McLaren ’50 in 50′: John Watson

Northern Irish driver John Watson drove for McLaren from 1979 until 1983 when he retired from the sport. He is one of their 19 race winners, taking four of his five victories for the team.

Watson made his Formula One debut in 1973 driving a customer Brabham at the British Grand Prix. He retired from it and the US Grand Prix. In 1974 he raced for the Goldie Hexagon Team scoring his first points and taking 11/15 classified finishes. Stints with Team Surtees and Team Penske followed, taking his first win with the latter at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix. In 1977 and 1978 he drove Brabhams again before signing for the McLaren team for 1978.

His first win for McLaren was a special one as it was a first victory for the first carbon fibre chassis in Formula One. It came at his home race, the British Grand Prix in 1981. Back in 2011,  thirty years after that victory and the introduction of a manufacturing process that has now become the norm, Watson returned to Silverstone to get behind the wheel of the McLaren MP4-12C road car. He said at the time that he was “very proud” to have been part of the team launching the first carbon fibre car. It also protected him from serious injury after a crash at the Italian Grand Prix the same year of his first McLaren win. In 1982 Watson came third in the world championship, losing out to champion Keke Rosberg and drawing on points with Didier Pironi. During his time at McLaren he took nine podiums along with his four victories.

At the end of 1983 Watson found himself out of McLaren when the team decided to sign up Alain Prost instead. He returned two years later, however, standing in for an injured Niki Lauda at the 1985 European Grand Prix. Following his retirement from Formula One, Watson tried his hand at sportscar racing and took part in Le Mans 24 Hours seven times. He tested the Jordan F1 car in 1990 and moved into Formula One punditry and commentary.


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