John Watson (racing driver)

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John Watson
Watson at 1982 Dutch Grand Prix.jpg
John Watson (1982)
Born (1946-05-04) 4 May 1946 (age 68)
Formula One World Championship career
Nationality United Kingdom British
Active years 19731983, 1985
Teams Brabham, Surtees, Lotus, Penske, McLaren
Races 154 (152 starts)
Championships 0
Wins 5
Podiums 20
Career points 169
Pole positions 2
Fastest laps 5
First race 1973 British Grand Prix
First win 1976 Austrian Grand Prix
Last win 1983 United States Grand Prix West
Last race 1985 European Grand Prix

John Marshall Watson,  MBE (born 4 May 1946) is a British former racing driver from Northern Ireland. He competed in Formula One, winning five Grands Prix and also in the World Sportscar Championship. He currently works for Sky Sports.

Early Formula One career[edit]

John Watson was born in Belfast. Educated in Rockport School, Northern Ireland, Watson's Formula One career began in 1972, driving a customer March-Cosworth 721 for Goldie Hexagon Racing in a non-Championship event: the World Championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch.[1] Watson's first World Championship events came in the 1973 season, in which he raced in the British Grand Prix, in a customer Brabham-Ford BT37, and the US Grand Prix, where he drove the third works Brabham BT42. Neither was particularly successful, as in the British race he ran out of fuel on the 36th lap and his engine failed after only seven laps in the United States event.

Watson scored his first championship point in Monte Carlo the following year, for Goldie Hexagon Racing. He went on to score a total of six points that season, driving a customer Brabham BT42-Ford modified by the team.[2] He failed to score points the following year, driving for Team Surtees, Team Lotus and Penske Cars.

Rise to prominence[edit]

He secured his first podium with third place at the 1976 French Grand Prix. Later that season came his first victory, driving for Penske in the Austrian Grand Prix having qualified second on the grid. After the race he shaved off his beard, the result of a bet with team owner Roger Penske.

In the third race of the 1977 Formula One season, the South African Grand Prix, he managed to complete the race distance, scored a point, and took his first ever fastest lap. His achievements were overshadowed, however, by the deaths of driver Tom Pryce and a track marshal, Jansen Van Vuuren. His Brabham-Alfa Romeo let him down throughout the season but, despite this, he gained his first pole position in the Monaco Grand Prix and qualified in the top ten no fewer than 14 times, often in the first two rows. Problems with the car, accidents, and a disqualification meant that he raced the full distance in only five of the 17 races. The closest he came to victory was during the French Grand Prix, where he dominated the race from the start only to be let down by a fuel metering problem on the last lap which relegated him to second place behind eventual winner Mario Andretti.

In 1978, Watson managed a more successful season in terms of race finishes, even out-qualifying and out-racing his illustrious team mate Niki Lauda on occasion. He managed three podiums and a pole, and notched up 25 points to earn the highest championship placing of his career to that point.

Move to McLaren and championship challenge[edit]

Watson driving the McLaren MP4/1

For 1979, Watson moved to McLaren where he gave them their first victory in over three years by winning the 1981 British Grand Prix and also securing the first victory for a carbon fibre composite monocoque F1 car, the McLaren MP4/1. Later in the 1981 season, Watson unwillingly proved the strength of the McLarens carbon fibre monocoque (designed by John Barnard) when he had a fiery crash at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix. Watson lost the car coming out of the high speed Lesmo bends and crashed backwards into the barriers. Many feared the worst as crashes of that nature had previously seen the loss of the drivers life. Luckily however, Watson was able to walk away with nothing more than bruised pride, giving proof to the Formula One designers and engineers who had been extremely skeptical of the concept that the lighter and stronger carbon fibre monocoque was the way of the future.

His most successful year was 1982, when he finished third in the drivers' championship, winning two Grands Prix. He was perhaps best known for his astounding drives from the back of the grid. At the first ever Detroit Grand Prix in 1982, he overtook three cars in one lap deep into the race on a tight, twisty track that was supposedly impossible to pass on; working his way from 17th starting position on the grid, he charged through the field and scored a victory in the process. A year later in 1983, he repeated the feat at the final ever Formula One race in Long Beach; another street circuit, starting from 22nd on the grid, the farthest back from which a modern Grand Prix driver had ever come to win a race. Watson's final victory also included a fight for position with teammate Niki Lauda, who had started the race 23rd, though Watson ultimately finished 27 seconds ahead of his dual World Championship winning team mate.

At the end of the 1983 season however, Watson was dropped by McLaren and subsequently retired from Formula One. Negotiations with team boss Ron Dennis reportedly broke down when Watson asked for more money than dual World Champion Lauda was earning, citing having won a GP in 1983 where Lauda did not. Dennis instead signed Renault refugee Alain Prost for nothing (since he was already under contract to Renault but was fired for 1984), a bargain buy for maximum return as it turned out. He did return for one further race two years later, driving for McLaren in place of an injured Niki Lauda at the 1985 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, in which he qualified 21st and placed seventh in the race (Lauda had injured his wrist in qualifying for the previous race at Spa, forcing him to miss that race also). Watson raced with Lauda's race number of "1" (the Austrian having won the 1984 World Championship). This was only the second occasion since 1973 (when the current numeric system related to Formula 1 entrants began) that a driver other than the reigning World Champion has raced car number 1 in a World Championship race, the other being Ronnie Peterson when the system first began, as reigning World Champion Jackie Stewart had retired upon the conclusion of the 1973 season.

Sportscar career[edit]

In 1984 Watson turned to sports cars racing, notably partnering Stefan Bellof to victory at the Fuji 1000 km during Bellof's 1984 Championship year. Watson also finished second in the 1987 season alongside Jan Lammers in the Silk Cut Jaguar when they won a total of three championship races (Jarama, Monza and Fuji). Watson also competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans seven times over the course of his career, finishing 11th, a career best, in 1990.

Other work[edit]

After retiring from active racing, he worked as a television commentator, ran a race school at Silverstone and managed a racetrack. He also became the first man to ever test a Jordan Formula One car in 1990.

From 1990 to 1996 he worked as a Formula One commentator for Eurosport alongside Richard Nicholls (1990–1992), Allard Kalff (1992–1994) and Ben Edwards (1995–1996). The last Grand Prix Eurosport broadcast live in the UK was the Japanese GP in 1996. The contracts for Formula One live broadcasts were shifted to private TV stations for 1997. In 1997 Watson worked as a Formula One commentator for ESPN.

From 1998 to 2001 he was Charlie Cox's sidekick in commentating on the British Touring Car Championship for the BBC.

During the 2002 F1 season, John co-commentated on Sky Sports' Pay Per View F1+ coverage alongside Ben Edwards. However, this was fairly unpopular and it was axed for the 2003 season.

In 2010, Watson commentated on some rounds of the FIA GT1 and GT3 Championship.

Formula 1 pundit making regular appearances on BBC Radio 5 Live and on Radio 4.

Commentates on the 2014 Blancpain GT Series

Complete Formula One World Championship results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 WDC Pts.
1973 Ceramica Pagnossin Team MRD Brabham BT37 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 ARG BRA RSA ESP BEL MON SWE FRA GBR
Ret
NED GER AUT ITA CAN NC 0
Brabham BT42 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 USA
Ret
1974 Goldie Hexagon Racing Brabham BT42 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 ARG
12
BRA
Ret
RSA
Ret
ESP
11
BEL
11
MON
6
SWE
11
NED
7
FRA
16
GBR
11
15th 6
Brabham BT44 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 GER
Ret
AUT
4
ITA
7
CAN
Ret
USA
5
1975 Team Surtees Surtees TS16 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 ARG
DSQ
BRA
10
RSA
Ret
ESP
8
MON
Ret
BEL
10
SWE
16
NED
Ret
FRA
13
GBR
11
AUT
10
ITA NC 0
John Player Team Lotus Lotus 72F Ford Cosworth DFV V8 GER
Ret
Penske Cars Penske PC1 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 USA
9
1976 Citibank Team Penske Penske PC3 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 BRA
Ret
RSA
5
USW
NC
ESP
Ret
BEL
7
MON
10
7th 20
Penske PC4 SWE
Ret
FRA
3
GBR
3
GER
7
AUT
1
NED
Ret
ITA
11
CAN
10
USA
6
JPN
Ret
1977 Martini Racing Brabham BT45 Alfa Romeo flat-12 ARG
Ret
BRA
Ret
RSA
6
USW
DSQ
ESP
Ret
MON
Ret
BEL
Ret
SWE
5
FRA
2
GBR
Ret
GER
Ret
AUT
8
NED
Ret
ITA
Ret
USA
12
CAN
Ret
JPN
Ret
13th 9
1978 Parmalat Racing Team Brabham BT45 Alfa Romeo flat-12 ARG
Ret
BRA
8
6th 25
Brabham BT46 Alfa Romeo flat-12 RSA
3
USW
Ret
MON
4
BEL
Ret
ESP
5
FRA
4
GBR
3
GER
7
AUT
7
NED
4
ITA
2
USA
Ret
CAN
Ret
Brabham BT46B Alfa Romeo flat-12 SWE
Ret
1979 Marlboro Team McLaren McLaren M28 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 ARG
3
BRA
8
RSA
Ret
USW
Ret
ESP
Ret
BEL
6
MON
4
FRA
11
9th 15
McLaren M29 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 GBR
4
GER
5
AUT
9
NED
Ret
ITA
Ret
CAN
6
USA
6
1980 Marlboro Team McLaren McLaren M29B Ford Cosworth DFV V8 ARG
Ret
BRA
11
RSA
11
11th 6
McLaren M29C Ford Cosworth DFV V8 USW
4
BEL
NC
MON
DNQ
FRA
7
GBR
8
GER
Ret
AUT
Ret
NED
Ret
ITA
Ret
CAN
4
USA
NC
1981 Marlboro McLaren International McLaren M29F Ford Cosworth DFV V8 USW
Ret
BRA
8
6th 27
McLaren MP4 Ford Cosworth DFV V8 ARG
Ret
SMR
10
BEL
7
MON
Ret
ESP
3
FRA
2
GBR
1
GER
6
AUT
6
NED
Ret
ITA
Ret
CAN
2
CPL
7
1982 Marlboro McLaren International McLaren MP4B Ford Cosworth DFV V8 RSA
6
BRA
2
USW
6
SMR
BEL
1
MON
Ret
DET
1
CAN
3
NED
9
GBR
Ret
FRA
Ret
GER
Ret
AUT
9
SUI
13
ITA
4
CPL
2
3rd 39
1983 Marlboro McLaren International McLaren MP4/1C Ford Cosworth DFV V8 BRA
Ret
USW
1
FRA
Ret
SMR
5
MON
DNQ
BEL
Ret
DET
3
CAN
6
GBR
9
GER
5
AUT
9
NED
3
6th 22
McLaren MP4/1E TAG V6t ITA
Ret
EUR
Ret
RSA
DSQ
1985 Marlboro McLaren International McLaren MP4/2B TAG V6t BRA POR SMR MON CAN DET FRA GBR GER AUT NED ITA BEL EUR
7
RSA AUS NC 0

Formula One Non Championship race results[edit]

(key) (races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6
1972 Goldie Hexagon Racing March 721 Ford V8 ROC
BRA
INT
OUL
REP
VIC
6
1973 Ceramica Pagnossin Team MRD Brabham BT42 Ford V8 ROC
Ret
INT
1975 Team Surtees Surtees TS16 Ford V8 ROC
2
INT
4
SUI
5
1977 Martini Racing Brabham BT45 Alfa Romeo F12 ROC
3
1980 Marlboro Team McLaren McLaren M29B Ford V8 ESP
Ret
1981 Marlboro McLaren International McLaren M29F Ford V8 RSA
5
1983 Marlboro McLaren International McLaren MP4/1C Ford V8 ROC
Ret

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Awards
Preceded by
James Hunt
Hawthorn Memorial Trophy
1978
Succeeded by
Alan Jones
Preceded by
None
Autosport British Competition Driver
1982
Succeeded by
Jonathan Palmer
Preceded by
Alan Jones
Hawthorn Memorial Trophy
1982–1983
Succeeded by
Derek Warwick