Overtaken by events

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Through his barnstorming win in Detroit (see page 35) is John Watson’s best-remembered victory, his perfomance at Zolder this year was perhaps even stronger.

Watson and team-mate Nild Lauda’s McLaren MP4s were on Michelins that had been designed around the brute power of the turbocharged Renaults rather than for the more gentle naturally-aspirated DFVs in the back of the Woking machines. John explains the handicap: ‘Trouble was, we found the tyres were very difficult to.get warm. They’d warm up fine with the Renault’s vicious power delivery and raw grunt in fact, their problem was getting the things to last

“Practice on Saturday was abandoned after Villeneuve’s fatal accident, so we started on Sunday without any concrete information on tyres. We had three different grades of Michelin slick that we could use: an 05, which was quite hard wearing; an 06, which was much more delicate; and a third one. Bruno Giacomelli had used this third type on his [normally-aspirated] Alfa in Long Beach, and found that it was great at the start of the race, but then began to pick up understeer. But to my surprise, the team suggested that I give this tyre a go in Belgium.

“One of the problems with drivers is that they are often guilty of prejudging things. Anyway, for the race I put these tyres on the left-hand side only [Zolder is nearly all righthand corners] and kept the 05s on the right-hand side.

“Niki came up to me before the race and asked me what I reckoned we should use. He was very structured about his racing and hated changing stuff’, taking a chance with set-up or just generally messing with his routine. I was much more adventurous than he was.”

And in this case it paid off. From 10th on the grid, Watson was immediately in the groove, and Lauda, despite starting from the second row, was soon in his sights.

“Within five laps I had shot past Nild. My car felt very well balanced and was very consistent Once the tyres had started working, they stayed good. The next problem,” explains Watson, “was getting past Riccardo Patrese’s Brabham. I spent about 20 laps stuck behind him as he made full use of the track. I eventually got by after a really good run towards the chicane behind the pits.

“That just left Keke Rosberg’s Williams to get past which I eventually did as his Goodyears started to lose more and more grip.” As concise in words as he was precise in overtaking.

Colin Goodwin