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. Saturday 25 February 2017

  2. McLaren wary 2017 too soon for success 16:52

    McLaren wary 2017 too soon for success

    McLaren Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Neale is confident that the team will continue to make gains in 2017, but is conscious…

    F1
  3. Video: Vettel drives SF70-H at Fiorano 14:40

    Video: Vettel drives SF70-H at Fiorano

    Sebastian Vettel receives his first taste of Ferrari's SF70-H at Fiorano, after Kimi Räikkönen's run.

    F1
  4. FIA and FIM approve Barcelona changes 12:02

    FIA and FIM approve Barcelona changes

    Representatives from the FIA and the FIM have approved changes undertaken at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which hosts…

    F1
  5. Wolff: Mercedes to develop intra-team rules 10:12

    Wolff: Mercedes to develop intra-team rules

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the reigning World Champion team will develop its internal driver directive over the course of the…

    F1
  6. McLaren confirms driver line-up for testing 09:53

    McLaren confirms driver line-up for testing

    McLaren has confirmed its driver schedule for next week's opening pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Home…

    F1
  7. Renault RS17 makes track debut in Spain 09:12

    Renault RS17 makes track debut in Spain

    Renault's RS17 has made its track debut at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, two days before the start of pre-season…

    F1
  8. Overview: Mercedes begins new chapter 08:46

    Overview: Mercedes begins new chapter

    Mercedes presented the W08 at Silverstone earlier this week, a car tasked with adding to three successive 'double' title-winning…

    F1
  9. In photos: Formula 1 designs of 2017 08:42

    In photos: Formula 1 designs of 2017

    Formula 1's 2017 cars are gradually being presented through 'launch week', in the build up to pre-season testing in Barcelona.…

    F1
  10. Williams formally presents 2017 F1 car 08:10

    Williams formally presents 2017 F1 car

    Williams has formally presented its 2017 Formula 1 car, the FW40, in an online launch, a week after publishing renders of its…

    F1
  11. Video of the Day: Up close with MCL32 05:32

    Video of the Day: Up close with MCL32

    Take a closer look at the McLaren-Honda MCL32, which was launched by the team on Friday.

    F1
  12. Friday 24 February 2017

  13. 18:22

    New: Follow GPUpdate on Instagram!

    F1
  14. Ferrari confirms line-up for opening test 18:15

    Ferrari confirms line-up for opening test

    Ferrari has communicated its planned driver line-up for the opening pre-season test session at the Circuit de…

    F1
  15. Video: Räikkönen drives SF70-H at Fiorano 16:36

    Video: Räikkönen drives SF70-H at Fiorano

    Kimi Räikkönen gives his initial reaction after driving the SF70-H for the first time at Fiorano.

    F1
  16. Sauber confirms Giovinazzi for first test 15:58

    Sauber confirms Giovinazzi for first test

    Sauber has confirmed that Ferrari reserve Antonio Giovinazzi will drive in place of the injured Pascal Wehrlein during next…

    F1
  17. Ricciardo set to debut Red Bull RB13 15:05

    Ricciardo set to debut Red Bull RB13

    Red Bull has confirmed its driver schedule for next week's opening pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with…

    F1
  18. Video: Introducing the McLaren MCL32 14:02

    Video: Introducing the McLaren MCL32

    McLaren-Honda presents its car for the 2017 season, the MCL32, featuring an orange and black livery.

    F1
  19. Video: Hamilton 360° onboard in W08 12:36

    Video: Hamilton 360° onboard in W08

    Lewis Hamilton commentates on a shortened 360° lap of Silverstone in Mercedes' new W08.

    F1
  20. Alonso wants 'respectable' 2017 display 12:29

    Alonso wants 'respectable' 2017 display

    Fernando Alonso has played down expectations of a sudden jump in performance from McLaren-Honda in 2017, stating that the aim is…

    F1
  21. Räikkönen racks up first laps in SF70-H 11:43

    Räikkönen racks up first laps in SF70-H

    Kimi Räikkönen has completed the first laps in Ferrari's new Formula 1 car, the SF70-H, after its formal launch on Friday…

    F1
  22. Video: Ferrari's SF70-H presentation 11:40

    Video: Ferrari's SF70-H presentation

    Watch the full presentation of the Ferrari SF70-H, the team's challenger for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

    F1
  23. Boullier: McLaren can 'turn the corner' 11:32

    Boullier: McLaren can 'turn the corner'

    McLaren-Honda Racing Director Eric Boullier is optimistic that the partnership can "turn the corner" in 2017, after it unveiled…

    F1
  24. McLaren goes orange with new MCL32 11:07

    McLaren goes orange with new MCL32

    McLaren-Honda has unveiled its new MCL32, which sports a striking orange and black colour scheme, after weeks of speculation…

    F1
  25. 10:55

    Follow McLaren's 2017 car launch live!

    F1
  26. Video: Ferrari adds stickers to new car 09:32

    Video: Ferrari adds stickers to new car

    Watch as sponsor logos and decals are applied to Ferrari's new Formula 1 car, the SF70-H.

    F1
  27. 08:54

    Photos: Ferrari presents 2017 challenger

    F1
  28. Ferrari reveals 2017 car, named SF70-H 08:50

    Ferrari reveals 2017 car, named SF70-H

    Ferrari has taken the wraps off its 2017 Formula 1 challenger, called the SF70-H, during an online launch at Fiorano, where it…

    F1
  29. 08:45

    Follow Ferrari's 2017 car launch live!

    F1
  30. Bottas thrilled by first Mercedes outing 08:14

    Bottas thrilled by first Mercedes outing

    Valtteri Bottas labelled an "amazing" first experience with Mercedes after he took to the track as part of a filming day at…

    F1
  31. Register for GPUpdate Manager 2017! 08:02

    Register for GPUpdate Manager 2017!

    Have you ever dreamed of owning a Formula 1 team with your ideal driver pairing and engine? GPUpdate.net readers can now sign up…

    F1
  32. Pirelli gets title sponsorship for three races 07:42

    Pirelli gets title sponsorship for three races

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli is to act as the title sponsor for three Grands Prix in 2017. Pirelli joined the sport in…

    F1
  33. Video of the Day: Mercedes W08 tech 05:38

    Video of the Day: Mercedes W08 tech

    Aldo Costa (Engineering chief) and Andy Cowell (Engine chief) talk about Mercedes' new W08.

    F1
  34. Thursday 23 February 2017

  35. Hinchcliffe and Wickens set for test swap 18:45

    Hinchcliffe and Wickens set for test swap

    Long-time friends James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens will sample each other's race machinery as part of a car swap across the…

    Indy
  36. Toro Rosso's STR12 runs at Misano 18:01

    Toro Rosso's STR12 runs at Misano

    Toro Rosso's STR12 has completed its first laps after the team carried out a filming day at Misano in Italy. Toro Rosso joins…

    F1
  37. Hamilton in 'positive place' with Mercedes 15:30

    Hamilton in 'positive place' with Mercedes

    Lewis Hamilton says he feels in a positive place with Mercedes off the back of a winter of reflection, which came after a tense…

    F1
  38. Mercedes confident amid suspension row 14:31

    Mercedes confident amid suspension row

    Toto Wolff says that Mercedes is "very confident and comfortable" over the legality of its suspension system, amid a row which…

    F1
  39. Pirelli to bring backup tyres to F1 testing 14:29

    Pirelli to bring backup tyres to F1 testing

    Pirelli's backup tyres will be available to teams and drivers during pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya…

    F1
  40. Bottas completes first laps with Mercedes 14:14

    Bottas completes first laps with Mercedes

    New Mercedes recruit Valtteri Bottas has completed his first laps with the team as he sampled the W08 EQ Power+ during a filming…

    F1
  41. Video: Mercedes formally presents W08 13:32

    Video: Mercedes formally presents W08

    Mercedes unveils the W08, featuring comments from Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

    F1
  42. Hamilton, Bottas to split each test day 13:09

    Hamilton, Bottas to split each test day

    Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will split running on each day of testing at the Circuit de…

    F1
  43. 11:23

    Photos: Mercedes' 2017 F1 car on-track

    F1
more news