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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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Remembering Imola: A catalogue of shocking events

REMEMBERING Imola continues with a deeper look into the catalogue of horrific events at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.  A weekend that changed Formula One racing forever.  18 years on, the safety of today’s modern Grand Prix cars has improved greatly.  Sadly though it happened at the loss of taking away the life of the greatest Grand Prix driver of his generation, Ayrton Senna.

The horror of the weekend began on Friday 29th April 1994, when in the first official qualifying session, the young Brazilian Rubens Barrichello lost control of his Jordan Hart car approaching the quick Variante Bassa chicane.  His car launched off a kerb and smashed into the tyre wall at colossal speed, narrowly avoiding going over some catch fencing.  Only the quick reactions of Professor Sid Watkins prevented the talented Barrichello, second in the drivers championship at the time from swallowing his tongue.  Remarkably he walked away with just a cut lip, minor bruising and a broken nose.  His weekend was over but his life had remained intact.  It reminded Grand Prix fans and drivers of the real dangers that the sport possesses.  Just 24 hours later, the luck ran out.

Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was attempting to qualify for what only would have been his second Grand Prix, having finished his first race in Aida just a fortnight earlier.  Eighteen minutes into Saturday’s second qualifying session, Ratzenberger’s front wing broke off exiting the flat-out Tamburello bend.  His wing had been weakened by leaving the track on his previous flying lap at the Aqua Minerali chicane.  With no steering or braking capability, the Simtek Ford car ploughed straight into the concrete wall at Villeneuve bend on the approach to the Tosa hairpin.  The impact was thought to be close to 200mph.  As soon as his car came to a halt, it became clear from a very early evident stage that Roland wasn’t going to be as lucky as Barrichello was.  The session was stopped and the medics did what they could to save the rookie’s life.  However it was to be a battle in vain, with Ratzenberger being pronounced dead on arrival at Bologna Maggiore Hospital.  He became the first driver to be killed at a race meeting for twelve years, since Ricardo Paletti’s demise at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix.  The last driver to suffer a fatal crash in an F1 car was the Italian Elio de Angelis at the wheel of a Brabham, during a test session at Paul Ricard, France in 1986.

On raceday, meetings were held between the drivers with the decision to announce the reformation of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association).  In the wake of Ratzenberger’s accident, no-one could predict the chilling omens for raceday.  The show went on with David Brabham, Ratzenberger’s devastated team-mate electing to continue for the Simtek team.

At the green light, Ayrton Senna stormed into the lead from his 65th pole position leading Michael Schumacher’s Benetton Ford and the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger.  Further back, JJ Lehto had stalled his Benetton from row three on the grid.  The two Ligiers of Olivier Panis and Eric Bernard narrowly missed the Finn’s stricken car but Lehto was to be collected by Pedro Lamy’s fast acclerating Lotus Mugen Honda.  Lamy spun into the barrier and across the road with both cars completely destroyed by the impact.  Lehto suffered a light arm injury and Lamy escaped unhurt but it was a wheel from the departed Lotus that caused the mayhem this time around.  It vaulted into the spectactor fencing leaving nine people, including a policeman with minor injuries.  Despite all the debris on the circuit, the decision was taken to deploy the Safety Car for only the third time in Grand Prix history.

After five laps under the Safety Car, Senna charged away with Schumacher in hot pursuit.  Two laps later, Senna’s car didn’t turn into the flatout Tamburello corner Tamburello corner, pitching straight on into a concrete wall at some 140mph, possibly even greater speed.  The crumbled Williams returned to the edge of the circuit with Senna slumped in the cockpit, debris being thrown in all directions.  The race was red-flagged.

Once again it was clear that Senna was in a grave condition from the outset, with very little sign of movement from the cockpit of his car.  As Professor Sid Watkins and the marshals got to work again, the severity of the crash especially from the pictures being beamed around the world on television made the scene even worse.  Senna was airlifted to Maggiore Hospital from the track.  As soon as the first medical bulletins filtered through from the track, any hope of a recovery was realistically lost.  The race was eventually restarted 45 minutes later with Schumacher claiming his third successive victory in a very sombre atmosphere.

During the race, the final event of a horror weekend occurred when a wheel departed from Michele Alboreto’s Minardi as he exited the pits from his final stop.  The errant wheel bounced down the pitlane and struck one chief mechanic from Lotus and three from Ferrari.  Luckily, none of the injuries were serious.  After the race, Senna was announced as clinically brain dead and his life machine was switched off.  Brazil went into a state of national mourning, the world of sport stunned into silence.

Fortunately the steps taken to improve safety in Formula One have been of massive leaps and boundaries.  Many drivers since 1994, including Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen, Takuma Sato and more recently in Hungary in 2009 with Felipe Massa have had serious, frightening accidents.  All have been able to live the tail and go racing again.  The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix will go down as the darkest weekend in motorsport history and eighteen years on, its pain will never heal.

History of the Chinese Grand Prix

SHANGHAI hosts the third round of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship.  The Chinese event has now been a fixture on the Grand Prix calendar since 2004.  Although it has struggled to maintain a decent attendance from the Chinese locals, the circuit is enjoyed by the drivers and with the various mix in weather conditions, the event has thrown up many special races.

The inagural event in September 2004 was won by the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello.  It was a popular win for Rubens, on a weekend where Michael Schumacher had one of his worst weekends ever at Ferrari.  Schumacher had a technical problem on Friday, spun off into the gravel in single lap qualifying and in the race, had a clash with Christian Klien, another spin and a puncture.  Schumacher finished a lap down and back in 12th place.  Jenson Button made a two stop strategy work to finish a close second for BAR Honda whilst Kimi Raikkonen completed the first ever podium at the Chinese Grand Prix.

2005 was the season finale and there was a close battle for supremacy between Renault and McLaren Mercedes for the constructors championship.  Renault carried a two point advantage and thanks to more powerful engines, dominanted the weekend.  Fernando Alonso coasted to his seventh win of the season in which he became the man to knock Schumacher off his perch.  McLaren’s cause to win the teams battle wasn’t helped, when Juan Pablo Montoya hit a loose drain gully, which wrecked his front suspension.  Raikkonen’s second place wasn’t enough for the Woking team whilst a pitlane infringement by Giancarlo Fisichella in the sister Renault handed Ralf Schumacher a surprising podium for Toyota.  Narain Karthikeyan spectacularly crashed out in the last event to witness a Jordan Grand Prix entry and Schumacher Snr had another mere in China.  He unbelievably crashed into Christjian Albers on the way to the grid and then spun off behind the Safety Car.  A year later, he conquered those demons.

On a wet and windy weekend in 2006, the teams running Michelin tyres had a significant advantage.  All of the Bridgestone shod users like Williams and Toyota struggled with the conditions.  Schumacher wrestled his Ferrari around to sixth on the grid, then put an immense drive on Sunday.  He was helped by a technical retirement for Raikkonen and some poor tyre strategy from Renault which meant early leader Alonso lost a comfortable 15 second lead.  The team decided to use Fisichella in an attempt to win the race, but he couldn’t hold back Schumacher’s relentless charge.  The German won his 91st race in Formula One and it was one of his most unlikest successes.  The delight he showed in parc ferme afterwards summed up his delight.  As we stand now, this is his last win and last podium in the sport.

Tyres played a crucial role in 2007 too.  Lewis Hamilton arrived with the possibility of winning the title in his stunning maiden season.  He was 12 points clear of team-mate Alonso and 17 ahead of Raikkonen, now driving for Ferrari.  He took a brilliant pole position and drove away effortlessly from the field in the opening laps.  When the first pitstops arrived, McLaren elected to keep him on worn rubber.  Raikkonen closed him down and passed him comfortably.  Rather than back off and save his worn rubber, Hamilton attempted to keep pushing and the team were very reluctant to bring him in, hoping for another rain shower.  It didn’t come and when he did pit, the tyres gave up their final bit of grip.  Lewis agonisingly slid into the gravel trap and got beached.  His race ended and with Raikkonen winning from Alonso, the championship shootout went all the way to Brazil.  There was also a noticeable drive to fourth place in the unfancied Toro Rosso from a certain S. Vettel!

After the nightmare of 2007, Hamilton arrived for the penultimate event of 2008 under pressure.  This followed a diabolical drive at Fuji seven days earlier.  He was receiving stinging criticism from his rivals, with Alonso and Robert Kubica very outspoken about his aggressive approach.  Hamilton did his talking on the track and produced a disiplined drive to an easy victory.  In a race that lacked excitement, Ferrari had to play the team orders game with Raikkonen to allow Felipe Massa two extra points for second place.  Kubica’s outside championship hopes ended when he was knocked out in Q2 and struggled to sixth place for BMW Sauber.

From 2009 onwards, the Chinese Grand Prix has moved from a season ending race to one of the early flyaways.  Torrential rain in 2009 halted the Brawn GP march towards both championships.  Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello finished third and fourth, but couldn’t match the ultimate speed from Red Bull Racing.  Despite a driveshaft issue in qualifying, Sebastian Vettel took pole position and controlled the race with supreme composure, on a day when many of his rivals were sliding off the road for fun.  He took Red Bull’s first ever Grand Prix victory and Mark Webber followed him home in second place.  It was the start of things to come for the Milton Keynes empire.

Red Bull had a bad day in China 2010 though, trailing in a distant sixth and eigth thanks to some awful pitstops.  Button got it right on the day in changeable conditions, to lead new team-mate Hamilton home for a McLaren 1-2.  It was Button’s second win in four events for his new team and cemented his move from Brawn GP over the winter.  Nico Rosberg produced a strong race to finish third and Alonso recovered from a blatant jump-start to record fourth for Ferrari.  His fightback included a bold overtake in the pitlane entry on his team-mate Massa.

Seven different winners in seven years, but the run ended last year.  Hamilton produced a metoric display to pass Vettel with four laps to go and record a brilliant victory.  This was despite an engine issue nearly prevented him the chance to start the race.  The 2011 race has gone down as one of the all-time classics ever in history.  A fuel consumption issue blew Rosberg’s chances of a shock victory and he wound up a frustrated fifth.  Poor strategy decisions from Ferrari cost Massa a deserved podium and left him trailing in sixth, but nearly half a minute clear of Alonso.  Button made a meal of his first pitstop, by stopping in the wrong pitbox!  He finished fourth, overwhelmed in the dying stages by the incredible Mark Webber.  The Aussie finished third having started a miserable 18th on the grid.

2011 provided passing galore thanks to DRS and the Pirelli tyres.  Throw in the unpredictable weather elements and I’m sure we will be in for another Shanghai stunner at the weekend.

Farewell to Rubens

NEXT week’s Australian Grand Prix will be the first race weekend since Adelaide 1992 that the name R. Barrichello will be missing from the Grand Prix entry list.  The Brazilian’s distinguished career saw him start 322 races, making him the most experienced driver in the sport’s 60 year history.  He is the eigth highest points scoring driver in Formula One and leaves us with plenty of memorable moments.  He starts a new chapter of racing this year, in the IndyCar series for KV Racing.

Barrichello made a name for himself during his F1 bow for Jordan in 1993

When Barrichello first debuted in the sport, for Jordan in 1993, it was a partnership both parties needed.  Rubens had been successful in all the junior formulae, winning the British F3 title in 1991 and had nowhere else to go.  Eddie Jordan was coming off the back of a nightmare 1992 campaign, which had seen his fledgling outfit score just one point and have Yamaha engines blow up left, right and centre.  In the rookie’s third race in the sport, he ran a sensational third during the European Grand Prix at Donington.  It was a race which will be remembered forever by Barrichello’s hero, Ayrton Senna for that amazing first lap.  However, Barrichello put on his own charge, up from 12th on the grid to fourth.  He was on course for a fairytale podium before a fuel pressure problem denied him in the closing stages.  Nevertheless, he’d made his mark in such a short space of time.  Fifth in the Japanese Grand Prix was his solitary points finish.

Having trounced Ivan Capelli, Thierry Boutsen and Marco Apicella as team-mates, Jordan signed the charismatic Eddie Irvine as a partner for Barrichello.  The pair never got on and Rubens felt his position within the team was being weakened.  1994 started superbly with fourth place in Brazil, followed by a maiden podium at the inagural Pacific Grand Prix on the TI Aida circuit.  Two weeks later, Barrichello nearly lost his life in a dreadful accident during practice for the fateful San Marino Grand Prix.  He crashed violently at the Variante Bassa corner, rolling over on a number of occasions.  Only quick action from medics saved him from swallowing his tongue.  Rubens suffered a broken nose, cuts and a swollen lip.  He was so lucky, considering the tragic events that befall Roland Ratzenberger and his hero, Senna on raceday.  Despite an overwhelming sense of loss, Barrichello recovered to record fourth place finishes in Italy and Portugal, plus record a maiden pole position at the Belgian Grand Prix.  He finished sixth in the championship with 19 points, only five shy of Jean Alesi’s total and he was in a Ferrari.

The following two years at Jordan saw plenty of poor reliability and inconsistent form.  There were moments of brilliance, such as a second place finish in Canada in 1995 and a front row start for his home race in Brazil the following season.  His relationship with Eddie Jordan brokedown and Barrichello left for the new Stewart Grand Prix outfit in 1997.

On his way to a memorable rostrum for Stewart in Monaco 1997

Three years at Stewart saw Barrichello restore his reputation, which had taken a dip in his closing years with Jordan.  He destroyed Jan Magnussen and even Johnny Herbert struggled to cope with the Brazilian’s stunning pace.  Reliability with the Ford engine hindered Rubens first two years with Stewart, but he felt loved and at home again in F1.  Second place in a very wet Monaco Grand Prix in 1997 brought everyone in the new team to tears.  In 1999, he made the most of more competitive machinery to finish on the podium on three occasions.  He also took the team’s sole pole position, benefiting from wet conditions to take top spot in France.

With Irvine moving to the rebranded Jaguar team for 2000, Barrichello took the dream role and became a Ferrari driver at the start of the millennium.  He got a pole position at Silverstone and in mixed conditions, always gave Michael Schumacher a real scare, nearly winning in Canada.  He helped Ferrari win the constructors championship and finished fourth, scoring in 13 of the 17 events.  After over 120 races of fruitless frustration, Barrichello’s moment of glory came in the 2000 German Grand Prix.

He started a miserable 18th, after technical problems ruined his qualifying session.  On a two-stop strategy, he charged into third place with some demon overtaking.  A podium was on, before a disgruntled Mercedes employee ran onto the track and changed the course of the race.  David Coulthard pitted behind the Safety Car and lost time and when the rain came down, Mika Hakkinen took no chances, pitting for wet tyres.  Bravely, Rubens stayed out, kept his car pointing in the right direction and took his maiden Formula One win.  This was one of the most emotional success the sport has ever seen and for me, the best drive of this incredible career.

Barrichello spent another four seasons with Ferrari, experiencing plenty of highs and some morale crushing lows.  He won the Italian Grand Prix twice (2002 & 2004), finished second in the drivers championship twice and played a crucial role in helping the Italian ‘dream team,’ winning four constructors titles in a row.  He produced some memorable performances to win other races, most notably at Silverstone in 2003.  Once again, a nutter ran onto the track which blew the race wide open.  With the likes of Fernando Alonso and Juan Pablo Montoya being delayed in the pits during a Safety Car scramble, Barrichello hunted down Kimi Raikkonen and produced a fearless bit of overtaking into Bridge corner and earn a stunning victory.  All this came after spinning off in Friday qualifying too!

However, two dark moments in consecutive races in Austria will be best remembered for Barrichello’s time at Ferrari.  In 2001, he reluctantly conceded second place over to Schumacher, although with Coulthard being a signficant early championship threat, it was seen as a necessary move the team had to make.  The following year, Rubens dominanted the entire weekend in the F2002 which was a country mile ahead of any other car in the pack.  Incredibly, he was told to give victory up to a bemused Schumacher.  The reaction from journalists, the Austrian crowd and fellow competitors said it all.  Barrichello’s relationship with both Jean Todt and Schumacher crumbled underneath the surface and he departed at the end of 2005 to join Honda.

Three years with the underachieving Japanese team followed, including a pointless campaign in 2007.  Only one significant result of note; an inspired decision to go onto extreme wet tyres during a tropical thunderstorm in the 2008 British Grand Prix.  It brought an unexpected podium finish and in Turkey that same season, he broke Riccardo Patrese’s long-standing record of 256 Grand Prix starts.  In November 2008, Honda withdrew from F1 and with Bruno Senna lined up to replace him, Barrichello’s time looked up.

Ending a five year victory drought in Valencia for Brawn GP in 2009

However, a management buyout led by his former technical director Ross Brawn led to a final flourish with Brawn GP.  Although Jenson Button ended up winning the championship, Barrichello outperformed him regularly in the second half of the season and produced some stirring performances to win in Valencia and for a third time, at Monza.  He moved to Williams in 2010 where a fourth place finish in Valencia was his best result.  Last season, he struggled against pay driver Pastor Maldonado and despite some solid qualifying efforts, never finished higher than ninth.  This time around, Senna did get the nod to replace Barrichello in January, finishing a glittering Formula One career.

It will feel weird when the red lights go out in Melbourne next week to not have Rubens Barrichello on the F1 grid.  However, he has left his mark on the sport and I hope his IndyCar journey turns out to be just as memorable as the Formula One adventure.  Thanks for the memories Rubens and farewell!

CAREER STATS:

Race starts: 322

Wins: 11 (Germany 2000, Europe 2002, Hungary 2002, Italy 2002, USA 2002, Britain 2003, Japan 2003, Italy 2004, China 2004, Europe 2009, Italy 2009)

Pole Positions: 14 (Belgium 1994, France 1999, Britain 2000, Australia 2002, Austria 2002, Hungary 2002, Brazil 2003, Britain 2003, Japan 2003, USA 2004, Italy 2004, China 2004, Brazil 2004, Brazil 2009)

Podiums: 68

Fastest Laps: 17

Debut: South Africa 1993

Last race: Brazil 2011

Points: 658

Teams: Jordan 1993-1996, Stewart 1997-1999, Ferrari 2000-2005, Honda 2006-2008, Brawn GP 2009, Williams 2010-11