The John Watson Story

The John Watson Story

Two different worlds: John Watson in his Brabham BT 45 B and as a TV commentator

Translation by Pete Pitwell.
Also available in German-language version

News 23.7.11: MotorSport-Podcast from 2009 with John Watson

Last Update 13.5.2010:
Added Grand Prix Title-Scans

Update 11.1.2010:
Fixed a few broken links, new Shot from the F1C CREW F1
1973 MOD online! New photo Hockenheim 1971

The Watson Story is back online at Alice!

John Watson's two careers

John Watson 1976 (with a beard!) und the unforgotten Ronnie Peterson

I. "Watties" eventful Formula One days

Many readers will probably know more about John Watson, (born 4.5.1946 in Belfast) as a TV-commentator than as an active racing driver. Anyone looking-up his F1 career statistics will find; 152 races, 5 wins, 2 poles and 5 fastest laps. Statistics can be boring and are often insignificant. Which statistics indicate that the Ulsterman's formula career was almost over before it had really begun, after several serious accidents? Where is the run of misfortune mentioned that he experienced during the 1970s? In his book "Grand Prix 1977" Ulrich Schwab wrote: "After all that tough luck in the previous races, he now becomes a victim of miscalculation. In the lead of a race he was bound to win, John Watson loses out to Mario Andretti in the final lap of the French GP, due to fuel shortage". Even more bad luck at the British GP in Silverstone: Watson drove a superior race up to its bitter end; holding James Hunt, his toughest rival in the battle for the lead, at bay time and again. As many of his other driver colleagues, Hunt was now to become acquainted with Watson's stubbornness. Hunt: "I would never have been able to pass him." Despite his ability and routine - Watson was out of luck yet again. In lap 50, with his engine spluttering , "Wattie" wove Hunt past. In lap 60 Watson's car stopped. The World Champion of 1976 James Hunt in his book "Against All Odds": "John is an opponent to my taste. Quick, tough, always full of fighting spirit, in short, a driver who never makes it easy for you. His main problem is not having the consistent material at his disposal essential in F1 racing."

But this was Watson too: "The man that made the headlines during the first half of the season and was practically World Champion hasn't stood a chance for months" as Schwab wrote in 1977. He could drive like a champion in one race and end up nowhere in the following one.

John Watson and Niki Lauda 1982 Then there was Niki Lauda whose name overcast Watson's career, although they usually got on well. Watson is remembered holding the heavily burnt Lauda in his arms in 1976 at the Nürburgring, only to find himself placed as number two driver behind the Austrian at Brabham in 1978 and McLaren in 1982. However, his time was to come in 1982. All his bad luck of previous years appeared to turn into great fortune. In his book "Grand Prix Story 1982" Heinz Prueller wrote: "No matter what he attempts, Watson always succeeds. His leapfrogging is sensational. Driving everything into the ground in Detroit. No one has ever won from the 17th grid position before, not even Jackie Stewart in Kyalami. That same Stewart who had always smirked: "Actually Watson is too much of nice chap to win !" For years nobody took him seriously despite his priceless experience. What's so different about Watson '82 ? "I don't drive much better than before, I just drive the same way I always did but I failed to engage my capabilities properly in the past. Now I am much more ambitious, not better or more aggressive. At the most more confident." In 1982 Ron Dennis did not necessarily rate Watson behind Lauda. "So where is the difference ? " Prueller asked. "In the salary" said Lauda with a grin, only to be smacked in the face at the decisive race in Las Vegas 1982 where all team members sported "we want Watson to win" buttons. Two drivers were within reach of the world title: Rosberg and Watson. Like in Zolder and Detroit Watson repeats his pursuit from the back of the grid gives his maximum and goes down with flying colours."Alboreto wins, Watson is runner-up, Rosberg comes in 5th and takes the championship.

John Watson celebrating victory In the following season, Watson shocked the McLaren team by demanding 1.3 million Dollars salary. This resulted in Ron Dennis giving him a contract from one race to the next. Not even Long Beach 1983 made a change: Watson wins from the 22nd grid position, similar to Detroit, in a sensational race. A record that still stands today! At the end of 1983 Niki Lauda advises: " for Heaven's sake, sign!" But Watson continues to poker with Ron Dennis over an almost ludicrous sum. Niki: "I` will give you the differential amount, now sign !" Watson probably would have won his poker game and would subsequently have given Lauda an extremely hard chase for the title in 1984, had there not been a certain Alain Prost in the wrong place at the wrong time (at least from Watson's point of view). What only very few people know: the Renault driver had an affair with the wife of a senior team member. Unfortunately, it leaked out and as a consequence, Prost was fired. Suddenly his was available for McLaren. Ron Dennis snatched the offer immediately, making Watson redundant. Wattie wanted to remain in F1, albeit not at any price. In Spring of 1984, the Swiss "Motorsport Aktuell" headlined in gigantic letters: "John Watson due to go to Ligier". In retrospect, it was just as well for Watson that this deal with a second-rated team never materialised. To stay fit, the 38 year-old drove in the Sport Car Series for Porsche and won together with the unforgotten Stefan Bellof 1984 in Fuji. Apart from a brief F1 comeback 1985 for McLaren in Brands Hatch, Watson's Formula One career has reached its end. Now the broad public was not to hear from Wattie again, until the late 1980s - but as a TV commentator.

Back to my Homepage I. "Watties" eventful Formula One days II. "Mr.Eurosport" III. His Formula One Cars
IV. John Watson Gallery
V. Appendix