MELBOURNE, March 12 (Reuters) - It was Kevin Magnussen rather than Jenson Button who was forced to make way for the arrival of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren, but the young Dane has a chance to prove his paymasters wrong at Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.
The highly-fancied 22-year-old will replace Alonso at Albert Park, with the Spaniard to miss the race on doctor’s orders after suffering a heavy crash during testing last month.
Reserve driver Magnussen may only warm Alonso’s seat for one race but can prove a point by out-shining the 35-year-old Button, who many thought was finished at McLaren before being confirmed in December.
The son of former Formula one racer Jan, Magnussen did just that in last year’s race, qualifying fourth before finishing runner-up behind Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg in a stunning Formula One debut.
Former world champion Button was pipped to third behind Magnussen, who also became Denmark’s first F1 racer to win a podium spot.
Sadly, that was to prove the season’s high point for McLaren who have not won a race since Button’s last win in 2012.
McLaren are going through a major overhaul, with changes at technical and managerial level.
A new partnership with Honda, the Japanese engine manufacturer that powered the team in some of their greatest years with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, fell flat during winter testing and team principal Eric Boullier has admitted the car is weeks behind their rivals’.
With that backdrop, Magnussen was not mincing words about their expectations at Albert Park.
“I’d say quite low (expectations),” he told reporters at the street circuit on Thursday.
”We’re struggling obviously with reliability, making the car run right on time but I think this is obviously a new start for McLaren in many ways.
“And I think it’s going to take time but it’s the right direction for the team to go. It has a bright future but it’s going to take time.”
Magnussen is unlikely to enjoy any resurgence at McLaren this year, and will have his hands full just getting to grips with the car after only 39 laps in it during testing after Alonso’s crash.
“All of those (laps) were low fuel so at least I‘m prepared for that,” he said drily. “So it’ll be interesting to see how it feels.” (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)