On this day in F1 March 27th, is brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Samora Machel
– 1983: John Watson and Niki Lauda Do The (almost) Impossible
– 1971: David Couthard is born
1983: John Watson and Niki Lauda Do The (almost) Impossible
Just to put things a little in perspective here, Jenson Button’s run in the Canadian GP in 2011 was reminiscent of the 1983 US GP West in many ways. So if you watched the former and not the latter, you already get the drift.
After a dismal grid position and a DNF to boot at the previous round of the season, John Watson is a man on a mission this weekend. The US GP West (yes, the ‘West’ was there in the title to distinguish it from the other GP held in Detroit) is his play ground this weekend.
The McLaren – Ford Team has a tire partner this season in Michelin, and through qualifying the performance of the two MP4/3’s is somewhere between appalling and dismal. The tire-chassis combination just isn’t yielding optimal performance around this Long Beach street track.
Michelin are as perplexed as the McLaren engineers after the qualifying session. Since the team’s qualifying fate seems squarely rested on the tires, it descends upon them in double digits for each driver. 22nd for Watson and 23rd for Lauda.
Shortly before the beginning of the race, on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon, Watson rolls the dice and opts for a tire option similar to what he had used almost a year before at Detroit, propelling him from 17th to 1st on that occasion. The situation is such that none of the McLaren drivers seem to have anything to lose, since they’re starting only a few spots shy from the back of the grid.
After a pulsating and eventful race that sees Watson and Lauda moving up the field almost as a pair, literally half the drivers retire from the race. The big names, the World Drivers Champions from the two previous seasons, Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg, aren’t spared either.
Watson and Lauda incredibly claim a McLaren 1-2 having started the race from grid spot 22 and 23 respectively. In modern racing history, John Watson’s 22nd place is the farthest back a driver has started from and gone ahead to win the race.
Their performance places Lauda and Watson 1st and 3rd on the Driver’s Championship standings respectively, and McLaren pips Brabham for the top spot in the Constructor’s Championship.
But at the end of the 1983 season, not even this stunning performance can keep Watson at McLaren. On the back of a tumultuous year for double-world champion Lauda (where he wins no races), negotiations with Ron Dennis reportedly break down after Watson demands a bigger pay check than that of Lauda, citing this performance as his justification. He is however dropped (like the proverbial smoking hot potato) and Alain Prost is signed instead. For much less.
1971: David Coulthard Is Born
As all this was unfolding, David Coulthard was somewhere either (a) Celebrating his 12th birthday or (b) Celebrating his 12th birthday AND watching Watson (and his future employer, McLaren) awe the crowds by the beaches of the American West Coast.