McLaren are one of a number of teams who have a Young Driver Programme, through which they train and nurture young drivers, developing their skills and preparing them for Formula One. It currently has four members: Stoffel Vandoorne, Kevin Magnussen, Nyck de Vries and Ben Barnicoat.
Vandoorne joined the programme this year, after becoming the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 champion in 2012. He is currently competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 series and is lying second in the championship. Vandoorne started racing in 1998 when he was just six years old and took up single seater racing in 2010. He started off in the F4 Eurocup 1.6 Series winning the championship with six wins. He enjoyed varying success in the subsequent years, including his aforementioned championship in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series. This year he became the first Formula Renault 3.5 rookie to take pole and win a race in their first attempt, when he did so at Monza. In a Q&A on the official McLaren website he said his first memory of McLaren was Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen. “They were my idols at that time,” he said. “I was always cheering for them to win the race”.
Magnussen joined the programme in 2010 but it is not the first time the name has been associated with the team. His dad, Jan Magnussen, stood in for Mika Hakkinen at the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix. Magnussen made his single seater debut in Danish Formula Ford, impressively winning 11 races out of a possible 15. In 2009 he moved to Formula Renault and earned the title of ‘Rookie of the Year’. Following that he moved to German Formula 3 before joining British Formula 3 in 2011. He finished that championship in second position. In 2012 he competed in the Formula Renault 3.5 series for Carlin, finishing in seventh position. He moved to DAMS for this season and is currently leading the championship with 166 points. As well as his racing, Magnussen completes simulator work for McLaren and took part in the Young Driver Test in 2012, completing enough mileage to receive his superlicence.
Nyck de Vries
de Vries joined the McLaren Young Driver Programme when he was just 15 years old, in 2010. He started racing karts and has enjoyed success since 2007. In 2008 he became the German champion and won the WSK championship. In 2010 and 2011 he competed in Super KF, winning nine races and taking 13 podiums. Following his success in karting, McLaren partner GSK offered him support. He made the step up to single seaters in 2012, getting behind the wheel of a Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 car. He finished the championship overall in fifth place and earned himself the title of ‘Rookie of the Year’. He currently still races in the championship and is lying eighth.
Barnicoat is another driver who joined the McLaren Young Driver Programme at a young age. He signed up in 2010 when he was just 13 years old. The British driver currently drives karts and has done since he got the bug after visiting an arrive-and-drive kart track with his dad, aged seven. He took part in his first championship when he was nine years old, winning the WTP Cadet Open and Motors TV Cadet Karting championships in 2007. He enjoyed further success in 2008 becoming the ‘Little Green Man’ champion (having been vice-champion in 2007) as well as securing third overall in the MSA Super 1 National Cadet Championship. He has taken part in various championships since then and currently races in the WSK Euro and Masters Series along with the CIK-FIA KF European and World Championships.
The McLaren Driver Development Programme doesn’t just fund careers in motorsport but instead offers guidance, assistance and endorsement to help promising young racers. Young drivers on the programme are provided with physical training and nutrition programmes, meaningful career information and contractual guidance, and assessments of skill and ability. Of course there are also other sides to being a racing driver, and young drivers are guided through media and PR and, through being linked with an iconic name like McLaren, their reputations are developed. Lewis Hamilton is a success story of this particular programme.