Friday, May 4, 2018

John Watson Born In Belfast, Northern Ireland - May 4, 1946

May 4, 1946
John Watson
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
He is a former racing driver and current commentator from Northern Ireland. He competed in Formula One, winning five Grands Prix and was third in the 1982 championship. He also competed in the World Sportscar Championship finishing second in the 1987 championship. After his retirement from motorsport, he became a commentator for Eurosport's coverage of Formula One from 1990 to 1996. He currently commentates on the Blancpain GT Series.

John Watson's Formula One career began in 1972, driving a March-Cosworth 721 for Goldie Hexagon Racing in a non-Championship event 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 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 Brabham BT42-Ford modified by the team. He failed to score points the following year, driving for Team Surtees, Team Lotus and Penske Cars. At the Spanish Grand Prix he had the chance to score his first win. He was in 2nd position behind Mario Andretti until he had a problem with his car because it suffered vibrations and had to enter the pit lane. He still finished 8th which was his best result in 1975.

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 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.

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, the strength of the McLaren's carbon fibre monocoque was demonstrated 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. Similar accidents had previously proven fatal, but Watson was uninjured.

His most successful year was 1982, when he finished third in the drivers' championship, winning two Grands Prix. In several races he achieved high placings despite qualifying towards 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 difficult 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. He did return 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.

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. He was also part of the driver lineup for Bob Tullius' Group 44 Jaguar team at the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans driving an IMSA spec Jaguar XJR-5 powered by a 6.0 litre V12 in the IMSA / GTP class. In what was Jaguar's first appearance at Le Mans since 1959, Watson briefly took the lead of the race towards the end of the first hour when the faster Porsche 956's and Lancia LC2's pitted. Driving with American Tony Adamowicz and Frenchman Claude Ballot-Léna, they failed to finish the race due to engine trouble though they were classified in 28th place.

Watson also finished second in the 1987 season alongside Jan Lammers in the TWR Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-8 when they won a total of three championship races (Jarama, Monza and Fuji). Watson competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans seven times over the course of his career between 1973 and 1990, finishing 11th, a career best, in his last start in 1990 driving a Porsche 962C for Richard Lloyd Racing alongside fellow Grand Prix drivers Bruno Giacomelli and Allen Berg.

After retiring from active racing, he has 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.

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