McLaren Would Be Cruel to Partner Kevin Magnussen with Fernando Alonso in 2015

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2014

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and McLaren looks on during a TV broadcast ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2014 in Northampton, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Drew Gibson/Getty Images)
Drew Gibson/Getty Images

Forget Lewis Hamilton versus Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. And, for that matter, forget the battle of the Red Bulls between Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo.

Prior to the 2014 Formula One season, there was only one inter-team scrap worth watching—one that truly whetted the appetite.

The presence of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen in those hallowed scarlet-red cars made Ferrari's driver line-up the only all-world champion pairing on the grid, and it was set to deliver fireworks.

Alonso, without a world title since 2006, was already in the process of burning his bridges with the team.

Meanwhile, 2007 world champion Raikkonen—re-signed by Ferrari after a successful return to F1 with Lotus in 2012 and 2013—was expected to provide a much sterner test for the Spaniard than his predecessor, Felipe Massa.

Yet in reality, the dream partnership will rank among the biggest disappointments of the year.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari leads teammae Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The vices of Ferrari's F14-T car eliminated both drivers from title contention at an early stage of the campaign.

Even with inadequate machinery, Alonso scored almost triple the points of the anonymous Finnish driver, who finished outside of the top 10 in the drivers' standings for the first time in his 12-season career.

Although the 35-year-old blamed his struggles on the handling of the car—he told ESPN F1 in Russia, for instance, that he was dissatisfied with the Ferrari's unresponsive front end—Massa, now of Williams, claimed that Raikkonen's issues were within.

The Brazilian told ESPN F1:

It is not easy to be [Alonso's] team-mate, and for sure the problem Kimi is having is in his head. It's very difficult [to be his team-mate], because first of all he [Alonso] is an amazing driver; his talent is really complete. He's one of the quickest drivers, but also one of the most consistent drivers, one of the more aggressive—he has everything. He is a top driver.

Massa's views on the dynamics between the Ferrari drivers were as significant—he had first-hand experience of working alongside both in his time on the team between 2006 and 2013—as they were alarming.

Raikkonen, it was thought, was immune to the actions of the man on the other side of the garage, instead just driving the car in that apolitical, straightforward nature of his.

The idea that Alonso could psychologically affect the performances of a man who goes by the nickname Iceman is staggering, but perhaps it's an indication of just how formidable the 33-year-old is as a competitor, especially within an enclosed environment.

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 21:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari looks on during the unveiling of the Shell Eco-Marathon cars during previews ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 21, 2014 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Ma
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Alonso's ruthless deconstruction of Raikkonen—not to mention Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella before him—may play a role in McLaren's decision regarding the identity of the Spaniard's next victim.

Autosport.com's Jonathan Noble reported earlier this month that the two-time world champion had sealed a return to the Woking-based outfit for next season.

And McLaren revealed last week that they had opted to delay the announcement of their 2015 line-up until December, providing the team with extra time to decide between Jenson Button, Kevin Magnussen and potentially its reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, as its No. 2 for 2015.

The smart money, despite widespread calls for Button to be retained, is on Magnussen, who as a 22-year-old graduate of the team's young driver program is deemed to have more long-term potential than his 34-year-old 2014 team-mate.

Logic dictates that the more experience a young driver is granted, the more confidence he will gain and therefore the better he will become. But being partnered with Alonso in just his second season of F1 could be a case of too much too soon for the Dane.

Despite securing McLaren's first podium since 2012 at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, a weekend in which he outperformed Button, Magnussen was unable to maintain that level of performance. He found himself living firmly in the 2009 world champion's shadow in the latter stages of the campaign.

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 31:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren and Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and McLaren walk] along the paddock during practice ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 31, 2014 in Aus
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

He eventually ended his rookie season with 55 points to his name—the same amount that Raikkonen mustered beside Alonso, with Button scoring more than double that tally.

Although Button is a highly competent racing driver, he is not deemed to be in the same class as the likes of Hamilton, Vettel and, indeed, Alonso—which can only make you worry for Magnussen's welfare if he is placed alongside the Spaniard next season.

A young driver should be afforded breathing space as well as time to develop and make mistakes. But Alonso would not afford Magnussen that luxury, casting his team-mate as a hindrance rather than a work in progress.

The Dane could be starved of the hand that has fed him, with McLaren bound to make efforts to cater to Alonso's needs in the hope of preventing a repeat of 2007. That year, the two-time world champion departed the team after being denied preferential treatment.

Button, in contrast, has vital experience alongside needy world champions after partnering Hamilton for three seasons between 2010 and 2012—a battle from which he emerged with his reputation significantly enhanced.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 12:  Lewis Hamilton (L) of Great Britain and McLaren and Jenson Button (R) of Great Britain and McLaren attend a press event during previews to the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 12, 2
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

And even if the British driver did become Alonso's latest doormat, in a sense it wouldn't really matter. He would still retire, either at the end of 2015 or 2016, as a world champion who enjoyed an excellent career and achieved everything he ever wanted.

For Magnussen, however, it would be nothing short of disastrous.

Being comprehensively beaten by two world champions in consecutive seasons would hardly suggest that he is on course to join the elite. Representing a team with clear aspirations of returning to the top, he may find himself surplus to requirements at McLaren for 2016 with his career at a standstill.

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 05:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and McLaren prepares to drive during Practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 5, 2014 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Unlike Massa and Raikkonen, who had multiple grand prix wins—and a world title, in the latter's case—under their belts prior to their alliances with Alonso, Magnussen is very much an infant in Formula One terms.

If McLaren do drop their latest creation into the deep end alongside a driver who is widely regarded as the most complete in the sport, Magnussen could become damaged goods within the next 12 months.

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