McLaren’s sporting director Sam Michael provided a team perspective Friday as to why it has opted to bring on rookie Kevin Magnussen in place of Sergio Perez for 2014.
“You look and assess where your capabilities are where you think you can improve and the view internally is that we could improve by going with Magnussen,” Michael said. “Checo’s doing a fantastic job at the moment considering the pressure he’s under.
“It’s obviously a discussion that’s been going on for quite some time. It’s always going to be difficult when you make a call like that. But I think we’re in a very fortunate position at the moment with our young driver program, in that it’s very rich with talent and Kevin’s just the first of the guys in that pool.
“I’ve come across lots of drivers in my time in Formula One and when you see drivers like that come along, it’s very important that you react and make the most of those opportunities.”
Magnussen won’t have the benefit of the same amount of testing mileage as the last two rookies McLaren has taken on, Lewis Hamilton in 2007 and Kevin’s father Jan Magnussen in 1995. The senior Magnussen served as test driver during that season and came on for the Pacific Grand Prix in Aida as Mika Hakkinen had an operation for appendictis. Hamilton, of course, was groomed by McLaren as a youth and had two years worth of tests and time to learn the car prior to his debut in 2007.
Kevin Magnussen has had all of two tests, but more simulator work, and as a rookie will be thrown into a challenging environment. Michael assessed how he feels the Dane will handle it.
“I think we’ve factored all of those sort of things into what we’re doing, including the testing he’s done for us already, all the simulator work, his performance in the lower categories and any sort of work that we can do between now and the start of next season,” Michael said.
“I think with the rule change, the way you drive the cars is going to be quite different. We’ve already done quite a lot of work in the simulator on that at this point and, if anything, it probably lends itself some good opportunities for change.”
Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.
Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.
Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.
Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.
But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.
“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”
Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.
Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.
“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”
The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.
But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.
“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”
Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.
The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.
“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.
“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.
“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”