Exclusive interview with John Watson

Exclusive interview with John Watson

20 January 2014 – Following the announcement of Ron Dennis' return as CEO of the McLaren Group, GPUpdate.net conversed with one of his former employees, five-time Grand Prix winner John Watson, to discuss how the Woking-based outfit will be affected moving forward and the future of current Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh...

What is your general reaction to Ron's return and is it a move that needed to be made?

I think surprise. Partly because of the circumstance that Ron has been in within the McLaren Group – there have been some questions regarding his future and position. Ultimately, with the consequences of losing the title in 2012, which they had the chance to do with Lewis [Hamilton], losing Lewis to Mercedes and a bad 2013 where they didn't get a podium let alone win a race, I think that his argument would have been sufficiently compelling to persuade the board that he was the person that should regain control of the company and try to reset its future.

Bearing in mind, the company is going into partnership with Honda in 2015 and the success of the team has been in effect based on its success. If you think back to the 80s, the 90s and the 21st century, McLaren has been a winning machine in all three decades. 2013 was the worst season they have had since 1980.

Was this the tipping point in your eyes?

I think that it's part of all that has taken place. But what I know is that McLaren has enjoyed enormous success, and largely under Ron's leadership. That has enabled them to secure very strong commercial partners over a very long period. When you see what happened in 2013, on the one hand not winning a race or getting a podium, the first thing that happens is that the amount of television time that you are given reduces. That then has an indirect bearing on how you can negotiate future sponsorship. Vodafone has not continued and it's yet to be announced who the replacement is.

When you negotiate with a new partner, you negotiate in part on the reputation of the company, the personnel, the stature of the company, its record. But at the end of the day, if you can't turn around and say you got zillions of television hours... it's a situation that McLaren is not accustomed to being in. And I think that all of these situations may well have strengthened Ron's argument that he is the right person to bring the company back to the pre-eminence that it has always enjoyed, which is principally winning Grands Prix and World Championships.

The reaction amongst most McLaren fans has been positive. The feeling is that he can right the wrongs of 2013 and drive the team towards the kind of success it has enjoyed in previous years...

As Ron once said, 'there's no such thing as bad luck'. Bad luck is bad design, bad manufacturing, bad engineering, bad driving and bad management. It's a tangible value. And if you look at McLaren in 2013, Ron would never say that they were unlucky. They didn't succeed because they didn't do a good enough job.

The reason he has come back in is to change that ethos, drive the team forward at every level to return it to its winning ways. So that's winning as a driver, winning as a team and winning both World Championships.

How have you viewed Martin's management style?

Martin's got a much more, I would say, relaxed management style. On the one hand you have Ron and on the other hand you have Martin, and I think there have been differences. But the men are different men. It doesn't mean that one is better than the other – it means that they have different approaches to the same issues.

I think that 2012 was a significant point in the career of the company. Unreliability in part led to Lewis not winning the World Championship, when he could have won it. And in part that also was a contribution to Lewis leaving the team. So not winning the championship you could say directly led Lewis to leaving the team. From my perspective, I would rather have Lewis on the inside pissing out than on the outside pissing in.

Do you believe that Dennis and Whitmarsh can continue under one roof moving forward? There have been some well-documented tensions over the past few years...

There have been. There was a point two or three years ago, when Ron made a conscious move to oust Martin. That was faced down by the board and Ron was beaten on that. Now he has won that corporate board room battle, does he see Martin as the de facto Team Principal and ask, 'do I want to change him?'

The difference is that Martin is no longer going to be the team boss as well as the Team Principal. Christian Horner is the Team Principal at Red Bull, but he is not the boss. So there is a situation whereby Martin could continue as Team Principal, but he will no longer have the full autonomy of the team, as he has done.

Can you see Whitmarsh remaining as Team Principal?

It's an interesting position because I think it's an issue that the team should look at and weigh up unemotionally. Martin's got a huge amount of experience and ability, and to just dismiss that in a boardroom shuffle might be seen to be being cavalier. And as I said with Lewis, I would certainly rather have Martin on the inside pissing out than the outside pissing in. Whether Martin might feel that is up to Martin. But when you've got someone of that intelligence, experience and ability, you sit down as adults and either say look, 'here's a new package, we want you to be a part of this package,' or you say, 'there's no place for you.' But that's for the boardroom, and believe me this is a game of poker that you would like to win.

Ross Brawn has already been linked to the Team Principal role. Is this a realistic outcome?

I don't see the synergy. First of all, Ross has got obligations to Mercedes. To my knowledge, he can't step out of one thing and into another. So that would be an obstacle. But just historically, there was no love, at all, between the Team Principals of McLaren and Ferrari, all the way through from 1996 to the end of Michael's time at Ferrari in 2006. You couldn't have had two more 'at odds' competitors than those two. It was pretty unpleasant at times.

I would be surprised. People see the connection of Honda with Ross. But Ross, in my opinion, would only want to be in a position where he was fully autonomous. If he didn't have that autonomy, then why would he want to go into a position where he doesn't? I personally don't see it but you never know, you never know...

Looking at the 2014 campaign, can you see McLaren returning to the front of the grid?

It's completely and utterly essential that they do. They've lost a number of very good people, technically and in other areas. They need to find their way. Part of that is recruiting people. Who's available? Who would be prepared to move? Ultimately, what kind of team is going to come out of this change at McLaren?

Everybody knows that McLaren run a very specific style of management and operation. For some people, they don't want to work in that type of context. But, on the other hand, there are lots of very talented people in other teams who are actively looking for work. And an opportunity to work at McLaren would be a fantastic opportunity.

related

Comments

Latest News
Full
Compact

  1. Wednesday 20 August 2014

  2. Watson: Verstappen must grow up quickly 15:46

    Watson: Verstappen must grow up quickly

    Ex-Formula 1 driver John Watson has warned that Max Verstappen will have to "grow up really quickly" next...

    F1
  3. Hamilton: Title fight more intense this year 14:37

    Hamilton: Title fight more intense this year

    Lewis Hamilton has said the title this season with Nico Rosberg is more intense than when he won it in 2008. Hamilton...

    F1
  4. Video: Rosberg previews the Belgian GP 13:30

    Video: Rosberg previews the Belgian GP

    Mercedes driver and championship leader Nico Rosberg previews the Belgian Grand Prix.

    F1
  5. New debris fencing at Turn One in Belgium 13:10

    New debris fencing at Turn One in Belgium

    New debris fences have been installed at Turn One ahead of this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, the FIA has confirmed. In...

    F1
  6. Pirro driver steward for second race in row 12:30

    Pirro driver steward for second race in row

    Emanuele Pirro will be the FIA driver steward for the second race in succession this weekend in Belgium. Pirro, who also...

    F1
  7. Lotterer to make F1 debut with Caterham 12:14

    Lotterer to make F1 debut with Caterham

    André Lotterer will make his Formula 1 debut at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend for Caterham, it has been announced. The...

    F1
  8. Formula 1 circuit in Sochi approved by FIA 11:43

    Formula 1 circuit in Sochi approved by FIA

    Formula 1 Race Director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that the new track in Sochi will be granted the necessary licence in...

    F1
  9. Video: Lewis Hamilton interviewed by James Corden 11:00

    Video: Lewis Hamilton interviewed by James Corden

    Lewis Hamilton gets interviewed by British actor James Corden...while treating him to a high speed lap of Rockingham

    F1
  10. Buemi fastest again on final test day 10:40

    Buemi fastest again on final test day

    Sébastien Buemi was again quickest on the final day of pre-season testing at Donington Park for the inaugural Formula E...

    Formula E
  11. Wolff: Reliability a 'key focus' for Mercedes 10:15

    Wolff: Reliability a 'key focus' for Mercedes

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has said reliability will be a "key focus" for the team during the second half of the...

    F1
  12. Rosberg: Every last point will be crucial 09:00

    Rosberg: Every last point will be crucial

    Championship leader Nico Rosberg says every point will be 'crucial' as his title fight with his Mercedes team-mate continues...

    F1
  13. Spa Memories: Chaos at the start 05:00

    Spa Memories: Chaos at the start

    Re-live the chaotic opening lap to the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix.

    F1
  14. Tuesday 19 August 2014

  15. Marko: Verstappen has 'unbelievable speed' 15:30

    Marko: Verstappen has 'unbelievable speed'

    Red Bull Motorsport Consultant Helmut Marko has praised new Toro Rosso signing Max Verstappen, describing the Dutch...

    F1
  16. Räikkönen targets 2009-like revival at Spa 14:51

    Räikkönen targets 2009-like revival at Spa

    Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen says he is hoping to revive his 2014 season as he returns to his 'favourite' circuit for this w...

    F1
  17. Ceccon returns to GP3 with Jenzer 14:41

    Ceccon returns to GP3 with Jenzer

    Italian racer Kevin Ceccon will return to GP3 after signing a deal to race with Jenzer Motorsport for the remainder of the...

    GP3
  18. Camier retains Aspar seat for Silverstone 13:51

    Camier retains Aspar seat for Silverstone

    Leon Camier will continue to substitute for 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden at next weekend's British Grand...

    MotoGP
  19. Smedley wary of middle sector at Spa 12:00

    Smedley wary of middle sector at Spa

    Williams Head of Vehicle Performance Rob Smedley says the team must be wary not to lose out in the middle sector at...

    F1
  20. Vergne still aiming for 2015 seat 11:54

    Vergne still aiming for 2015 seat

    Jean-Éric Vergne says he is determined to prove that he deserves to remain in Formula 1, having lost out on a 2015 Toro...

    F1
  21. Force India pair target consistent points 11:00

    Force India pair target consistent points

    Force India pairing Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez say that consistently finishing in the points must be their target for t...

    F1
  22. Verstappen gets F1 outing in Rotterdam 10:25

    Verstappen gets F1 outing in Rotterdam

    Max Verstappen will drive a Formula 1 car for the first time when he demonstrates a Toro Rosso around the streets of...

    F1
  23. 'F1 the best option for Max' - Jos Verstappen 09:49

    'F1 the best option for Max' - Jos Verstappen

    Jos Verstappen says Formula 1 is the best option for his son Max, after the 16-year-old was confirmed as a Toro Rosso driver...

    F1
  24. Spa Memories: Hamilton and Alonso scrap 05:00

    Spa Memories: Hamilton and Alonso scrap

    Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso do battle on the opening lap at Spa in 2007.

    F1
  25. Monday 18 August 2014

  26. Verstappen to race for Toro Rosso in 2015 20:19

    Verstappen to race for Toro Rosso in 2015

    Max Verstappen will become the youngest driver in Formula 1 history after it was confirmed that he will race for Toro Rosso...

    F1
  27. Boullier confident of McLaren improvements 16:53

    Boullier confident of McLaren improvements

    McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier says his squad will show an improvement in form across the second half of the Formula...

    F1
  28. Williams duo sure of strong Spa showing 14:00

    Williams duo sure of strong Spa showing

    Williams duo Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa reckon that the layout of Spa-Francorchamps, which plays host to this...

    F1
  29. Mallya: Fourth place not out of reach 11:10

    Mallya: Fourth place not out of reach

    Force India Team Principal Vijay Mallya is sure that his squad can fight for fourth place in the Constructors' championship...

    F1
  30. Lorenzo laments missed chance at Brno 10:00

    Lorenzo laments missed chance at Brno

    Double MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo lamented a missed opportunity after finishing in second place in the Czech Republic...

    MotoGP
  31. Sauber anticipating challenging Spa weekend 09:33

    Sauber anticipating challenging Spa weekend

    Sauber duo Esteban Gutiérrez and Adrian Sutil are expecting this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix to be a challenge for the...

    F1
  32. Spa memories: Vettel crashes into Button 05:00

    Spa memories: Vettel crashes into Button

    Relive the drama as Sebastian Vettel crashes into Jenson Button during the 2010 Belgian Grand Prix.

    F1
  33. Sunday 17 August 2014

  34. Dominant Power extends championship lead 22:38

    Dominant Power extends championship lead

    Australian Will Power did not lead the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 from wire to wire, but it may have felt like it, leading...

    Indy
  35. 16:47

    Latest MotoGP photos: Sunday at Brno

    MotoGP
  36. Márquez says defeat lifts pressure 16:29

    Márquez says defeat lifts pressure

    Marc Márquez says his defeat in the Czech Republic Grand Prix is a weight off his shoulders, as his winning start to the...

    MotoGP
  37. Pedrosa ends Márquez's winning streak at Brno 13:46

    Pedrosa ends Márquez's winning streak at Brno

    Dani Pedrosa ended Marc Márquez's winning streak to claim his first win of the year, and 26th of his career, in the Czech...

    MotoGP
  38. Grosjean aiming to show Lotus potential 09:00

    Grosjean aiming to show Lotus potential

    Romain Grosjean is sure that he can show the potential which has been seen from the Lotus E22 on occasion in 2014, as...

    F1
  39. Video of the Day: Lewis Hamilton vs. Ken Block 05:00

    Video of the Day: Lewis Hamilton vs. Ken Block

    Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton goes head-to-head with rally and stunt star Ken Block.

    F1
  40. Power takes Milwaukee pole 00:03

    Power takes Milwaukee pole

    Will Power claimed pole position for the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at the Milwaukee Mile on Saturday.  Jumping to the top...

    Indy
  41. Saturday 16 August 2014

  42. 16:31

    Latest MotoGP photos: Saturday at Brno

    MotoGP
  43. Di Resta positive about future F1 chances 14:34

    Di Resta positive about future F1 chances

    Former Formula 1 driver Paul di Resta says he is positive that he can return to the sport in the future and prove that he...

    F1
  44. Márquez edges out Ducati pair for Brno pole 14:09

    Márquez edges out Ducati pair for Brno pole

    Reigning World Champion Marc Márquez claimed a tightly contested pole position as he edged out Ducati pairing Andrea...

    MotoGP
  45. Gutiérrez optimistic over 2015 Sauber drive 11:13

    Gutiérrez optimistic over 2015 Sauber drive

    Esteban Gutiérrez says he is hopeful that he will extend his Sauber stay into 2015, despite enduring a troublesome season...

    F1
more news