Over the course of Formula 1’s long and rich history, the sport has proved to be the pinnacle of motorsport. The best constructors, minds, engineers, designers and of course drivers. And as F1 is such an exclusive club, only open to around 20 each year, there are bound to be drivers that slip under the radar and don’t quite make it.
I’m writing this in the light of Kevin Magnussen’s not too surprising departure from McLaren. Although he was given his eviction notice by e-mail earlier this month – incidentally on his birthday (and some people don’t even bother to send a card now!), he didn’t officially part company with the Woking team until last Friday.
Although unsurprising in aspects, it’s a shame Magnussen has been forced out the door. He has unquestionable talent, but has only been given one year in a sub-par car to prove it, which seems unfair. After all, he did score a podium on his debut in Australia last year, finishing above his vastly more experienced team mate, Jenson Button. Over the course of the season, he put in more reliable drives and scored solid points, not out-racing his machinery, but not underperforming either.
He lost his seat of course to Fernando Alonso for 2015 and missed out on the chance to race in Australia – filling in for the dazed, time-travelling Alonso after his peculiar shunt in winter testing – thanks to his faulty power unit ceasing to work on his installation lap. When you’re down, luck makes sure you stay down.
Ever since then, he’s been in the shadows, watching Button and Alonso retain their seats for 2016 and also looking over his shoulder to see the other reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne romp to the GP2 title, breaking every record possible in just his second season.
Where he goes from here is anybody’s guess, one thinks that he won’t get a seat at Haas, due to Esteban Gutierrez’s North American background and his Ferrari ties. And if he wants to go to Sauber, he’ll probably have to fight against 72 other drivers who have all been promised a seat. Giedo van der Garde is probably one of them, again.
But, let’s hope he doesn’t disappear from the scene altogther, but there are other outlets where he can find success. As I alluded to earlier, there have been others who have seen their time halted in F1 but still create healthy careers elsewhere, showing what their former employees have discarded.
Look at Gary Paffett, a champion in the DTM series in Germany; he was McLaren’s (funnily enough) reserve driver from 2005 to 2014, only missing out on a full drive thanks to the emergence of a chap named Lewis Hamilton.
Then there’s Antonio Felix da Costa, the Red Bull backed racer from Portugal. He’s also plying his trade in the DTM series after several good seasons in Formula 3, Formula Renault 3.5 and the GP3 series. But thanks to Red Bull’s ever growing roster of talent, he’s been overlooked for an F1 drive. But he’s still 24, time is just about on his side.
And most obviously to all WEC/sportscars fans, there is Andre Lotterer (above). After being Jaguar test driver in 2001 and 2002, he missed out on a full-time seat to the heavier wallet of Antonio Pizzonia in 2003, at the age of 22. It now looks like a poor decision as the Duisburg born German/Belgian has gone on to win Le Mans no less than three times, two Super GT titles and the WEC with the Audi LMP1 factory team. To date, his only appearance in Formula One was with the now defunct Caterham team at the Belgian Grand Prix of 2014. What’s more for Lotterer, he only managed one lap thanks to mechanical gremlins. After Caterham opted to put the now Manor driver Roberto Mehri in the car for Friday Practice at the next race in Italy, Lotterer walked away due to a lack of running.
Pair him with NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, it seems crazy that they haven’t found success in the ‘big time’.
One light is that Mercedes’ young gun Pascal Wehrlein clinched the DTM title last weekend, and like da Costa, he has time on his side. One hopes that he can find a way through. I’m sure Toto Wolff has it on his ‘to-do-list’ as well.
It’s an issue that will always taint F1. Only the lucky few can make their way in. Money talks more than talent as well now there are fewer teams and more expenses. If a clear and positive blueprint for the future of the sport can be drawn up and agreed upon, it may get better.
But there will always be the ones that got away.
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