McLaren and Magnussen come full circle
Formula 1 is often a brutal, unforgiving world, and it is certainly not known for its sentimentality, but every now and again something happens to remind you that there is room for humanity and warmth in the harshest of sporting environments.
McLaren, regarded by some as a cold and clinical team, have recently signed up to their young driver programme a 17-year-old Dane called Kevin Magnussen. And while such information would normally not rate a mention here, there is a poignant story, laden with irony, behind this latest move.
Magnussen's father is the ex-Formula 1 driver Jan Magnussen, himself a product of the McLaren young driver programme, who made an impressive F1 debut for the team as a replacement for an ill Mika Hakkinen in the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix and went on to race for Stewart Grand Prix for a season and a half in 1997-98.
Despite his association with McLaren and triple world champion Jackie Stewart, the elder Magnussen did not make much of a mark in the F1 history books - he scored a solitary point, for finishing sixth in Canada in 1998, his final race before he was sacked. But all who worked with him agree that things should not have turned out that way.
Jan Magnussen's F1 career fizzled out after just 18 months. Photo: Getty
Jan Magnussen had a quite brilliant career in the junior formulae, including taking more victories in the year he won the British Formula Three championship than Ayrton Senna did in his 11 years before.
Stewart, whose F3 team Magnussen drove for, hailed him as the greatest talent to emerge since Senna, and hopes were high that he would become a major F1 star.
But Magnussen was as undisciplined and naive as he was talented and he drove then McLaren team boss Ron Dennis, a man famous for his fastidiousness, to distraction.
Eventually, against Dennis's advice, Magnussen flew the McLaren nest, to join Stewart for their debut season in F1.
In the car, there were flashes of what many thought Magnussen should be capable of during his brief grand prix career, but when his driver was still struggling by mid-season 1998, Stewart lost patience. At the age of 24, Magnussen's F1 dreams - and the hopes of those who had invested in him - were over.
Suffice it to say on this blog that all involved - including Magnussen himself - admit they could have handled the situation better, and that he could - should - have gone on to win races, even championships.
Despite his failings, Magnussen was an immensely likeable man, and that - coupled with a sense of unfinished business - has clearly played a part in McLaren's decision to sign his son.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh told me: "Jan was a great talent that we didn't get the best out of - and when I say we, I mean Jan and us.
"You look at him in karts, in Formula Ford, which is where I first saw him, and Formula Three, his natural talent was phenomenal, and I don't think he realised the potential of that natural talent.
"Kevin is an impressive driver. He understands, I think, how his father didn't realise his potential. I liked Jan and I felt we should do something with his son.
"I spoke to Jan, obviously, and I think he sees the talent in his son and in retrospect he can look back on his career and probably believe more would have been possible."
If that sounds like Whitmarsh's decision was at least partly based on sentiment, that's because it was - up to a point. There is, though, as ever, harsh commercial and sporting reality in it, too.
"There is some emotion in it," Whitmarsh says, "because we're emotional about our racing drivers. But we wouldn't base it on purely, here's Jan's son so we're going to do it. He appears to have quite a steely character, slightly more focused determination than Jan, so we'll see if we can help."
The addition of Magnussen Jr gives McLaren a roster of eight young drivers, half of whom are British. And if you're wondering why I've written this piece about a Dane, I have to admit to a personal interest. It's a lovely story, with a touching twist, yes, but Jan Magnussen and I go back a long way.
I met him for the first time when he won the Formula Ford Festival in 1992 - when Kevin, just a few weeks old, was in a pushchair at his 19-year-old father's side. I covered Jan's Formula 3 season in 1994, and all of his grands prix, and along the way I came to like him very much. So when I heard about Kevin and McLaren, I gave him a ring.
"I can't begin to explain how proud I am that he has made it this far so quickly," said Jan, who is racing a Chevrolet Corvette in the famous Sebring 12 Hours sports car race this weekend. "It's very emotional for me.
"I have given him as much advice as I can, but most of it he knows already. He's super-motivated and I think he has a better chance of succeeding at McLaren than I did. I realised too late that I only wanted to be a great racing driver whereas he only wants to be a great F1 driver.
"He's very committed to it. I had a lot of success, and maybe it came to me too easily. I didn't fight when I had to, but he's fighting for it every day.
"We discuss everything, the stupid mistakes he shouldn't make. It's not easy being the son of a racing driver, but he has coped well with the pressure of being my son.
"I have a chance to correct some of the wrongs I did back then. I didn't make big mistakes, but made a lot of small ones. He's a different person to me - naturally, he has a much more professional outlook than I did. He's way better than me at that age, and in the car he does everything you're supposed to do if you're a prospect for F1.
"But this is him going to F1. This is nothing to do with me. F1 is a hard world. You really have to be 100% committed, and I would never push anyone into it. It takes a special person. I'm biased, obviously, but I believe he's going to make it, and it's simply down to how committed he is."