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. Tuesday 23 September 2014

  2. Winners and Losers at the Singapore Grand Prix 08:32

    Winners and Losers at the Singapore Grand Prix

    The 2014 edition of the Singapore Grand Prix was a slow burner but nonetheless vitally important in the context of the...

    F1
  3. Video of the Day: McLaren outside Formula 1 05:03

    Video of the Day: McLaren outside Formula 1

    Find out how McLaren Applied Technologies is shaping lives away from the circuit.

    F1
  4. Monday 22 September 2014

  5. Boullier questions Red Bull radio messages 15:48

    Boullier questions Red Bull radio messages

    Eric Boullier reckons Red Bull issued coded messages to Daniel Ricciardo in the Singapore Grand Prix. In the run up to...

    F1
  6. Russian Grand Prix circuit officially opened 14:08

    Russian Grand Prix circuit officially opened

    The Sochi Autodrom, location for the inaugural Russian Grand Prix, was officially opened on Saturday. Russian Prime...

    F1
  7. Red Bull not yet considering team orders 11:11

    Red Bull not yet considering team orders

    Red Bull says it is not yet considering team orders, despite Daniel Ricciardo keeping himself within touching distance of...

    F1
  8. Video: 360-degree onboard with Buemi in Assen 10:18

    Video: 360-degree onboard with Buemi in Assen

    Sébastien Buemi put a Red Bull Formula 1 car through its paces in front of 82,000 spectators last month, as part of the...

    F1
  9. Caterham encouraged despite Kobayashi non-start 10:16

    Caterham encouraged despite Kobayashi non-start

    Caterham Team Principal Manfredi Ravetto says he is encouraged by the outfit's performance in the Singapore Grand Prix, even...

    F1
  10. Gutiérrez: Almost impossible to achieve good results 09:40

    Gutiérrez: Almost impossible to achieve good results

    Esteban Gutiérrez says it is almost impossible for Sauber to achieve good results after the Mexican slumped to his sixth...

    F1
  11. Video: Rosberg reflects on Singapore retirement 09:35

    Video: Rosberg reflects on Singapore retirement

    Nico Rosberg looks back on his short-lived Singapore Grand Prix; after starting from the pit lane and retiring amid...

    F1
  12. Wolff admits Mercedes needs better reliability 08:58

    Wolff admits Mercedes needs better reliability

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has admitted that the squad needs to improve its reliability as the championship fight enters its...

    F1
  13. Mattiacci upbeat over Ferrari progress in Singapore 07:34

    Mattiacci upbeat over Ferrari progress in Singapore

    Ferrari Team Principal Marco Mattiacci says he is confident that his squad is improving following its showing in the...

    F1
  14. Video of the Day: UPS delivers special Ferrari 05:03

    Video of the Day: UPS delivers special Ferrari

    UPS delivered a special F1 car, made of bark and fittonia, to Singapore. Representing Ferrari's partnership with the...

    F1
  15. 03:04

    Championship standings after Singapore

    F1
  16. Sunday 21 September 2014

  17. Alonso rues timing of Safety Car deployment 18:54

    Alonso rues timing of Safety Car deployment

    Fernando Alonso was left to rue the timing of the Safety Car as he raced to fourth position in the Singapore Grand...

    F1
  18. Bottas links late slump to power steering 17:53

    Bottas links late slump to power steering

    Valtteri Bottas says an issue with his power steering system contributed to his tumble down the order in the Singapore Grand...

    F1
  19. 17:45

    Latest F1 photos: Sunday in Singapore

    F1
  20. Force India reclaims fifth from McLaren 17:31

    Force India reclaims fifth from McLaren

    Force India boss Vijay Mallya was suitably elated after his team moved ahead of McLaren in the battle for fifth in the...

    F1
  21. Magnussen treated for burns after scoring point 17:05

    Magnussen treated for burns after scoring point

    Kevin Magnussen was treated for burns by doctors after the McLaren driver battled to 10th place at the Singapore Grand...

    F1
  22. Vergne fights back to earn best result of season 17:05

    Vergne fights back to earn best result of season

    Outgoing Toro Rosso driver Jean-Éric Vergne recorded his best finish in over a year as he battled to sixth in the Singapore...

    F1
  23. Vettel questions timing of Hamilton move 16:35

    Vettel questions timing of Hamilton move

    Sebastian Vettel reckons Lewis Hamilton took more risks than he needed to when passing him during Sunday's Singapore Grand...

    F1
  24. Hamilton hails 'clean' Singapore weekend 16:13

    Hamilton hails 'clean' Singapore weekend

    Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was pleased after a "clean" Singapore Grand Prix weekend culminated in him taking a vital...

    F1
  25. Rosberg urges Mercedes to improve reliability 15:51

    Rosberg urges Mercedes to improve reliability

    Nico Rosberg has urged Mercedes to improve its reliability after his costly retirement from Sunday night's Singapore Grand...

    F1
  26. 15:27

    In full: Singapore Grand Prix race result

    F1
  27. Hamilton takes title lead with Singapore win 15:10

    Hamilton takes title lead with Singapore win

    Lewis Hamilton moved into the lead of the championship with a commanding victory in Sunday night's Singapore Grand Prix,...

    F1
  28. 12:35

    Follow the 2014 Singapore Grand Prix live!

    F1
  29. Video: Hill, Herbert become mechanics 10:44

    Video: Hill, Herbert become mechanics

    Watch as Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert become Marussia mechanics for a practice session in Singapore.

    F1
  30. 10:42

    Photos: Historic F1 race in Singapore

    F1
  31. Hamilton: Rosberg relations 'back to normal' 10:41

    Hamilton: Rosberg relations 'back to normal'

    Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton says that his relationship with team-mate Nico Rosberg is 'back to normal' following the...

    F1
  32. Grosjean hits out at Renault problems 07:02

    Grosjean hits out at Renault problems

    Romain Grosjean has hit out at continual Renault problems, which he says are having a negative impact on the morale of his...

    F1
  33. 06:32

    Photos: Special helmets for Singapore

    F1
  34. Video of the Day: Formula 1's Safety Car 05:03

    Video of the Day: Formula 1's Safety Car

    There has never been a Singapore Grand Prix without the appearance of Formula 1's Safety Car. Ahead of the night race,...

    F1
  35. Pérez sure of Force India race recovery 01:04

    Pérez sure of Force India race recovery

    Force India driver Sergio Pérez says he is sure that he can recover from a lowly grid spot and notch up a top 10 finish in...

    F1
  36. 00:35

    Starting grid for the Singapore Grand Prix

    F1
  37. Saturday 20 September 2014

  38. Massa encouraged by Williams improvements 18:32

    Massa encouraged by Williams improvements

    Felipe Massa says he is encouraged by the progress which Williams has made since Friday's practice sessions after qualifying...

    F1
  39. 17:25

    Latest F1 photos: Saturday in Singapore

    F1
  40. Magnussen seeks help from Safety Car 17:24

    Magnussen seeks help from Safety Car

    Kevin Magnussen says he is hoping to see the Safety Car called into action during Sunday evening's Singapore Grand...

    F1
  41. Alonso hopeful of fighting for victory 17:09

    Alonso hopeful of fighting for victory

    Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso is hopeful that he will be able to challenge for victory during Sunday's Singapore Grand...

    F1
  42. Vettel reckons pole position was possible 16:42

    Vettel reckons pole position was possible

    Sebastian Vettel feels he could have had a shot at claiming pole position in Singapore with a cleaner final qualifying...

    F1
  43. Rosberg ruing late change of brakes 16:16

    Rosberg ruing late change of brakes

    Nico Rosberg was left to rue a change of brakes after Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton beat him to pole position in...

    F1
  44. Hamilton pleased to recover from early error 15:57

    Hamilton pleased to recover from early error

    Lewis Hamilton says he was pleased with his recovery after an early error threatened to ruin his final qualifying attempt in...

    F1
more news