Kevin Magnussen left F1 feeling that he had underachieved. He believed he would go on to fight for the world championship after he finished second in his debut race at the Australian Grand Prix in 2014 with McLaren.
Remarkably, that day in Melbourne would be the highlight of Magnussen’s career and his only podium in the sport. So why did he not achieve more and how good was the Dane?
Magnussen came into F1 having won the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, beating Stoffel Vandoorne and Antonio Felix Da Costa in an impressive fashion. He replaced Sergio Perez at McLaren and was on the pace immediately, proving to be competitive against the experienced Jenson Button.
It was a solid rookie season. The Dane beat Button in the head to head qualifying battle, scoring some great results including a pair of seventh place finishes in Austria and Great Britain and a fifth place in Sochi despite McLaren falling behind in the development race.
However, Magnussen was dropped in favour of Fernando Alonso who made a surprise return to McLaren for the next year.
Renault and move to Haas
Magnussen was unable to find a seat for the 2015 season but he returned the following year, this time with Renault. A difficult start to his Renault campaign put him on the back foot but considering the lack of competitiveness of the Renault car, Magnussen had some good results in the middle of 2016 and had the upper hand on teammate Jolyon Palmer.
Despite the solid performances, a huge shunt at the top of Eau Rouge at the Belgian Grand Prix knocked Magnussen’s confidence and he had a disappointing final spell at Renault.
The Dane was picked up by Haas in 2017 where he ended up finishing his F1 career. Magnussen grew a reputation of being aggressive in races and one of the most feared drivers on the grid in wheel-to-wheel combat.
Nico Hulkenberg in particular was unimpressed with Magnussen’s defensive moves. The pair exchanged words after the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix when Hulkenberg confronted Magnussen when he claimed he was forced off the track. Magnussen simply replied “suck my balls,” abruptly ending the conversation.
The 2018 season was Magnussen’s and Haas’ best period in F1. The team recovered from a heart-breaking opening race in Australia when both cars were on course for a top five result before everything went wrong in the pit stops when one of the tyres was not attached to the car. Magnussen finished 11th in the drivers’ standings, his best championship position in F1, but it did not come without incident.
At Baku, he clashed with Pierre Gasly during a safety car restart. The Frenchman branded Magnussen as “the most dangerous guy he had ever raced with” and at the Japanese Grand Prix he moved across on Charles Leclerc at high speed, breaking Leclerc’s front wing as the former F2 champion called him “stupid” over the team radio.
It was an approach that worked for Magnussen even if his rivals did not like it, but he was often very much on the limits of what is allowed in motor racing.
2019 saw the first clear signs that Haas were unravelling. They had a car which was quick over one lap as Magnussen and Grosjean regularly reached the final part of qualifying but in most races both drivers went backwards.
Haas struggled to keep the tyres in the optimal operating window and they never got on top of the issue. Even with Magnussen’s robust defending, he often finished outside the points. He managed a sixth and a seventh place finish at the Australian and Spanish Grand Prix respectively, but also faced stern words from team boss Gunther Steiner when he collided with Grosjean at Silverstone and Hockenheim.
Last year was similar to 2019 in terms of success for Magnussen, except Haas fell further away from the midfield runners making many of their races a lonely experience. The only highlight for Magnussen was a 10th place at the Hungarian Grand Prix when a gamble to start on dry tyres paid off and he was able to hold onto a points-paying position.
Magnussen’s F1 career was up and down. He showed so much promise but lacked consistency which the top teams look for in a driver. Without doubt he is a great racing driver, but it felt like he never fully gelled with the sport.
The 28-year-old has plenty of racing years ahead and we can expect him to be fighting for wins in sports cars or GT racing. Magnussen goes into this weekend’s Daytona 24 Hours with a good chance of being victorious and he will be looking to make a mark on the world of endurance racing after his full potential failed to shine through in F1.