Jan Magnussen, the father of 2014 McLaren driver Kevin, is one of only a handful of racers to have participated in just one grand prix for McLaren, joining Frenchman Philippe Alliot as the only driver in the 1990s to have achieved the feat.
After blazing a trail through British Formula 3 in 1994, Jan was hailed by his team boss Jackie Stewart as possessing an ability comparable to Ayrton Senna. Those early wins, indeed, had looked supremely effortless, and the Dane looked set for a glittering grand prix career.
His impromptu 1995 McLaren call-up, subbing for an unwell Mika Hakkinen, was only expected to underline Stewart’s findings. Instead, it was to mark the start of a steady unravelling as Jan somehow failed to find his footing at the sport’s top level.
That race for McLaren, the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix, in Japan, was Magnussen’s F1 debut, and a somewhat inauspicious one. He qualified in 12th position, just two places behind regular driver Mark Blundell, and finished a respectable 10th, just one position behind his more experienced team-mate.
In 1997, Stewart once again underlined his belief in Jan’s abilities by signing the young Dane to his titular racing outfit. But Jan failed to score a point in his first full season in F1. In 1998, he fared little better, earning one point before being replaced mid-season by Jos Verstappen, who himself failed to score in the remaining nine grands prix.
Was Magnussen a victim of misfortune, or simply not equipped for the sport’s top flight? According to those close to the Dane, it was a little of both: many argued that, as a fledgeling team, Stewart was not equipped to run two competitive cars, and that Rubens Barrichello enjoyed the majority of its attention. Ron Dennis argued that Magnussen lacked the mental clarity to make his mark at the top, but a long and fruitful sports car career has clearly shown the Dane has the talent and nous to race with the world’s best.