THE BEST U.S. GRANDS PRIX
His understeering McLaren transformed
by harder Michelins fitted during a race
stoppage that he considered
unnecessary, John Watson became
Pac-Man on a maze of downtown streets.
On Lap 33 he gobbled up the sister car
of Niki Lauda, the Talbot-Ligier of Eddie
Cheever and Didier Pironi’s Ferrari – waka,
waka, waka! – in the space of just 10 turns.
In truth there wasn’t much space.
Four laps later, he passed Keke Rosberg,
whose Williams was suffering gearbox,
braking and (Goodyear) tire issues, for
the lead. Normally he might then have
eased off, but this race would be decided
on aggregate and Watson, his qualifying
spoiled first by a bent wishbone caused
by a collision with another car and then
by rain, had finished the six-lap first part
in 14th, having started three places even
further back. Lauda, therefore, remained
the likeliest winner until, stung by his
The length and breadth of the USA –
from Upstate New York to Downtown
Long Beach, Motown to “The Live Music
Capital of the World,” the fabled
Indianapolis Motor Speedway to a
parking lot in Las Vegas – has hosted 56
Formula 1 World Championship grands
prix since the runways of Sebring, Fla.,
got the ball rolling in 1959.
Three occurred in 1982 alone, yet
there have been barren spells of nine
and five years since. The country’s
relationship with Formula 1 undeniably
has been capricious, but its highs
outweigh its lows – even though the
six-car debacle at Indy in 2005 was
perhaps the category’s nadir.
The best of the best from those 56
races? So spoiled for choice are we that
two three-way title shootouts haven’t
made it onto this list; neither has Jim
Clark’s 1967 victory on three-and-a-half
wheels, nor Keke Rosberg’s Scando cool
in the turbo heat of Dallas and its
crumbling street track in ’ 84, the
closest F1 has come to off-road racing...
After a two-year retirement, Niki Lauda
(ABOVE, left) returned to F1 with McLaren
in ’ 82. Detroit was a missed chance, but
“The Rat” did win in Long Beach and Britain.
THE RETURN OF THE RAT
teammate’s brilliant opportunism, he
bungled an unnecessarily optimistic
passing attempt on Rosberg.
On the streets of Motown, Watson was
on a different level. Level 256, wasn’t it?
The start of the 1982
Detroit Grand Prix,
the first of seven F1
races on the streets
of Motown. Don’t try
looking for John
Watson – he’s out of
frame, way back in
17th on the grid, but
would still pull off an
WORDS Paul Fearnley