Latest News / Interview

Growing up quickly - exclusive interview with Kevin Magnussen

04 Jul 2014

Back in March, Kevin Magnussen joined an exclusive group of drivers who have scored a podium on their Grand Prix racing debut, but that has proved to be the highlight of what has been a somewhat tricky campaign for both McLaren and the young Dane. However, as he explains in this exclusive interview, Magnussen is determined to learn from every rookie setback and emerge a stronger, better driver…

Q: Kevin, the first half of your rookie season is history - is it good history?

Kevin Magnussen: Yep, I would say so. We started out very strong in Australia - and of course that stands out - and then we had some tough races afterwards - that is also no secret, but I’ve learned a lot and we are strong as a team. We just need to make the car fast.

Q: To be - and to stay - as a McLaren driver demands certain qualities - aside from being quick. What have you discovered is the second most important quality after speed?

KM: What I say now doesn’t only go for McLaren but for any driver here in the paddock: you need to be the whole package. Being fast is of course the main thing, but then you need to be very clever and be able to focus on everything - not only to make yourself quicker but also how to make the car quicker as well: to help the engineers with good feedback. Having an eye on details and thinking outside the box.

Q: Ron Dennis said that McLaren is a ‘big beast’. Are you taming that beast?

KM: Ha! So far I am not sure if it’s a beast at all. It is a very passionate team. They are the people that are most passionate about winning that I have met so far - nothing else matters. It is not about competing - it’s about winning and dominating, and that really turns me on. I share that obsession. I hate everything other than winning and I am only here to win. You can call that ‘beast-like’! (laughs)

Q: Racing and winning is one thing, but there must also be another side to Kevin Magnussen. What else is important for you?

KM: Family. Good friends that give you a good life outside F1. F1 is everything that I dream of, but there is a life outside - and that is also important.

Q: Ron said that without him you wouldn’t be sitting in a McLaren - that it was his decision. Does he remind you of that?

KM: Well, I know what he is expecting and if he is reminding me it doesn’t hurt. It just shows that he wants us to win. He wants me to deliver - and that is a positive thing. It’s not so that now that I have the cockpit I am safe - not at all. It’s the opposite: now I have the seat - now I have to deliver. I need to find more every day.

Q: But to believe that you can requires a lot of self-confidence. Do you have that?

KM: I must have - otherwise I wouldn’t have been chosen.

Q: You are very young, but is there a certain mindset that you and Ron share?

KM: I think the winning bit is the main thing. I imagine that he likes me, that he likes my personality - but that’s not why I am here. I am here because he thinks that I can win races for McLaren. I take that as a huge compliment, but also as a huge responsibility.

Q: How is it going with Jenson? From the outside he looks like the perfect team mate for a rookie: cool, calm and fast…

KM: Yes, that’s it.

Q: Is he taking you by the hand telling you: boy, do things and go about things this or that way?

KM: No, not that. But that’s also not his job. His job is to be good for the team. And I have the same job. We are both fighting for the same points - for the same wins hopefully in the future - and that will create competition within the team. The main thing is that McLaren wins and it is not relevant which of the two of us it is. As long as McLaren is winning they are happy, so competition is looming at one point in time…

Q: How well did it go down hearing Ron say that you are consistently beating Jenson - that you are showing your potential in a car that is probably not as good as you had hoped?

KM: I am doing the best that I can to learn and develop and it will then be up to them what the future will be.

Q: If you look at your first eight races, Melbourne - and the podium - stands out, but since then it has been a bit messy. You’re obviously still on a learning curve, so what’s been your biggest lesson?

KM: Definitely tyres! I’ve made some mistakes - and you learn from your mistakes. The mistakes I have made: the thing with Kimi (Raikkonen) in Malaysia for example, and other slight mistakes - but I don’t think I have made any huge mistakes. With every mistake you learn - and that’s good. But as I just said: the biggest learning curve for me was handling the tyres. But when I say that, it’s also about how to set the car up to give me the best chance to look after the tyre to manage the race.

Q: These past seven months with McLaren - in what way have they changed you?

KM: They haven’t changed me too much. They have made me a stronger race driver - a stronger person. It is a massive change in your career suddenly racing for McLaren. I have grown up very quickly.

Q: History has shown that you have to have a strong ego to have a long career in F1. Is that in you?

KM: Of course - otherwise you are not here. I believe that I can be the best if I deliver to my best. But that doesn’t mean that I believe I am the best all the time. But I believe I have the ability to be the best - and that is very different to saying: ‘I am the best’. I have confidence in myself and I know that I have to deliver and pull everything out of myself to get to that stage.

Q: There’s a long road between being a talent and being a champion. Where abouts are you on that road?

KM: I am a champion already in other things so I know that I can do it. The confidence that I have is something that I have built over many years, so one bad result or one bad season won’t take that confidence away - in some ways it even will build it as you contributed to get out of difficult situations it boosts your confidence a lot. It is important to believe in yourself and believe you’re the best - but it is also important to know that you are not always the best.

Q: Sergio Perez was the victim of a difficult McLaren season - he probably never had the chance to show his true colours in a top team - are you a bit worried that this could also happen to you?

KM: At McLaren everybody in the team is expected to deliver to his best. If he does that - and it is still not good enough - then you are not the guy for McLaren. Everybody in the team has to accept that. Everyone knows at McLaren that if you don’t deliver you don’t deserve the place. I think that’s the way it should be.

Q: Sixth in the constructors’ standings is not exactly McLaren’s style. How much heat is there in the team to do significantly better in the shortest possible time? What are the main glitches?

KM: I think it’s very close in the midfield. The first two teams will be hard to catch - I am sure we will - it’s just going to take a bit longer.

Q: Ron is not known for being patient…

KM: …nor am I. So of course I also want it to happen very quickly. It is very close between P3 and P6. I know that it will be impossible to catch Mercedes this season, but as long as we can make progress or close the gap more and carry that momentum into next year, hopefully we will be in front of them. But I have no illusions that this will be a big task and everybody in the team knows that.

Q: Eric Boullier said that winning is not exactly around the next corner, but home soil sometimes can work miracles. Can there be at least a small miracle this weekend?

KM: Of course there can! Formula One is not predictable. Probably for us this year has been more predictable than others - so seeing a miracle is probably less than other years - but we are always going into a race with an open mind to believe that the victory is there.

Q: From the impression that you gained today: is a miracle feasible? In the first session you were two seconds off the pacemaker; in the second session 1.8 seconds…

KM: Well, it’s a nice track, first of all. Maybe a slower track would suit us better, but here we are. Overall I feel that we’re not looking much worse than in Austria two weeks ago, but we expected that so it’s no surprise. My guess is that points are within reach and that we will probably be battling Force India over them. But let’s see what tomorrow brings!