Magnussen debut runner-up brings a few F1 things full circle

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Although the calendar shows this year is 2014, there are semblances of 1995 and 1996 very much evident this weekend in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Consider Kevin Magnussen is only the second rookie to debut for McLaren since 1995, when his father Jan did so in a one-off substitute role in the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix at the Aida Circuit in Japan.

The other rookie was Lewis Hamilton, who came third on debut in 2007 at the Australian Grand Prix.

The younger Magnussen, 21, finished third on the road Sunday to match Hamilton’s debut result, one he was over the moon with.

But come late Sunday night, when Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from second place for falling afoul of the series’ new fuel flow regulations, that promoted Magnussen to second, before Red Bull appealed the DQ.

For McLaren’s new recruit, that’s the best result for a Grand Prix driver on debut since Jacques Villeneuve came second for Williams in the first Australian GP held at Melbourne in 1996.

Villeneuve, coincidentally, is the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and CART series champion – the same year the senior Magnussen made his F1 debut – and will race once again in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to bring things full circle.

Now, all it would take to add to the “what’s real in 2014 was also real in the ’90s” theme involving Villeneuve and a Magnussen would be Jan Magnussen returning to IndyCar for the first time since 1999.

But it was in 1996, the year Villeneuve left for F1 that Magnussen made his CART series debut in a fill-in role for Team Penske, on recommendation from Mercedes’ Norbert Haug. He substituted first for an injured Paul Tracy, then an injured Emerson Fittipaldi in the series’ final four races.

Adding to the coincidences, Jan Magnussen’s McLaren F1 chassis in 1995 marked the first year of the Mobil 1 and McLaren relationship. It’s a partnership that has extended 20 years into 2014, where Kevin Magnussen has now taken the Mobil 1-backed McLaren MP4-29 Mercedes to this record result.

Mercedes hasn’t had a role yet in this story in terms of coincidences, but it too plays a part. The 1995 season marked the first McLaren season with Mercedes power; 2014 will mark its last in another 20-year partnership, before it returns to Honda in 2015.

I’m going to go ahead and dub this odd string of coincidences “Magnussception.” Because this is kind of weird, yet kind of cool at the same time.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.