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John Watson


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1985 European GP


The successful F1 career of John Watson MBE, the Ulsterman who defended Britain's colours valiantly in the gap between Hunt and Mansell, had been over since 1983 when he received a last-minute call-up to sub for Niki Lauda at the 1985 European GP.

The reigning World Champion wasn't having a happy season, with only a magnificent fighting win at Zandvoort to call for, holding off team mate Alain Prost lap after lap. But after that 25th and last victory at the last Dutch GP Lauda's usual 1985 luck returned when he hurt his wrist in a practice accident at Spa. This meant he wasn't fit for the next race.

So John Watson was asked to come out of F1 retirement just once. Alas, it showed that he was out of it. Watson qualified a poor 21st and finished just outside the points in 7th, in a car that was World Championship material. After that dismal performance he returned to sportscar racing, driving for Jaguar and Toyota before retiring to become Eurosport's F1 commentator, with a commenting style you either love or hate...

Reader's Why by Martin Zustak

Another farewell, this time it's John Watson's swansong. After dramatic changes in Renault in 1983 when Prost was fired, John Watson's career suffered a big blow. Alain contacted Marlboro, wanting to join Ferrari but they called Ron Dennis instead who grabbed the Frenchman by both hands, leaving old 'Wattie' on the bench.

After a break, Watson joined Toleman at the beginning of the 1985 season only to find out that his team would have no tyres - Ted Toleman then sold the team to the Benetton family which made a pact with Teo Fabi and Pirelli, again leaving Watson in the wilderness.

Then came the Belgian GP where Niki Lauda broke his arm during practice. He would not be fit for the next race - the European GP in Brands Hatch, enabling Watson to finish his career on a high note in front of his home crowd, his 152nd start in total.

John qualified many places behind Prost (20th if I remember right) and still vividly remembers the moment when Senna came upon him at Dingle Dell. In few seconds, Watson could witness Senna's genius - in the Irisman's words, he seemed to brake, steer, change down gears and flooring the throttle in short blips - everything in one go, in very high speed. In the race itself, Watson managed respectable 7th but was overshadowed by the first Nigel Mansell win and the first Prost championship. What a race it was!

Later, John became a long-time Eurosport F1 commentator only to lose his job at the end of 1996 when Eurosport changed their strategy to follow Indycars.