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. Sunday 26 March 2017

  2. Giovinazzi lauds 'fantastic' F1 debut 12:26

    Giovinazzi lauds 'fantastic' F1 debut

    Sauber's Antonio Giovinazzi hailed a "fantastic" weekend as he claimed 12th place on his Formula 1 debut at the Australian Grand…

    F1
  3. Massa delighted to lead midfield charge 11:38

    Massa delighted to lead midfield charge

    Williams' Felipe Massa labelled himself as "really happy" as he led the charge in Formula 1's midfield by placing sixth at the…

    F1
  4. Sainz Jr. hails 'confidence boost' for STR 11:02

    Sainz Jr. hails 'confidence boost' for STR

    Carlos Sainz Jr. says Toro Rosso's performance at the Australian Grand Prix has acted as "confidence boost" for the team…

    F1
  5. Pérez reckons seventh place maximum 10:27

    Pérez reckons seventh place maximum

    Sergio Pérez believes he extracted the maximum from Force India's potential as he finished in seventh position at the…

    F1
  6. 10:26

    Latest F1 photos: Sunday in Melbourne

    F1
  7. 10:02

    Follow GPUpdate on Instagram in 2017!

    F1
  8. Wolff: Ferrari had quicker package in race 09:24

    Wolff: Ferrari had quicker package in race

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has conceded that Ferrari simply had the quicker package during the Australian Grand Prix, highlighting…

    F1
  9. Alonso: McLaren last 'in normal conditions' 09:08

    Alonso: McLaren last 'in normal conditions'

    Fernando Alonso fears that McLaren-Honda could be Formula 1's slowest team "in normal conditions", despite an encouraging…

    F1
  10. Ricciardo: Separate issues caused dramas 08:57

    Ricciardo: Separate issues caused dramas

    Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo says two separate issues on his RB13 compounded his dismal Australian Grand Prix weekend, as he…

    F1
  11. Marchionne praises Ferrari's winter push 08:36

    Marchionne praises Ferrari's winter push

    Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne has reacted to Sebastian Vettel's victory at the Australian Grand Prix with a statement…

    F1
  12. Hamilton 'ran out of grip' during first stint 08:29

    Hamilton 'ran out of grip' during first stint

    Lewis Hamilton conceded he simply "ran out of grip" during the first stint of the Australian Grand Prix, as he missed out on…

    F1
  13. Vettel 'over the moon' with Australia win 08:07

    Vettel 'over the moon' with Australia win

    Sebastian Vettel described himself as "over the moon" after he opened his and Ferrari's 2017 Formula 1 campaign with victory at…

    F1
  14. 07:39

    In full: Australian Grand Prix race results

    F1
  15. Vettel beats Hamilton to Australian GP win 07:36

    Vettel beats Hamilton to Australian GP win

    Sebastian Vettel beat Lewis Hamilton to victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, after going longer on a one-stop…

    F1
  16. 05:34

    Follow the Australian Grand Prix live!

    F1
  17. Williams gets suspended fine over gearbox 05:16

    Williams gets suspended fine over gearbox

    Williams has been handed a €25,000 fine, suspended for the entirety of the season, after failing to inform the FIA of its…

    F1
  18. 05:02

    Starting grid for the Australian Grand Prix

    F1
  19. Ricciardo hit with five-place grid penalty 03:27

    Ricciardo hit with five-place grid penalty

    Daniel Ricciardo has been dealt another blow at his home event in Australia, with Red Bull changing his gearbox after he crashed…

    F1
  20. Pirelli expects one-stop Australia race 03:12

    Pirelli expects one-stop Australia race

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli is expecting a one-stop strategy to emerge as the favoured approach by drivers for the…

    F1
  21. Mercedes braced for 'big fight' with Ferrari 02:44

    Mercedes braced for 'big fight' with Ferrari

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the team is braced for a "big fight" with rival Ferrari ahead of the season-opening Australian…

    F1
  22. Alonso: McLaren 'better than expected' 02:32

    Alonso: McLaren 'better than expected'

    Fernando Alonso says that McLaren-Honda's Australian Grand Prix weekend has gone "better than we'd expected" after pre-season…

    F1
  23. Video of the Day: Formula 1 2017 explained 02:01

    Video of the Day: Formula 1 2017 explained

    Ahead of the season-opener, Lewis Hamilton provides a refresher on what's new in F1 in 2017.

    F1
  24. Saturday 25 March 2017

  25. 18:28

    Latest MotoGP photos: Saturday at Losail

    MotoGP
  26. Viñales, Márquez back qualifying cancellation 18:27

    Viñales, Márquez back qualifying cancellation

    Yamaha's Maverick Viñales and Repsol Honda's Marc Márquez backed the call made by MotoGP officials to cancel all of Saturday's…

    MotoGP
  27. MotoGP cancels qualifying, pole for Viñales 17:23

    MotoGP cancels qualifying, pole for Viñales

    MotoGP has cancelled all of Saturday's action for the floodlit Qatar Grand Prix due to inclement weather conditions at Losail…

    MotoGP
  28. Rossi: Corner entry weakness hurting pace 14:22

    Rossi: Corner entry weakness hurting pace

    Yamaha's Valentino Rossi says he is still suffering from a lack of speed on corner entry after scraping through to Q2 at the…

    MotoGP
  29. 13:12

    Latest F1 photos: Saturday in Melbourne

    F1
  30. Giovinazzi thought F1 call-up was a joke 13:02

    Giovinazzi thought F1 call-up was a joke

    Formula 1 debutant Antonio Giovianzzi says he thought he was being tricked when he received the news that he would be competing…

    F1
  31. Bratches: No shortage of aspiring F1 hosts 12:46

    Bratches: No shortage of aspiring F1 hosts

    New Formula 1 commercial chief Sean Bratches says that he has received a substantial number of enquiries from venues keen to…

    F1
  32. Williams referred to stewards over gearbox 12:31

    Williams referred to stewards over gearbox

    Williams has been referred to the Australian Grand Prix stewards after failing to notify the FIA of its intention to replace the…

    F1
  33. Magnussen rues 'messed up' qualifying runs 11:20

    Magnussen rues 'messed up' qualifying runs

    Haas' Kevin Magnussen admitted he "messed up" his qualifying runs through overdriving as he was knocked out of Q1 at the…

    F1
  34. Ocon eyes first points from 14th place 10:12

    Ocon eyes first points from 14th place

    Esteban Ocon is optimistic that he can make amends for a mistake on his final flying lap in Q2 to compete for points during his…

    F1
  35. Sainz Jr. relieved after Q1, Q2 struggles 10:00

    Sainz Jr. relieved after Q1, Q2 struggles

    Carlos Sainz Jr. says he was relieved to take eighth on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix after struggling with the balance…

    F1
  36. Pérez escapes with reprimand for violation 09:08

    Pérez escapes with reprimand for violation

    Force India's Sergio Pérez has escaped with a reprimand after the stewards deemed that he breached the regulations during…

    F1
  37. Pérez summoned over alleged rule breach 08:43

    Pérez summoned over alleged rule breach

    Sergio Pérez has been summoned by the Australian Grand Prix stewards over an alleged rule breach during Saturday's qualifying…

    F1
  38. Grosjean: Best of rest 'awesome' for Haas 08:29

    Grosjean: Best of rest 'awesome' for Haas

    Romain Grosjean labelled Haas' Australian Grand Prix qualifying result as "awesome" after it finished as the best of the rest…

    F1
  39. Palmer labels Renault car a 'disaster' 08:13

    Palmer labels Renault car a 'disaster'

    Renault driver Jolyon Palmer labelled his car as "awful" and a "disaster" as he finished as the slowest competitor during…

    F1
  40. Ricciardo 'caught by surprise' in Q3 crash 08:07

    Ricciardo 'caught by surprise' in Q3 crash

    Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo says he was "caught by surprise" as he crashed out of qualifying for his home race at the…

    F1
  41. Vettel: Mistakes didn't cost Ferrari pole 07:58

    Vettel: Mistakes didn't cost Ferrari pole

    Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel described himself as "not entirely happy" with his final Q3 effort but does not believe a couple of…

    F1
  42. Hamilton expects 'tight' race from pole 07:45

    Hamilton expects 'tight' race from pole

    Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton says he expects a "tight race" at the Australian Grand Prix after he opened the season with the…

    F1
more news