Danes await Formula One return 25 Jul 2003
In recent times the biggest name in Danish motorsport has arguably been Tom Kristensen, the legendary sportscar driver who just last month clinched an amazing fifth victory in the Le Mans 24-hour race.
However, all that could change next Sunday when Nicolas Kiesa makes his Formula One debut with Minardi. The 25-year-old from Copenhagen will become only the third Danish driver to start a Grand Prix, and the first in over five years.
Older Danish motorsport fans may recall the names of Tom Belso and Jac Nelleman, who both had brief flirtations with Formula One racing in the mid 1970s. Belso made two starts for Williams, then known as Iso-Marlboro, in 1974, with a best of eighth place in the Swedish Grand Prix. Nelleman, meanwhile, failed in his sole attempt to qualify for a Grand Prix, also in Sweden, two years later.
The Danes then had to wait almost two decades for their first genuine Formula One contender, in the form of Jan Magnussen, who having won the role of McLaren test driver in 1995, got his big break when he stood in for Mika Hakkinen at the Pacific Grand Prix in Japan.
It was an assured Grand Prix debut. Magnussen qualified 12th, just two places down on team mate Mark Blundell, and then finished the race in tenth, less than three seconds behind his British colleague.
However, his hopes for a full-time McLaren seat for '96 evaporated when Blundell's drive went to David Coulthard. Nevertheless, Magnussen continued as test driver, combining his development duties with some impressive outings for AMG Mercedes in the International Touring Car Championship.
Magnussen's persistence finally paid off when he scored a race seat with the fledgling Stewart team for 1997, partnering Rubens Barrichello. And a season best of seventh place at Monaco saw him retained along with his Brazilian team mate for the following year.
However, seven races into the 1998 campaign, he was dramatically dropped by Stewart in favour of the more experienced Jos Verstappen, whom the team felt would be more helpful in developing the car. Ironically, Magnussen had just scored his first world championship point after taking sixth place in Canada.
Magnussen never made it back it into a Formula One race seat, but has since carved out a successful motorsport career in various formulae, including CART, the Danish Touring Car Championship and most notably the American Le Mans Series, as part of which this coming weekend he will partner David Brabham in a Ferrari 550 Maranello for the Prodrive team.
However, just a week later all Danish eyes will be on Kiesa. And while not many of them will be expecting him to match Magnussen's debut result of tenth place, no doubt more than a few will be praying for him to at least rattle his new team mate.
In an added twist, Kiesa's partner at Minardi will be the very man that Stewart deemed more worthy of a Formula One seat than Magnussen just five years ago - none other than Jos 'the Boss' Verstappen.