John Watson

Full Name:
John Marshall Watson, MBE
Born:
4th May 1946 (Age 72)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Nationality:
British
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

John Watson gave both Roger Penske and Ron Dennis their first Formula 1 victories and he challenged for the 1982 World Championship. He made a habit of winning races from the back of the grid – coming from 17th at Detroit in 1982 and 22nd in Long Beach a year later to win.

Early racing career

The son of a car dealer, the 17 year old Watson started racing an Austin Healey Sprite in Ireland and was soon dominating Irish Formule Libre. The bearded youngster settled in England (in Bognor Regis on the Sussex coast) and entered Formula 2 in 1970 with a Brabham BT30-Ford. Fourth on the grid for the opening race at Thruxton, he broke his left ankle, arm and leg during practice at Rouen-les-Essarts.

He returned in 1971 and finished fifth at Mantorp Park and Tulln-Langenlebarn. He impressed on his F1 debut in the non-championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch in 1972 when sixth in a Hexagon Racing March 721-Ford. Also racing for Tui and Chevron that year, his promise was recognised with a Grovewood Award for up-and-coming Commonwealth talent.

Grand Prix driver

A broken leg sustained in the Race of Champions interrupted 1973 but he recovered to make his GP debut at Silverstone with Hexagon’s Brabham BT37-Ford. Drafted into the works team for the United States GP, Watson also showed promise with Mirage in sports cars and his works Chevron B25-Ford was third in Mantorp Park’s F2 race.

A fulltime F1 driver in 1974 initially with Hexagon’s Brabham BT42-Ford, he finished sixth at Monaco and improved further once a newer BT44 chassis was acquired. Fourth in the Austrian GP despite a pitstop, he qualified in that position in Italy as the works teams suddenly took notice.

Hexagon withdrew at the end of the year and Watson endured a frustrating start to the 1975 World Championship driving a works Surtees TS16-Ford. The sponsorship ran dry by mid-season and Watson disappointed in a one-off with Lotus in Germany. However, the season ended with an opportunity that pointed to a brighter future – driving the Penske PC1-Ford in the United States GP.

Formula 1 winner for Penske

He remained with the team in 1976 and podium finishes in France and Britain were followed by victory in the Austrian GP. It was a result that cost Watson his beard – going clean shaven thereafter as a result of a bet with Roger Penske.

He moved to Brabham-Alfa Romeo in 1977 and came tantalisingly close to another win. He qualified on pole position at Monaco, ran out of fuel while leading on the last lap in France and battled James Hunt for victory at Silverstone before retiring. Sixth in the 1978 championship after finishing on the podium three times, Watson was rapidly becoming known for his ill-fortune rather than tangible results.

The McLaren years

Watson finished third in the 1979 Argentine GP on his debut with McLaren but that once great team struggled to develop its "ground-effect" M28 chassis. He did finish fourth in Monaco and was instantly more competitive when the new M29 was introduced for Silverstone – finishing fourth again.

However, he suffered at the start of 1980 in comparison to young team-mate Alain Prost. He failed to qualify in Monaco but preserved his place in F1 thanks to improving late-season form.

Prost moved to Renault for 1981 and it was all-change at McLaren as well. Sponsors Marlboro had grown tired of mediocrity and a deal was brokered with Ron Dennis’s ambitious Project Four Racing for whom John Barnard had designed a revolutionary carbon fibre chassis for its F1 graduation. The result was McLaren International and the McLaren MP4/1-Ford with which Watson scored a popular if lucky victory in the 1981 British GP.

Challenging for the title

Sixth again in the championship, that season restored faith in the Ulsterman’s ability and 1982 took him within touching distance of the world title itself. Partnered by the returning Niki Lauda, Watson scored points in the opening four races. That included victory at Zolder on the day after Gilles Villeneuve had been killed. In a year of tragedy and travail, in which no one won more than twice, Watson emerged as a surprise title contender after he passed 12 cars in Detroit to score an unlikely win. However, often hampered by his qualifying pace, Watson ultimately lost the title to Keke Rosberg at the final round in Las Vegas.

It was a similar story in 1983, with poor qualifying performances demanding much on raceday. Most notable was the Long Beach GP where he and Lauda came from 22nd and 23rd on the grid to score a famous 1-2 for McLaren. It was "Wattie’s" fifth and final GP victory for he lost his drive in 1984 when Prost was suddenly released by Renault. Watson made his 152nd and last championship appearance in the 1985 European GP at Brands Hatch when deputising for the injured Lauda.

He raced sports cars for Porsche, Jaguar and Toyota and won three races for the British marque in 1987. But he retired in 1991 to concentrate on work in the media and running a performance driving school at Silverstone.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1990 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Toyota Team TOM's
6 0 0 0 0
1989 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Toyota Team TOM's
3 0 0 0 55th 1
1988 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Silk Cut Jaguar
4 0 2 0 23rd 42
1987 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Silk Cut Jaguar
10 1 6 3 2nd 102
1985 F1 World Championship
Marlboro McLaren International
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1985 World Endurance Championship
Rothmans Porsche
1 0 0 0 0
1984 World Endurance Championship
Rothmans Porsche
Group 44 Racing
4 1 1 1 23rd 26
1983 F1 World Championship
Marlboro McLaren International
14 (1) 0 3 1
8% win rate
6th 22
1982 F1 World Championship
Marlboro McLaren International
15 0 5 2
14% win rate
2nd 39
1981 F1 World Championship
Marlboro McLaren International
15 0 4 1
7% win rate
6th 27
1980 F1 World Championship
Marlboro Team McLaren
13 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
10th 6
1980 BMW M1 Procar
Helmut Marko
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
23rd 3
1979 F1 World Championship
Marlboro Team McLaren
15 0 1 0
0% win rate
9th 15
1978 F1 World Championship
Parmalat Racing Team
16 1 3 0
0% win rate
6th 25
1977 F1 World Championship
Martini Racing (Brabham)
17 1 1 0
0% win rate
13th 9
1977 World Championship of Sportscars
Autodelta
1 1 0 0 0
1976 F1 World Championship
Citibank Team Penske
16 0 3 1
7% win rate
7th 20
1975 F1 World Championship
Team Surtees
Penske Cars
John Player Team Lotus
13 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1975 World Championship of Makes 1 0 0 0 0
1974 F1 World Championship
John Goldie Racing
15 0 0 0
0% win rate
14th 6
1974 European F2 Championship
Bang & Olufsen Team Surtees
5 0 1 0
0% win rate
11th 6
1973 F1 World Championship
Motor Racing Developments
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1973 European F2 Championship
Chevron Racing Team
Motor Racing Developments
3 0 1 0
0% win rate
21st 4
1973 World Championship of Makes
John Wyer Automotive Engineering
3 0 0 0 18
1973 Rothmans European F5000 Championship
Hexagon Racing
2 1 1 0
0% win rate
16th 24
1972 European F2 Trophy
Allan McCall
6 0 0 0
0% win rate
19th 4
1972 John Player British F2 Championship
Chevron Racing Team
Allan McCall
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1971 European F2 Trophy
John Watson
6 (3) 0 0 0
0% win rate
14th 5
1970 European F2 Trophy
John Watson
2 (2) 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1969 European F2 Trophy
Team Ireland
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1969 Guards F5000 Championship 0 (1) 0 0 0 0