MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Cheery smiles and high-fives were a rare sight in the McLaren garage last year, but new boy Kevin Magnussen inspired a bout of happy back-slapping when he put the British team on the second row for Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The 21-year-old Dane, son of former Formula one racer Jan, qualified fourth at Albert Park on Saturday, outshining former world champion team mate Jenson Button, who will line up 10th on the grid after a rain-hit session.
Racing director Eric Boullier, who joined McLaren in the off-season after being team principal at last year’s Australian race winners Lotus, was delighted with the highly fancied debutant’s effort.
“A rookie’s first ever qualifying session is always a daunting occasion for him, all the more so when rain has made the track surface both tricky and treacherous,” Boullier said.
“Nonetheless, Kevin coped brilliantly with exactly those conditions.”
Magnussen will line up alongside Nico Rosberg, with the German’s Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton on pole.
The Dane said negotiating Albert Park’s bumpy street circuit in rain squalls, gusty winds and in a new car that still has plenty of development ahead, was “much trickier” than anything he had bargained for.
“But I don’t think I could have asked for any more today,” he said.
”I made a mistake and went off on my last lap, so I might have been able to go quicker, but I‘m still happy.
”The car was really good, and the team did a fantastic job of preparing me for this. I‘m proud of myself, but also proud of the whole team for doing such a massively good job of preparing me over the winter.
“I’ll try to enjoy tomorrow and do the best I can - getting onto the podium won’t be easy, especially if it’s dry. But if it’s wet, anything could happen - so I guess a wet grand prix is what I’ll be hoping for.”
Button will be hoping for the same, after his qualifying was marred by an untimely crash by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in the second session which brought out the yellow flags.
“I think we had a very good chance of qualifying closer to the front, because our car isn’t quite so quick in the dry,” Button said. “Not getting into the top 10 was sheer bad luck - but, hopefully, I won’t be so unlucky tomorrow.”
Magnussen replaced Mexican Sergio Perez at McLaren, who failed to win a podium spot last year in their worst season in decades.
The Dane is the first rookie since Hamilton in 2007 to make his F1 debut with McLaren. The Briton finished third in Melbourne in his opening race after also qualifying fourth.
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly/Alan Baldwin