But judging by his timesheet-topping pace at last week’s pre-season test in Spain, the 21-year-old is more than ready to step up to Formula One racing, and is determined to make the most of his big opportunity…
Q: Kevin, what crosses your mind when you consider that the season starts in less than six weeks’ time? Panic, excitement or a ‘cool customer’ state of mind?
Kevin Magnussen: It’s about focusing on what’s possible and what’s achievable. There’s no need to panic; no, I just need to keep making progress with the team and the car, to use my time productively, and to make sure I arrive in Melbourne feeling as well prepared as it’s possible to be. Naturally, you can never be too well prepared - there’s always something more you can do - but, at some point, you need to stop practising and start racing. One of the things Jenson (Button) has told me is that he never stops learning. He’s driven nearly 250 Grands Prix, so it’s quite inspiring to hear him say that. I can definitely learn from Jenson, and, like him, I hope to keep learning.
Q: Could you please talk us through your pre-season preparation? When Sergio Perez was announced as a McLaren driver in late 2012, Martin Whitmarsh said that at the first test in 2013 he’d be a different, and fitter, driver. Is it the same in your case?
KM: Well, I can only talk for myself, and I’m steadily building up my fitness to the first race. I live in Woking, so I’m at MTC (McLaren Technical Centre) every day that’s possible. I use the MTC gym as often as I can, working with my fitness trainer Antti Vierula, and I drive the MTC simulator as often as I can too. I’m taking it very seriously. The best way to get race fit is to get as much time in the cockpit as possible, and I’m therefore glad to have been able to do plenty of laps at the Jerez test last week. One of the main concerns is not to over-train, though. You need time to rest your body and your mind, otherwise you can over-work things a bit. Fitness is vital, of course it is, and I’d say I’m pretty fit, but mindset is just as important.
Q: You’ve been given a one-in-a-million chance. Are you still wondering how it came about? At one time last autumn there appeared to be a significant chance that you were headed for a Formula One team further down the grid - and then suddenly you were announced as Jenson Button’s team mate at McLaren for 2014. Can you tell us any more about how that came about?
KM: I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given, and in a way it still hasn’t really sunk in yet. When I got into the car for the first time at Jerez last Thursday, in fact, it still felt a bit strange. But I’m a firm believer that there are no guarantees in this world, so I’m now focusing on the work I need to do to justify the privilege of being a Formula One driver. I certainly don’t take anything for granted - I know that all the work I did in the junior formulas was only enough to get me to the door of Formula One - and now I’m having to start all over again to prove that I deserve the opportunity to stay here. In the past few weeks, and in the next few weeks also, working closely with all the McLaren guys who’ve given me that opportunity, I’m determined to justify the faith that’s been put in me.
Q: McLaren had a poor 2013 season, but it’s clear that the team is determined to bounce back. Are you really ready to be a regular points-scorer or do you think you’ll need time to acclimatise?
KM: Okay, I’m a rookie, but I’m not going to focus too much on worrying about what I can’t control. Besides, even for the most experienced drivers, there’s always another lap you can do to feel more prepared. So my aim is to work hard, get myself comfortable with the car - comfortable enough that I can really push it and lean on it - and then take it from there. Anyway, I’ve got total faith in McLaren’s engineers and mechanics, and it’s clear that they’re offering me the right guidance and assistance. They’re all great guys. Lastly, I don’t think anyone can predict with much confidence what’s going to happen in the opening races, whether you’re a super-experienced world champion like Jenson or a rookie like me.
Q: You mentioned Jenson. He’s now the most experienced driver on the Formula One grid - has he taken you under his wing?
KM: We haven’t spent that much time together over the winter, but this is the time of year when we’re really starting to work closely together. Obviously, we were together at the MTC on the day the car was launched, doing interviews and photo shoots for the McLaren website and so on, and we spent time together last week at the test in Jerez, where we did a lot of work with our engineers to give them the best possible feedback on the car. The engineers really benefit from having two sources of driver information. Jenson’s feedback is always very impressive, really rich, and it was great to have him on the other side of the table, giving the engineers really deep information. Jenson is a fantastic guy, a great driver, and a real ambassador for McLaren and for Formula One. I’m really looking forward to working alongside him in 2014.
Q: Do you have any role model that you want to want to emulate?
KM: Not really. I’m inspired by the legends of our sport, obviously - it’s always a thrill to walk past the rows of world-championship winning Formula One cars at the MTC, cars driven by brilliant drivers like Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen, plus Lewis Hamilton and Jenson of course - but these are my first steps in Formula One, and I just want to make sure I do a good job for the team. Having said that, McLaren was always my dream team, even when I was a little kid. So, just being a part of McLaren is an inspiration in itself, and as I say it still hasn’t really sunk in.
Q: What’s on your agenda from now until Melbourne?
KM: It’s pretty simple: I’ll be training regularly, and I’ll be working with the engineers - both in the simulator and at the track. I’ll also be doing a bit of sponsor work at the MTC where required, but not too much. That’s pretty much it, really.
Q: You opted for 20 as your permanent driver number - is there any story connected to that?
KM: Well, 20 is the number I ran when I was in karting, and it’s also the number I ran last year when I won the World Series by Renault 3.5 Championship. So it’s followed me around and brought me some success, so it seemed to make sense to carry it over into Formula One. I think Jenson chose 22 for the same reason - he ran that number when he won the Formula One world championship in 2009. I like the idea of permanent driver numbers, but maybe it would be nice if they could be a bit bigger and clearer, but obviously that isn’t my decision.
Q: What can you say about your first hands-on experience of the MP4-29? McLaren was one of the teams that was able to run some good mileage…
KM: My first impressions are positive. It feels like it’s underneath you, which is always a good start. There’s not really much more I can add to that right now - we’ll only get a clearer idea of where we stand in terms of relative competitiveness once the testing continues in Bahrain later this month. Even then it’ll be hard to say anything definitive. So, yes, it feels nice to drive, and the power and torque delivery is extremely impressive, but our aim for the moment is just to create as reliable a package as we can and try to get some more miles under our belts. That may not sound particularly exciting, but the reality is that lap count is more important than lap time right now, so that’s our main aim at the moment.