Allan McNish column: Youngsters show they have what it takes

Action-packed start to new F1 era

It was an eventful start to the new F1 season at Sunday's Australian Grand Prix and, amid the drama, some new stars burst on the scene.

In Daniel Ricciardo, Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat, the sport has four young drivers ready to make a significant impact.

We should be hearing a lot more about all four as the season goes on and, below, I am going to take a closer look at just why they have so much promise.


When he was announced as Sebastian Vettel's team-mate at Red Bull for 2014, I had two questions in my mind. He may wear the biggest smile in the paddock, but would he still have it at the end of the season? Would he be able to maintain that brightness under much greater pressure at the front of the grid?

In Australia, he showed there is strength and determination behind that jolly smile.

He impressed by finishing second both in qualifying and - before he was disqualified - in the race. But what also stood out was the fact that his radio comments during the race were very measured. There were no nerves in his voice.

His disqualification for fuel-flow irregularities is almost irrelevant. It was beyond his control and takes nothing away from the quality of his performance.

In my mind, there is now no question he is a worthy successor to Mark Webber.

Vettel was held back in qualifying by engine software issues and then retired from the race with an engine problem.

When he has fewer complications over a weekend, I would expect him to remain the team leader. But Ricciardo showed a maturity beyond his years in handling the pressure from Kevin Magnussen's McLaren in the closing stages of the race.

He was quick at the right points of the circuit and did not over-drive the car.


The Dane was immensely impressive on his grand prix debut, out-qualifying team-mate Jenson Button in the wet conditions on Saturday and finishing ahead of him in the race after a faultless drive.

Having finished third behind Ricciardo in his first grand prix, Magnussen was promoted to second after the Red Bull driver's disqualification.

Whether people should be stunned by that performance is open to question.

Magnussen's father, Jan, holds the record for wins in a single season in British Formula Three, the training ground of racing drivers for so many years. The talent has clearly been handed down to his son.

But the younger Magnussen appears to have the composure and focus his father lacked.

I remember when Jan told me his son, then only 16, would be an F3 driver. I thought he was too young. But I watched him through the British F3 championship and he was always very fast. He got into a couple of incidents he perhaps could have avoided but he had the car control and talent to succeed.

So when he dominated the competitive Renault 3.5 series last year, it became clear it would not be a big step up to F1.

But what has surprised me about the McLaren rookie is that he does not look like he has any pressure on his shoulders.

He had a few off-track moments in practice in Australia but he said he was finding the limits by going over them, in a controlled way, without going so far that he would hit the wall.

That is hard to do - and very impressive. He looks to have got the silly incidents out of the way early in his career. Crucially, he learns from his mistakes.

In Melbourne, I noticed a smile on the face of McLaren chairman Ron Dennis. I think he can see a driver not only with skill, but also with a mentality that fits the team.


He probably should have been on the podium for Williams in Melbourne but glanced the wall and broke a wheel early in the race, which dropped him to the back of the field.

This is only the 24-year-old's second season in F1, but he showed maturity in his recovery after that early setback, because it would have been very easy to let his head drop. But he pulled back to win 10 valuable points for his team.

It was his overtaking that impressed me. To fight back so well after dropping to 16th was the sign of an excellent performance.

I felt for Williams. They showed a level of speed probably only bettered by Mercedes but, after Felipe Massa was torpedoed by Kamui Kobayashi's Caterham at the first corner, and then Bottas hit the wall, it looked as if they would get nothing from the race. That would have been a travesty.

But they got Bottas back on track with a quick pit stop, and the safety car period that was prompted by Bottas's collision helped them in keeping him in touch.

Other drivers might have got frustrated in those circumstances and tried to gamble too much. But he was more measured in his progression.

He picked off people when the chance was there, not with wild lunges, and came home in sixth - which then became fifth following Ricciardo's disqualification.

A podium finish was on for him. So, on one level, the result might be a disappointment. But after the dire season Williams had last year, they can smile as there is more to come this time around.


Daniil is 19. I was the same age when I first drove an F1 car - a McLaren at Estoril. The guy in the garage next door, in the same team, was Ayrton Senna. It was a daunting prospect.

Drivers are better prepared today than I was in the late 1980s. But I cannot imagine doing my first grand prix, qualifying in the top 10, then having a clean but difficult run in the race and chasing down my team-mate - as Kvyat did to Jean-Eric Vergne - to take a fantastic 10th place.

That was stunning.

In one of the practice sessions, there was a radio message from Kvyat in which he said to the team: "I can't do everything on the warm-up lap that you need me to do."

He sounded a little bit flustered and I was thinking maybe it was all a bit too much for him. But it all calmed down and by the time it came to qualifying, he did a really good job. I did not see him make any mistakes in the race.

He finished up with a result that will ease much of the pressure on him. Red Bull can be sure they were quite right to promote him from GP3.

Like Ricciardo, Magnussen and Bottas, Kyvat is young. All four of those guys are under 25 and their future looks very safe. They are adapting without a second thought. They will see this not as a new era - but as their era.