John Watson is the Irish driver whose F1 career lasted a decade. He celebrates his 66th birthday today so Happy Born Day to him!!! A perfect time to reflect on his achievements.
It was in the early 70’s, where Ford-Cosworth DFVs started ruling F1 arena, Watson began his road to success. Having driven several times in the non-championship events it took him until 1973 to make his debut. British Grand Prix of 1973 saw him enter the round in a customer Brabham BT37.
The following year he acquired a regular drive scoring three top-six finishes with Hexagon Team. After driving for John Surtees, Roger Penske and Colin Chapman he got his first and the only win for Roger’s team in 1976 from second on the grid at Österreichring.
When Penske pulled out of their F1 programme, the next couple of years he spent with Alfa engined Brabham finishing 13th and 6th in the respective seasons. He was as competitive as his team mate Niki Lauda in the ’78 season.
The real breakthrough came in 1979 when he signed up for Mclaren instead of perished Ronnie Peterson. The campaign until 1981 was so bleak before Watson eventually won for Mclaren after almost three years at Silverstone. The Mclaren MP4/1 was born underlined with being the first carbon composite monocoque F1 car to win a race.
1982 was his most successful season – finishing third in the drivers’ championship. His career was highlighted by two famous victories from the back of the field: First was in Detroit from 17th on the grid to victory, then, the cruise to top from further back at 22 the following year which was his last win.
1982 Detroit :
It was the second out of three races scheduled in America and the first F1 race ever held at Detroit. After a worse qualy, Watson languished himself in 17 yet believing his Michelin would bring more pace on the race. Reigning champ Nelson Piquet got embarrassed by failing to qualify, taking advantage of it Renault’s Alain Prost was on pole alongside Andre de Cesaris then Rosberg.
Prost halted at the restart handing over the lead to Keke, Watson surged through the field and stunningly overtook Lauda, Cheever and Pironi in a single lap to take second on Lap 33. He snatched the lead from Keke after displaying immense skills to take an audacious victory.
1983 Long Beach:
Another set back for Ron Dennis and crew as they struggled to find balance in the US GP at Long Beach, Cali. Watson’s final win at Long Beach was nevertheless impressive as he came from 22nd on the grid. The race was unfolded as Tambay took his first career pole and held on to lead at first corner. At the first round of stops Prost began dropping back with a misfire and Arnoux began to lose grip from his Goodyears, Rosberg who started third had regained second place behind Tambay.
Tambay spun and stalled while fighting to fend him off, later, Rosberg engaged in a crash with Jarier. Patrese spun trying to catch leader Laffite who was losing off his grip, before he got back both Mclarens passed him for second and third. Soon after, Laffite caught up by Watson and Lauda to mark a historic 1-2. This put Watson in the history book for winning from the farthest back of the grid.
His contract ended and replaced by Prost for 1984 season. unable to find another drive, he retired at the end of the year but made a return for McLaren to replace the injured Niki Lauda at the 1985 European Grand Prix. History was made as it was the only time since 1975 that a non world champion had raced in the No. 1 numbered car. He continued racing sports cars with little success and played commentator role for various channels. He was honoured as MBE by the British government.