Formula 1 fans may look back on 2014 as a special year not only for the biggest technical shakeup in decades but also for the debuts of two young drivers following in the footsteps of champions.
Danish hotshot Kevin Magnussen and Russian teenager Daniil Kvyat will be starting out on what could be a road to glory when they line up for the first time on the grand prix grid in Melbourne on March 16.
Magnussen, 21, is McLaren’s first rookie since Lewis Hamilton made his debut in 2007 and comparisons have already been made between the two with the team describing him as “pretty special” and “lightning quick”.
Kvyat, still only 19, joins Toro Rosso as the latest on a Red Bull production line that has produced four-time champion Sebastian Vettel as well as the German’s new Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
In a sport where money talks, and buys race seats, both newcomers stand out because they have been fast-tracked on the basis of performance and potential rather than what they bring with them in the way of backing.
“The kid’s very quick…very naturally talented,” Red Bull principal Christian Horner said when Kvyat’s appointment was announced. “He’s got a steep learning curve, but 100 percent he’s there on talent.”
Both are the products of young driver programmes, carefully nurtured by top teams from an early age, and both won junior series titles last year – Magnussen in Formula Renault 3.5 and Kvyat in GP3.
Along with 23-year-old Swede Marcus Ericsson, who is making his debut at lowly Caterham and who has less to shout about after four unspectacular seasons in GP2, they form a trio of young guns graduating to the elite.
While Magnussen is the latest son of a racing father to enter Formula 1, he is unusual in that he could achieve more on his debut than Jan managed in his entire F1 career.
The older Dane, now a successful sportscar racer, also made his debut with McLaren in 1995 and was at the time hailed by triple champion Jackie Stewart as the brightest prospect since Ayrton Senna when he joined the Scot’s team in 1997.
He had dominated the British F3 championship with more wins than triple champion Senna managed 11 years earlier and all looked good.
But he had 12 retirements in 17 races that first year and in 1998, at the age of 25, was dropped. He had scored just one point from 25 grands prix.
“I wish I’d had another chance but Kevin is where he is today because of what happened to me. He can learn from my mistakes,” Jan told the Guardian newspaper in January.
“He is much more mature than I was at 21. In fact there are no similarities…I was a smoker, I didn’t train properly and was not at all organised. I was not ready for F1.”
Magnussen junior is every bit the modern professional and has shown how ready he is with session-topping times in testing, but race performances are what he will be judged on and he has been keeping his feet on the ground ahead of Melbourne.
“I’m a firm believer that there are no guarantees in this world,” he told the official F1 website last month.
“I know that all the work I did in the junior formulas was only enough to get me to the door of Formula 1 – and now I’m having to start all over again to prove that I deserve the opportunity to stay here.
“I’m determined to justify the faith that’s been put in me.”
That faith is the main reason why Mexican Sergio Perez left the team after just one year, Magnussen considered a talent so promising that the former world champions could not afford to keep him waiting.
Kvyat also muscled his way into contention late in the day at Toro Rosso when it looked like more experienced Portuguese driver Antonio Felix Da Costa had thedeal for the seat sewn up.
Some have suggested that the opportunity has come too early in his career, citing the case of Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari who made his debut for Toro Rosso as a teenager and was then discarded, but the Russian is not short of confidence.
Unlike Vitaly Petrov, Russia’s first Formula 1 driver, Ufa-born Kvyat started karting as a nine-year-old and has come up through the ranks. Fluent in four languages, he moved to Italy when he was 12 and now lives in England.
On his form so far, F1 commentators may have more difficulties with the correct pronunciation of his name (he is happy with ‘Danny’ or ‘DK’) – than he has shown in adapting to the sport.
“I already had a go in Free Practice in Brazil and Austin (last season) and I found myself very well in the F1 world. I didn’t really have any big problems to adapt myself,” he said earlier this year. “I felt that … I belonged.” (Reuters)
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