• United States Grand Prix West

Watson takes remarkable win from 22nd on the grid

ESPN Staff
March 27, 1983

The early-season potential John Watson had shown in Brazil before his McLaren expired was confirmed with his fifth grand prix win at Long Beach, and by taking victory after qualifying in 22nd he set a new record as well.

Much of the pre-weekend attention had surrounded the return of 1980 champion Alan Jones for Arrows, a move many considered unwise given he was still hobbling after fracturing a leg when thrown from a horse on his farm. The doubters were proved right when the demands of constant gear changing required on the circuit proved too much forcing him to retire from the race.

Qualifying had been a wretched affair for McLaren as both Watson and Niki Lauda failed to master the qualifying tyres. The pair cut sorry figures at the back of the grid. Patrick Tambay had qualified in pole but got a poor start and Keke Rosberg, on the second row, spotted the gap between the Ferraris of Tambay and Rene Arnoux but clipped Arnoux's wheel and spun across the track, somehow being avoided by the following pack.

Tambay recovered to retain the lead but on softer tyres did not have the pace to open a gap on the chasing cars. Although he battled hard, he eventually made a mistake on the 26th lap when he ran wide on a corner and Rosberg again pounced. The pair went into the next corner side by side, Tambay held his line and the two cars collided. Tambay was flipped on to two wheels and stalled in the middle of the track, allowing Jacques Laffite (Williams) into the lead. Rosberg swerved into the path of Jean-Pierre Jarier's Ligier ending both their races as well.

Laffite still led but was hounded by the ill-handling Brabham of Riccardo Patrese and the Arrows of Marc Surer.

Almost unnoticed, the McLarens had cut through the field and moved up to third and fourth. Watson slipped past Lauda into third, and then eased into second when Patrese went up an escape road. Watson then passed Laffite on the 45th of the 75 laps without realising he had taken the lead, and soon after Lauda joined him to record McLaren's first 1-2 for 15 years.

Even the playing of the Irish national anthem couldn't dilute the delight of the British driver. "After that dismal practice, Michelin were as perplexed as we were," Watson said. "I decided to take a gamble and try the tyre compound we had used in Detroit and it worked." At Detroit in 1982 he had also won … even if only from 17th on the grid.

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