F1: ‘It was different in my day’, says Watson

By Andy Darley

CalendarSunday, June 29th, 2008

 
 

Five-time F1 race winner John Watson reckons the rise of technology in the sport has damaged the experience for drivers, who now lack the opportunity to demonstrate their skills unless they compete for one of the top teams.

Watson was famed for victories earned the hard way, by threading a normally-aspirated McLaren through fields of turbo engined cars that had out-qualified him.

But now, he told The Times, that sort of performance is impossible in a world of tyre changes, refuelling, and teams that dominate their rivals technologically.

“Normally-aspirated cars were at a disadvantage in qualifying because we didn’t have the out-and-out performance of the turbo engines. Where we were strong was that the car was a good car, efficient aerodynamically, and we had good Michelin tyres.

“The key was getting the tyres to come alive once the race started. We had 40 gallons of fuel and one set of tyres for the race. We weren’t going through this pantomime of pit stops with refuelling and tyre changes.

“Carrying 40 gallons meant you had 280lbs of fuel aboard. If you were aggressive in the early phases of a race, you could damage your tyres irrevocably. The key was to find a way to make your car work with that load of fuel and to get the best out of the car while looking after the tyres. So the discipline that was necessary then was diametrically opposed to the one we have today.

“While technology is very exciting and has been wonderful in many elements of F1, it has led to a polarisation of one team or another dominating. That has led to a skewing of the statistics of team and driver victories.

In my day, eight or nine drivers won races in one year. The champion might win only two or three races. Nowadays, if you are in the right place at the right time and have a distinct technical advantage with the car you drive, you have an opportunity to win an awful lot of races and lots of world championships.”

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