Why Magnussen finds it “a lot easier to be a F1 driver” his second time around


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Kevin Magnussen’s Formula 1 career couldn’t have got off to a better start. After finishing second on debut for McLaren in the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, the 21-year-old must have felt like he had the world at his feet.

But 150 F1 races and almost a decade later, Magnussen has yet to return to the podium. His F1 career has largely been spent toiling in the midfield. His 2023 campaign with Haas has proved particularly challenging, yielding just three points so far.

Years back, that would have frustrated him. But the 31-year-old has made his peace with the fact his career hasn’t progressed as hoped since then. He also recognises that enduring F1 for so long is, in itself, something few have achieved.

“I’m under no illusion that I have been in kind of the same place in Formula 1 for many years,” said Magnussen, speaking exclusively to RaceFans. “I came into Formula 1 in a very exciting way with a big team, back then McLaren was like the equivalent of joining Mercedes now, and massive expectations from myself but also from the team and from the outside world.

Debut podium remains Magnussen’s best F1 result to date
“Then just things didn’t go right, and I’ve had to kind of climb back in and fight my way back. There have been some highlights that I really appreciate, but still, I’m not fooling myself to say that I’ve achieved what I was hoping in Formula 1.

“But again, I’m still here living to fight another day.”

That’s perhaps something Magnussen values given how many times he’s come close to the end of his F1 journey. In that first season with McLaren, he picked up 12 points finishes and came 11th in the championship with 55 points, 71 points behind his far more experienced team mate Jenson Button.

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It was a journey familiar to their family, as his father Jan Magnussen had started his F1 career with the same team back in 1995. But that background didn’t confer the kind of advantages some might expect.

“At the end of the day, I don’t come from a wealthy family,” says Magnussen. “Although my dad was in Formula 1 he wasn’t wealthy.

Father Jan (right) was an F1 racer in the nineties
“He drove in Formula 1, that’s true, and I’m sure I had some some benefits of the fact that he was a known name and people noticed when I did well.

“I think a lot of other drivers did well, but no one noticed so I was lucky in that way. Also on the other hand, when I didn’t do well it was also noticed. So just thinking about little kid dreaming about Formula 1 and you actually get there, that’s been itself is an incredible journey and achievement.”

But when McLaren stunningly rehired Fernando Alonso as part of its doomed 2015 reunion with Honda, Magnussen’s F1 career came to a sudden halt. After a stint at Renault, he found his current home in Haas. It was his third team in as many years, with the stability offered by a long-term contract persuading him to turn down a short-term deal to stay at Renault.

Magnussen remained with Haas for four seasons. But the Covid-disrupted 2020 season hit the team hard and he was shown the door along with the experienced Romain Grosjean as the team hired a pair of well-funded rookies.

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His F1 career seemingly over, Magnussen stepped away and started a family, having married Louise Gjørup in 2019. Then came his unexpected return to Haas, who swiftly ejected Nikita Mazepin in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Shock 2022 return immediately yielded results
Magnussen was recalled and he blasted back onto the scene scoring one of only five top-five finishes in Haas’s history up to that point. But just as in his debut eight years earlier, that immediate success wasn’t sustained. Nonetheless his 25 points helped Haas move up from a point-less last the previous season to eighth in the 2022 standings.

Magnussen became a father in 2021 when his wife gave birth to their daughter Laura. Following his unexpected return to F1, he says he is now “looking at this world with a whole different set of eyes now than I used to” during his first stint in the sport.

“It’s a lot easier now for me to be a Formula 1 driver than it used to be. It’s like when this little world is your whole world and you become consumed by it the pressure can be too much. Now I’m able to see it for what it is: An awesome job, which happens to be my biggest passion of mine at the same time.

“I get to do what I love to do for a living, but then that’s it. I go home, I have a life outside. I’ve had to imagine part two of my life after Formula 1, I’ve already kind of lived that and then been dragged back into it.”

Along with that perspective has come a realistic reckoning of his prospects of ultimate success in his field. “I’ve always known that the ultimate goal was to be a world champion,” says Magnussen. “That has to be what we’re here to try and achieve, that’s just how I work. The goal is to be world champion.

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“When I got out of Formula 1 in 2021, I was open [that] I didn’t achieve my goal. Even though I felt incredibly lucky and I could quit Formula 1 and do what I wanted and live a very privileged life, still I didn’t achieve my goal and I’m fine with that.

“When this little world is your whole world, the pressure can be too much”
“But it doesn’t define anything. It doesn’t mean any more than that. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. As long as I know with myself that I tried what I could and then at the end of the day I can still be very happy with what I achieved.”

However Magnussen makes it clear that doesn’t mean he’s thinking about stopping any time soon. “I’m talking now like I’m on my way out, but I’m still around and it’s still game on.”

Despite sitting ninth behind Williams and Alfa Romeo in the constructors’ championship, the team are optimistic about a major upgrade for the remaining five races of 2023. It will arrive for their home race this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas.

Magnussen says he hopes above all to discover a car which is more “user friendly” to stand a chance in the fight at the back.

“One thing is what theoretically should work and on paper should be fast,” Magnussen explains. “Another thing is when you then put human drivers in it and we have to deal with it and perhaps there are variables that aren’t correlating to what the wind tunnel says it should.

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“Then you start compromising your driving style and compromise the set-up too much to mask some of the issues.

“At the end of the day, it’s better to get a fresh start and try and put a car on the track that is more user-friendly and has a little bigger window. Maybe the peak looks to be less, but at the end, the performance is what you get on on your stopwatch and it hasn’t been good this year.

“So I think we need to try something different.”

The crucial question now is whether Haas’ upgrade will allow Magnussen to regain the form he enjoyed when he made his triumphant return to F1 at the beginning of last year.

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Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Losail International Circuit, 2023
Magnussen has high hopes of a return to the points in their upgraded car this weekend


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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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6 comments on “Why Magnussen finds it “a lot easier to be a F1 driver” his second time around”

  1. He’s experienced enough not to crash the car at every single opportunity.
    And Haas is cheap enough to appreciate that as one of the most important features in a driver, to the point they barely even look at the market. If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  2. It’s easier when you’re not fighting for anything or having the expectation to do so. All he can do to benefit Haas is to keep the car on track and in one piece given the lack of speed, development, investment from the team. That’s all he’s aiming for every weekend. Of course it’s going to be a relaxed job!

    I really wished he moved to Le Mans as was originally planned. I think Magnussen in one of the works teams would be spectacular and given we’re entering a golden era in endurance that God knows how long it’s going to last, I’d take the opportunity now instead of spending another almost pointless season with that failure of a team in F1.

  3. No more ambitions, no expectations, no goals, no confrontation with one’s own failures.

    So he is just there for the money.

    Which is exactly the impression I always got from Haas, a driving commercial that never intended to be part of the competition.

    1. No that’s the opinion you want to have and that is why you read the interview in that way and make such a conclusion. It’s on you.

      Everyone is there for the publicity. It is all a matter of what the teams are willing and able to put into the sport. You don’t think Haas had a better time in 16, 17 and 18 when they were competitive and likewise Magnussen enjoying racing more than being at the back?
      So you also believe Ferrari only wants to be competitive because they get funded to be in F1?

  4. He’s done really well for his stock since he returned last year. Maybe not as well this year versus Hulkenberg but he’s still a quality driver on his good days.
    Also meant to comment on how many exclusive interviews you guys have gotten recently – congratulations!

  5. Low expectations does make it easier…

Comments are closed.