Having suffered concussions during a testing crash in Barcelona, Fernando Alonso will miss the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, with reserve driver Kevin Magnussen stepping in his shoes for the time being.
The news comes as a pleasant surprise for Magnussen who was snubbed by the very Spaniard after just one season in Formula 1. That year didn’t exactly go according to Dane’s plan with him being handed a string of penalties for his rookie mistakes. Not to mention, he was comprehensively outshone by teammate Jenson Button towards the latter part of the year.
But Magnussen showed flashes of pace all season long. He has the potential which could be tapped for greater success. It’s normal for a rookie driver to make mistakes, as Lewis Hamilton found out in 2007. Both drivers arrived in Formula 1 with victories of their juniour series' triumphs still afresh in mind. And although Magunssen failed to impress the F1 fraternity as much as Hamilton did during his debut year, everyone would agree that you can’t judge a driver on the basis of just one season. Even Red Bull give their drivers two seasons at Toro Rosso.
Without assessing the decision that was made months ago, it would be better to look into the opportunity that Magnussen now has in his hands.
Both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso are on multi-year contracts with McLaren. This means, except under certain circumstances, an offer to race for McLaren again won’t arrive until at least 2017.
McLaren’s bargaining power in other teams has also been dwindling for the past few years with Force India ditching their gearboxes for Mercedes and Marussia(now Manor, with whom McLaren had a technical partnership) running into administration. Even though the latter exited administration last month, it remains to be seen whether their new owners continue their association with the Woking based company.
Either way, Ferrari seem to enjoy far greater influence over that squad, being their official power unit suppliers. And that is clear from the fact that Marussia fielded Jules Bianchi in their team instead of Kevin Magnussen or Stoffel Vandoorne.
Honda could come to rescue, but they have ruled out supplying engines to another team in 2016, saying they won’t be prepared for such a move.
Under such circumstances, a strong result at Melbourne might well open new doors for K-Mag in 2016.
But what about the current year? No driver likes to sit on the pitwall, watching his teammates pound around on the race track, lap after lap. To validate that statement, Heikki Kovalainen didn’t compete in any major series last season, hoping to return to the beloved sport he joined in 2007.
After spending a year on the sidelines, he made the hard decision to take part in Japan's Super Formula series, joining other F1 refugees including Kazuki Nakajima and Narain Karthikeyan.
But Magnussen’s F1 career is far from over. A strong season in another series will pave way for an F1 return in 2016. In fact, the 22 year old recently revealed that he spoke to Corvette about a possible Le Mans drive. Unfortunately, the Chevrolet owned brand had already finalised their lineup by that time.
“I asked my Dad if he would ask Corvette if there was an available seat there, Magnussen told reporters during the Barcelona pre-season. “That would be really cool to do, be teammates with your dad at Le Mans and try and win the class, but they had already signed the drivers for the car. So unfortunately that doesn’t look like it’ll happen this year.”
But there are still plenty of places where Magnussen can race in 2015. A number of team bosses(both inside and outside of Formula 1) would have been impressed with how he fared last season. A strong showing would act as a trigger in him being hired for a season or two.
In case no opportunities arise, McLaren probably can field him in their GT programme. That would give the team another year to assess his performance behind the wheel.
Magnussen wouldn’t have liked to do a one-off race under such circumstances. But two decades ago, when Senna died during that fateful weekend in San Marino, a certain David Coulthard made his debut in Formula 1. And he took that opportunity with both hands and went on to establish a successful career that spanned 15 seasons.
Magnussen too needs to make most of the Australian GP weekend - the very venue he scored his maiden podium finish. All he needs is a reliable car(and engine) that takes him to the chequered flag. Rest of the responsibilities lie on his shoulder.