Feature: The Kids Are Alright

By on Thursday, April 24, 2014

Three drivers joined the grid in 2014 - here's how they've fared after the first part of the season.


Kevin Magnussen was second on his debut. McLaren-Mercedes

Formula 1 debutants have a lot to become accustomed to in a very short space of time. A new team, a new team-mate, a completely new and more powerful car, much greater media interest – especially from their own nation, new circuits, longer races than anything they’re used to, a more intense schedule, consistent scrutiny of minor errors as well as fans clamouring that there’s someone ‘more deserving’ of the seat.

It’s a lot to get your head around, but the three new boys on the Formula 1 grid in 2014 have acclimatised well to the demands posed by the top echelon of motorsport.

Kevin Magnussen rode the crest of a wave in 2013 as he became the dominant driver on his way to the Formula Renault 3.5 crown. His performances and approach convinced Ron Dennis that the Dane was ready for a promotion and the returning boss duly dispensed with the services of Sergio Pérez.

Magnussen impressed during pre-season testing and led many to predict that the 21 year old would make an appearance on the podium at some point in 2014.

But few expected it to come so soon.

The last few events have been less successful for Magnussen. McLaren-Mercedes

The last few events have been less successful for Magnussen. McLaren-Mercedes

His deft car control netted him an extraordinary fourth place during wet conditions in qualifying in Australia while he survived a lurid moment at the start of the race to claim a top three finish on his Formula 1 debut. That it became second following Daniel Ricciardo’s exclusion was a moot point – Magnussen had demonstrated his ability on the world stage at the first time of asking. It was one of the most assured debuts in Formula 1 history.

The subsequent three races have been less fruitful for Magnussen, as slight contact with Kimi Räikkönen cost him points in Malaysia, while a mechanical failure in Bahrain hobbled his progress. The MP4-29 was a difficult car to handle in China and both drivers struggled, with Magnussen assuming a competent pace behind team-mate Jenson Button.

He cut a downbeat demeanour after the race and lamented a lack of downforce after the race, so his response to McLaren’s current predicament will be fascinating. Nonetheless, the first four races have shown that McLaren’s confidence in Magnussen’s talent is not misplaced.

Perhaps even more impressive than Magnussen has been Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat. Mark Webber’s retirement set a chain reaction going and once it was clear that Daniel Ricciardo was off to Red Bull, Toro Rosso duly required a replacement. The three prominent members of the Red Bull junior programme – Kvyat, Antonio Felix da Costa and Carlos Sainz Jr – all suffered adversity mid-2013 but Kvyat impressed Helmut Marko with the way in which he rebounded from his woes.

Kvyat has scored points in three races. Red Bull/Getty Images

Kvyat has scored points in three races. Red Bull/Getty Images

To the surprise of some, Kvyat stepped up but despite a difficult pre-season campaign he stormed onto the scene in Australia as he progressed through into Q3 in wet conditions – albeit via a prang – and scored points on his Formula 1 debut.

Further points came his way in Malaysia, while in Bahrain he raced well but ultimately fell short. He returned to the top 10 in China as he held off Jenson Button – an impressive start to a career for the driver a few days away from his 20th birthday.

There have been mitigating circumstances that have portrayed Kvyat in a flattering light – Jean-Éric Vergne has encountered the majority of the issues to have struck the STR9 in 2014, while Vergne is also at a disadvantage in terms of the weight limit. But Kvyat’s maturity belies his years as he remains calm and collected and opts to focus on the negatives in order to improve himself. It was clear from witnessing him in a media session pre-season that ‘The Russian’ would adapt well to the demands of Formula 1 – remember this is a driver who skipped the traditional final step of FR3.5/GP2. There will be tough times ahead for Kvyat and how he deals with the negative moments will ultimately define his future in the eyes of Marko as much as his positive moments. But for now it’s a promising start to what should be a lengthy career.

Ericsson has had a tougher time. Caterham F1 Team

Ericsson has had a tougher time. Caterham F1 Team

Marcus Ericsson has had a more difficult start to his Caterham tenure but expectations were understandably low. An oil leak in Australia halted his progress after a commendable performance, while his huge shunt during qualifying in Malaysia was a classic rookie error, albeit one which came as he sampled a Formula 1 car in the wet for the first time. Performances in Bahrain and China were competent, if unspectacular, as he struggled with the balance of the Caterham CT05. Renault’s problems have masked Caterham’s progress while in Kamui Kobayashi, Ericsson has a popular and experienced team-mate who has consequently alleviated the pressure on his shoulders. But this is probably Ericsson’s best shot at the sport, and he’s doing a good job.

The European season brings with it a sense of familiarity to the rookies, who have traversed the majority of circuits during their junior formula days. The question now is whether they can build on a promising start and kick up to the next level.

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