnussen’s one-off drive for McLaren in 1995 was a rare highlight (Global F1)

NAME: Jan Magnussen

TEAMS: McLaren (1995), Stewart (1997-1998)

POINTS: 1

GP STARTS: 25

BEST FINISH: 6th (1998 Canadian GP)

NOW 38 years old, Jan Magnussen was one of Denmark’s highest hopes but in Formula One, it all went badly wrong.  This isn’t to say that he wasn’t a bad driver, sometimes things don’t go according to form and plan.  A real shame for a driver who threatened great things in his junior career.

Magnussen came into Formula One with a huge reputation, especially after dismantling the competition in the 1994 British Formula 3 Championship.  Competing for Paul Stewart Racing, he beat Ayrton Senna’s record of 13 wins in a season.  Once he won the second event at Donington Park in April 1994, the title trophy might as well been awarded to him.  Jan won six of the first eight races and ended up with a final total of 14 wins from 18 starts.  Magnussen ended with a total of 308 points, a massive 125 points clear of his nearest challenger, which was Belgian Vincent Radermacker.

Magnussen did some testing for McLaren in 1995 and when regular driver Mika Hakkinen went down with appendicitis, Magnussen was drafted into the team for the Pacific Grand Prix in 1995.  He actually did fairly well, having a good dice with Rubens Barrichello’s Jordan throughout and finished a creditable tenth, just behind team-mate Mark Blundell.  After some touring car racing in 1996, Jan got his big break with the new Stewart Grand Prix team.  Having raced in Paul Stewart’s F3 team, he was seen the perfect fit to partner the experienced and versatile Barrichello in 1997.

The season was always going to be a learning experience and Magnussen’s confidence took a severe hit.  No points in 17 races and not many finishes either, as the Ford engine often tended to blow up rather than survive to the chequered flag.  Seventh in the wet Monaco Grand Prix was his best result and ninth at the season finale in Jerez was a solid effort, having raced the Benetton’s and Olivier Panis in the Prost for most of the event.  The Dane’s best race came at the A1-Ring, where he qualified an excellent sixth and ran as high as fourth, ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and David Coulthard amongst others.  Magnussen slipped to tenth after the team put him on the wrong pit strategy and a broken driveshaft eventually ended his race.

1998 started even worse, when he took himself and Ralf Schumacher off on the third lap in Melbourne.  He was miles behind Barrichello in the same car, qualifying slowest in Argentina, 21st at Imola and 20th in Barcelona.  Stories about his future continued to put Magnussen under pressure, so crashing into Barrichello at the first corner at Imola didn’t help matters.  By the time of the seventh event in 1998, Magnussen had to deliver a brilliant performance and another dismal qualifying effort in Montreal, again in 20th left him fighting against a huge tidalwave.  His race was highly impressive, running fourth and keeping a consistent pace throughout.  Although he got some luck in the amount of retirements in Canada, he scored a championship point in sixth.  Sadly the damage had already been done and Jackie Stewart replaced him with Dutchman Jos Verstappen for the rest of the season.

Since his F1 rejection, Magnussen has turned into an almost complete motorsport competitor.  He has raced in CART, Danish Touring Cars and more predominately in sportscars.  At Le Mans every year since 1999, his best finish at La Sarthe has been fourth in 2003 and 2006.

Sir Jackie Stewart once said Jan Magnussen was the greatest young talent since the early days of Ayrton Senna.  Sadly his Formula One experience turned into a forgettable, rather than a memorable time.

NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES:  Flying Finn JJ Lehto, who has fallen on hard times of late but had spectacular natural speed. 

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