Voice of the #F1 Fans: Magnussen’s debut season better than thought?

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor: landroni  

Was Magnussen’s debut as bad as it looked?

The consensus in many quarters, including the panellists of the TJ13 courtroom podcast recently, seems to be that KMag hasn’t done nearly enough to be kept at McLaren. Let’s take a look how he stacks up when we put his stats in the appropriate context.

Ultimately we are comparing the performance of a rookie versus a WDC with 15 years of experience in F1, and who performed respectably against Hamilton over a 3 year period – the latter reputedly one of the fastest drivers on the grid. The stats seem damning: Button outqualified the KMan 10-9, outraced 14-3, and outscored 126-55 (Magnussen scoring 44% of Button’s tally).

However, is his performance as bad as it looks? For example, last year Jensen lost the quali battle against Pérez by the same margin 9-10, but outraced Checo 11-5 and outscored him 73-49 (67%). It is important to note though that the KMan had 0 years of prior experience in F1, while Checo had a full 2 years in F1 cars.

Magnussen’s performance also looks worse because on various occasions he didn’t really keep his nose clean in the races (obvious rookie syndrome). And although it was not always his own fault, at other times his car let him down.

In China he didn’t get out of Räikkönen’s way soon enough; in Monaco he hit engine trouble, and Räikkönen had decided to park it in front of him at the hairpin; in Germany Massa had decided that the run from the start line to T1 was enough for him, so cut across Magnussen and went on for a spin, damning Magnussen to a (good, it must be said) recovery drive. In Italy Magnussen got a 5sec penalty for a move on Bottas which was less aggressive than the one Jense practised on Pérez in the same T1 (for which he didn’t get penalised). By the time the circus had arrived in Russia – Magnussen was hit with fuel-flow sensor issues which futher skewed his performance vs Button in the last stint and in Abu Dhabi on the first lap he seemed to be attracting trouble all round, first finding himself pushed by a Force India, and then having a Sauber cutting across his front-wing on the straight.

It must be said that when put under pressure Magnussen kept his nerve and showed his mettle. On his race debut, Magnussen recovered from an embarrassing over-eagerness on the throttle at the start and kept it on the
road and onto the podium by the end of the race finishing in front of his team-mate.

When he found himself pressured by assorted world champions, including the likes of Alonso, Vettel or Button, the shielded one kept his head down, most memorably during a magnificent 4-way fest in the closing laps at Spa, but also at Monza and on several other occasions.

Simply put, not just any rookie would have held it when confronted with on-track sharks like Vettel or Alonso as this link shows in a brilliant battle at Spa.

In assessing Magnussen’s performance, we should also consider corrected statistics. If we correct for the Abu Dhabi double-points aberration, the score would be 116-55, meaning that KMan scored a healthier looking 47% of Jense’s tally (even if not improved by much).

If we use TJ13’s beloved Victims of Circumstance methodology to correct for bad luck outside of the driver’s control, then Button outscored Magnussen by 119-51, or 43%, and outraced him 16-3 (sensibly similar to the uncorrected measures).

But if we look at the Button vs Pérez VoC results in 2013, then Button outscored Pérez 62-33, or 53%. Now the relative performance of both Magnussen and Pérez stacks up more similarly, even if importantly Pérez still has 2 years of prior experience more than the rookie.

As for the qualifying performance – even if the headline score is 9-10 for Button – by taking a closer look the stats reveal an interesting qualifying advantage for Magnussen. The KMan was on average 0.165s faster than Jense over a single lap (when comparing the best times of a pair of team-mates in the last part of each qualifying session where both set a time).

This coming from a rookie vs a WDC is distinctly impressive, and one hard sign of Magnussen’s speed. Moreover, over the entire season Magnussen reached Q3 15 times compared with only 13 appearances for Button. Again, the headline qualifying performance seems hardly representative of actual peak speed for the pair.

By comparison, last year Button was on average 0.240s faster than Pérez, while clocking 11-8 appearances in Q3, making this year’s rookie’s performance more impressive still, and a validation of McLaren’s decision to ditch Checo in favour of the KMan.

Perhaps the most obvious comparison comes however from another Scandinavian, Valtteri Bottas, who many of us will have forgotten was still a rookie last year. Bottas went on to show a remarkable level performance this year in the Williams, especially when stacked up against Felipe Massa, whio lest we forget was an almost-WDC.

But many won’t recall his quasi-anonymous debut in 2013. Bottas may have beat Maldonado 12-7 in qualifying, and 4-1 in the points, but was outraced 7-10 in the races. And by all accounts Maldonado is no WDC. Therefore it would be fair to assume Bottas probably had an easier time during his rookie year racing under less pressure at the back of the field (leaning towards the midfield) among less rated drivers.

Magnussen had a racier year under the spotlight in the midfield (leaning towards the sharp end) regularly dicing it out with the Alonsos, Vettels, Buttons and Räikkönens of the grid.

When compared to the Force India drivers, McLaren’s direct opposition this year, Magnussen was barely outscored by the highly rated Nico Hülkenberg 51-58, and outperformed one Checo Pérez 51-39, again when correcting for bad luck. Maybe things don’t look so bad for the Danish rookie after all…

And those who believe that Vandoorne is the better pick for the 2nd seat at McLaren next year, think again. More likely than not, the young Belgian will perform similarly to Bottas or Magnussen in their rookie years. With only 6 days of track time for a rookie prior to the start of an F1 season, simulators or not, it is nigh-on impossible to emulate the Hamilton of 2007… A pity, then, that Magnussen’s future will ultimately be decided by Ron Dennis’ success or failure to survive the boardroom civil war currently raging at McLaren.

7th December 2014

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14 responses to “Voice of the #F1 Fans: Magnussen’s debut season better than thought?

  1. Nah, sorry Landroni – there are statistics and there are skewed statistics – those that can be plucked to place one’s POV.

    Appreciate your contributions even so, so please don’t let my negativity lessen those contributions.
    While there’s no way his season was a howler, neither did he show enough to differentiate him from his old man.

    • Anyone believing that in the testing ban era, Magnussen (a rookie) and Button (a WDC with 15 years experience) were this year on equal footing are severely deluding themselves.

      Of course Magnussen was always going to get a drumming from Button, unless Button seriously messed things up. There is no way that with only 6 days of testing Magnussen could achieve the level of Hamilton in 2007 or that of Alonso in 2001 or Kubica in 2006. No way! After the testing ban rookies had systematically had mediocre performances compared to the rest of the field, and no meteoric rise was ever on the cards (not even for Vandoorne when he gets his chance).

      So the real question was: How bad was the drumming?

      Race performance-wise, when corrected for luck, was OK-ish to disappointing. Certainly nothing spectacular season-long. But again, as expected! As per VoC, he fared comparably to Hulkenberg, Perez and Raikkonen over the season (in cars that were similar performance-wise). Compared, to Perez of 2013, the performance was again similar (vs Button), and Perez was no rookie.

      Quali performance wise, Magnussen not only matched Button, but proved quicker and more consistent. Now that’s unexpected! The kid is seriously quick, and certainly quicker than a WDC in his own team, with a car developed using his own bumometer. Magnussen was 0.150s quicker than Button, and 0.400s quicker than Perez (when comparing relative quali performances via the Button yard-stick). Now that’s a seriously interesting data point!

      As was commented elsewhere, Magnussen needs at least a 2nd year in F1 to be able to go from inconclusive to signficant results. However the flashes that he has demonstrated this year: a podium on debut in Australia, more single lap speed than a WDC, inspired driving on several occasions against assorted WDCs; certainly proved that he has the much sought “long term potential” and deserves a 2nd year in F1 machinery.

  2. Very good article, you make many solid points. I still think they should go with Button for one more year, and have KMag do a Hulk circa 2011.

  3. Magnussen got to Q3 15 times and yet JB out-qualified him eventually ? Something’s not right… Demotions ?

    Magnussen has been excellent this year, considering it’s his rookie season. That bit of racing at Spa was superb, against 3 WDCs ! And he kept it all clean as well, stewards penalized him just because he’s a rookie. It does look like his time is over as McLaren will pick JB over him… It’s a great shame really.

    • I disagree. His penalty in Monza was unfair. However at Spa he was entirely at fault for sliding Alonso into the grass.

  4. I think the better question would be “How does he compare with other ‘rookie years’?” Where does he fall in comparison to those other years where a rookie was on the grid? (Yes, I realize that will still include Button, Hamilton, etc., but it’s still a rookie year that I’m interested in.)

  5. To summarize: he was worse than Perez, and less experienced. So we still don’t know if he will prove to be better than Perez, who we do know is not a match for Button.

    Sounds like an article full of excuses to me.

    • Sorry for the criticism, but such a poor summary of the article. The author has emphasized the fact that KMan almost achieved what Perez did despite being a rookie. I think you are looking plainly at the % points scored by both against Button. But Magnussen had far more issues than perez encountered with in 2013.

      To me he is very quick. Unfortunate that we could not judge him against Bottas (just one more year of experience) or Ricciardo because of the performance difference in the cars. But sure he is here to stay for the long term along with Vandoorne.

      • I think you consider it ‘poor’ because you do not agree with it. To you “almost achieving what Perez did despite being a rookie” is noteworthy. To me, he didn’t achieve what Perez did.

        F1 is results driven. Magnussen hasn’t shown anything in his makeup to be particularly special, much like Perez. I’m not questioning whether he is quick. Undoubtedly he is, but that statement is reasonably accurate for everyone on the F1 grid.

        Making allowances for someone indicates unreasonable bias, which implies lack of objectivity. Dropping Button in favour of Magnussen would be like dropping Ricciardo in favour of Kvyat – how reasonable does that sound?

        • Good response. They are not allowances. Unfortunately they are racing incidents wherein had the circumstances been different KMan would have been closer to Button. Also its not lack of objectivity to consider these situations. Its just analysing the incidents differently and predicting how the outcome would have been.

  6. Hockenheim was mainly Magnussens fault. How he got away with it I dont know. Magnussen might have barely made the corner, so either way he would crash out Massa or Massa needed to go off track to evade him. But that was impossible as Magnussen was not in his mirrors.

    Then there is something called teamplaying. Magnussen ran Button off the road at Spa, Singapore and Japan as far as I know. In Japan Magnussen was a lap down on Button and Magnussen was thick enough to try to overtake his teammate in the pouring rain. That same teammate who was running for a rare podium.

    The penalty in Monza was Magnussens own fault as well. After all the front wings he retired and other drivers he ran off track he was disciplined like Maldonado, Perez and Grosjean always are.

  7. The fairest conclusion is that, until he gets a second season in F1, we just don’t know.
    Last season was not spectacular – but a spectacular first season is pretty unusual in any event. What usually separates the potential champions from the also rans is how they develop it their second season.

    Magnussen was neither good nor bad enough last season to say with any confidence which category he belongs in.

    A healthier F1 would have more teams, and enough teams closer to being competitive – in which case we might have found out.

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