AP Sports Writer
GUYANCOURT, France — When he was dumped by McLaren a few months ago, Kevin Magnussen feared his Formula One racing career might be over.
Now the Danish driver is more determined than ever to grab the lifeline handed by Renault as the French carmaker returns as a racing team.
“This is a massive opportunity, not many drivers get a second chance,” Magnussen said on Wednesday. “I’ve been given a very good chance as well, with a top team,”
It seems a fitting match: A hungry 23-year-old driver who showed great promise when he finished second in his first grand prix, and a carmaker bursting with ambition and high hopes of first rivaling, and eventually overtaking, Ferrari and Mercedes.
Last year was very trying for Magnussen.
He raced in the season-opening Australian GP for McLaren only because Fernando Alonso was recovering from a head injury in preseason testing, but failed to start due to engine trouble. He then watched for the rest of the season as Alonso and Jenson Button struggled to get to grips with McLaren’s new Honda engine.
Autumn and winter became increasingly bleak months for Magnussen after McLaren told him in October that he would be released, and that it would instead stick with Button for 2016.
That meant Magnussen — who finished second for McLaren at the Australian GP in 2014 — potentially faced a second year without racing.
“I don’t think you can be out (two years) unless you’re the world champion,”Magnussen said after Renault officially announced its comeback into F1 as a team, following several seasons as an engine supplier. “But in my position, being out two years would have been the end of my Formula One career. This was literally make or break, and luckily I made it.”
His acrimonious split from McLaren left its mark on the fresh-faced Dane. After releasing him, McLaren boss Ron Dennis said the team would help him find a new seat in F1.
“No, McLaren didn’t help,” Magnussen replied when asked if that help was forthcoming.
A few months on, he feels like he is starting over again — albeit with a different mindset.
“The main thing is I feel much more relaxed this time. I felt a lot of pressure the first year at McLaren. I feel pressure now, but in a much more positive way,” he said. “It’s really nice to have a fresh break, and I’m really happy to be with (Renault).”
He was tight-lipped about his contract, settled on Tuesday, saying only “I’m here this year, and then the future is open.”
Neither he nor British driver Jolyon Palmer have set any targets, but Magnussen said he will travel to Australia hoping to win.
“You can always hope, but it’s important to be realistic,” he said. “Renault has done it before and I believe they will do it again, but you have to be patient.”
He is sure, however, that TV sets all across Denmark will be on when the racing begins on March 20 in Melbourne, Australia.
“It’s great the way Denmark is about this,” he said. “You know, it’s a small country so when there is someone doing well, they support him or her.”