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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. 

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