John Watson (racing driver)
John Watson (1982)
|Born||4 May 1946|
|Formula One World Championship career|
|Active years||1973–1983, 1985|
|Teams||Brabham, Surtees, Lotus, Penske, McLaren|
|Races||154 (152 starts)|
|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
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. 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. He failed to score points the following year, driving for Team Surtees, Team Lotus and Penske Cars.
Rise to prominence
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Complete Formula One World Championship results
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)
Formula One Non Championship race results
(key) (races in italics indicate fastest lap)
|1972||Goldie Hexagon Racing||March 721||Ford V8||ROC
|1973||Ceramica Pagnossin Team MRD||Brabham BT42||Ford V8||ROC
|1975||Team Surtees||Surtees TS16||Ford V8||ROC
|1977||Martini Racing||Brabham BT45||Alfa Romeo F12||ROC
|1980||Marlboro Team McLaren||McLaren M29B||Ford V8||ESP
|1981||Marlboro McLaren International||McLaren M29F||Ford V8||RSA
|1983||Marlboro McLaren International||McLaren MP4/1C||Ford V8||ROC
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