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Your classic grand prix - race four

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Andrew Benson | 10:57 UK time, Wednesday, 14 April 2010

We have chosen the 1983 US Grand Prix West as the highlighted race for the fourth edition of our classic grand prix series this year, ahead of this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix.

You can make a strong case for any of our choices - Alan Jones's fightback to victory in Argentina in 1980, Ayrton Senna's stunning maiden victory in a torrential downpour in Portugal in 1985, Fernando Alonso's brilliant defence of the lead from Michael Schumacher at Imola in 2005 and Sebastian Vettel's domination in China last year.

But John Watson's incredible victory for McLaren from 23rd on the grid at Long Beach was the overwhelming choice among respondents to this blog and, while the other races were great options, there is no doubt in my mind it was the right choice.

Watson was always renowned for being a great racer - and the Northern Irishman's overtaking skills were never seen to better effect than in this race. He and McLaren team-mate Niki Lauda, who qualified one place ahead of Watson, scythed through the field for one of the most remarkable upturns in F1 history. In fact, this is the furthest back on the grid from which any man has ever won a grand prix.

The 'Grand Prix' programme from Long Beach '83 is embedded here, with the shorter highlights of it and the other races below the video.

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In the UK, the highlights will be available on satellite and cable television from 1500 BST on Wednesday 14 April and will be shown until midnight on Friday 16 April. They will be available on Freeview on Thursday, 15th April from 1900 BST until 2200 BST.

Watson remembers that the foundations for victory on the Long Beach street circuit were laid before the event.

"It all started at the previous race in Brazil, the first race of the year," he told me on Wednesday. "I was supposed to be going on a Marlboro promotional tour of South America after Rio, and we were going to visit Argentina.

"But this was not long after the Falklands War and the British press got wind of it and they said: 'Listen, Wattie, our boys were killed out there and if you go down to Argentina we're going to write it up and it's not going to be pretty.'

"So I told Marlboro I couldn't go - Niki went with Keke Rosberg and Andrea de Cesaris while I went straight to Long Beach, and in that week I had the full and undivided attention of Willi Dungl."

Dungl was a trainer who was years ahead of his time, combining diet and fitness in a way that is commonplace in F1 now, but certainly was not then. A fellow Austrian, he had come to F1 when Lauda made his comeback from two years in retirement in 1982, and in 1983 he had effectively become McLaren's team trainer.

"In that week," Watson says, "we did all the exercises, and the diet, and by the time we got to the weekend of the grand prix I felt physically and mentally great.

"The reason we qualified so far back was that the Michelin tyres we were using at the time were more biased towards the turbo-charged cars, particularly the Renaults with their extra power and, especially, weight.

"Our car had the normally aspirated Cosworth engine, and it was very easy on the tyres in low-fuel configuration, so we weren't able to make use of the qualifying tyre and there were long faces all round after we qualified outside the top 20.

"But when we put full fuel in it added weight, and the extra energy going through the tyres put heat into them, and the qualities of the car became apparent.

"At the start of the race, Niki was just ahead of me, and every time he made a pass I made sure I doppelganged him. About half way through I decided it was a race I was going to win, and I went for it.

"One of the brakes grabbed as I dived inside him, and my car sort of lurched towards his, which he took as an aggressive move, but it wasn't, it was just the uneven surface. And that was it - we went on to finish one-two.

"(Team boss) Ron Dennis and (Marlboro boss) John Hogan were absolutely speechless, and after the race Willi Dungl said to me: 'I knew you could win today - in the last few days I could see your potential, what you were capable of doing.'

"I give Willi Dungl a lot of the credit for the win, actually. When you're physically strong, you're mentally strong, and then you have a positive attitude.

"Throughout my career, I understood the philosophy of the overtake - you get inside someone's head, you bully them, do lots of things to make them think you'll pass them.

"On a track like Long Beach, it's easy to defend and not always easy to pass. But the key was we made the overtakes in a positive way, and we weren't ever bottled up. The car was perfect, and I felt positive and strong, and maybe I'd had the unfair advantage.

"Niki had been off with Keke in South America. They had a great time, and Niki had done all the flying himself in his plane, whereas I'd had a week with Dungl getting prepared."


  • Comment number 1.

    im happy becuse i voted for this long beach and looking forward to indycars going round long beach on sunday. but andrew i bet you didn't need to count votes this time becasue it seem it was a landslide

  • Comment number 2.

    Freeview get 3hrs! Great must be something on 301 that can not be missed like a 1min loop of Doctor who all day maybe! BBC sort it out!

  • Comment number 3.

    3hrs will do me fine on Freeview Andrew.

    Many thanks for getting the Freeview coverage and looking forward to watching the races.


  • Comment number 4.

    went to malaysia last week to watch my little brother race in formula bmw,his a driver for motaworld racing what a buzz.not only was he racing around sepang circuit the formula 1 was there aswell,we had a pit pass and end up meeting martin brundle D.C. eddie ervine,vettel, webber,nico,alonso sorry to go on but its a hell of a buzz got some excellent photos,you have to be there to really appreciate the hard work that goes on behind the scenes and the shear heat alone its a credit to everyone involved in the sport, have you thought about a write up on formula bmw my brothers name is JAMES BIRCH JB hopefully as good as the one the racing world knows check out motaworld

  • Comment number 5.

    Andrew - I am really pleased that the classic F1 shows will getting an airing on the Freeview 301 channel. It doesn't matter when it is on, as long as we're told in advance of the scheduling.

    Looking forward to seeing "my" choice US GP '83.


  • Comment number 6.

    Great quote from Murray...

    "John Watson, The Ulsterman from er... Bognor Regis and London."

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks for this, especially the background stuff/Watson interview. I've heard of this race now we can see the glory of Watson's terrific drive. I never knew Watson was regarded as a great racer - must be one of those under-appreciated things lost in the haze of history books, commentators and most certainly interweb forums.

  • Comment number 8.

    I remember this race clearly, although I didn't stay up to watch it, I was 15 at the time with school in the morning! I was a Wattie fan and my mate was a dyed in the wool Arnoux/Ferrari fanatic. The prognosis wasn't good following Sunday practice with the McLarens so far back and a Ferrari front row. Imagine my joy and gloating rights in the morning, upon news of Wattie's charge. I shouldn't have been surprised really, as he'd done a similar thing the season before at Detroit, from 17th on the grid!

    Great choice.

  • Comment number 9.

    Great work guys for cleary the best choice.
    BBC please don't ever let ITV have the F1 coverage back. We are spoilt these days with great advert-free coverage and excellent archive footage. This alone is worth my licence fee!

  • Comment number 10.

    What an awesome start to the lap Estoril had! The turn 2 barriers were so close to the track, very fast corner in the dry that too. Shame it and Turn 1 are now Tilkesque hairpins. Buenos Aries' first half of the the lap is good too, shame about the mickey-mouse infield. Long is still on of the best street circuits in the world. Imola is also a great track, it's name unjustly tainted by the events of 1 horrific weekend. All great tracks, all produced great races, all no longer on the schedule. Perhaps F1 becoming 'boring' isn't just down to the cars then.

    Talking of great tracks, the next race after China is Spain-hoping for some old footage from Montjuich Park, far superior to Jarama and Jerez.

  • Comment number 11.

    Am loving Rosberg's comedy slide at the start, and the even more comedy spin. A mess-about stunt surely ;)

  • Comment number 12.

    Don't get me wrong I am happy that we are getting 3hrs but at I think we should be able to get longer as when you go on 301 there tends to be nothing worth watching on, or it is something that is on continous loop for hours.

    I agree the BBC must not let ITV have the F1 coverage back as the BBC are doing a great job. I am just being picky about the 301 I suppose.

  • Comment number 13.

    Good blog Andrew, a really fascinating insight from Watson about the build up of the Long Beach race. I wasn't even alive when this race took place so that will give a clue how young I am, but I've heard a lot about F1 at Long Beach, but I'd only ever seen brief clips on YouTube. And well done for getting it on Freeview, it is always appreciated as I understand there's many other areas of the Beeb competing for space.

  • Comment number 14.

    Superb. Well done everyone on voting for this classic piece of action, it's much appreciated by this Wattie fan.

  • Comment number 15.

    What a race!! Good to see old f1 on a classic circuit like this.

  • Comment number 16.

    Haha I should've voted China 09, just occurred to me it's the only race I missed last year (was unable to find the race anywhere on vacation in the US) :( oh well :p

  • Comment number 17.

    Buenos Aires '80 was crazy! Maybe we should get the full highlights of that sometime in the future!

    lol @ the two girls fighting in the '83 opening credits for the BBC's Grand Prix programme.

  • Comment number 18.

    Thanks Andrew for showing footage of 1985 Portuguese grand prix. A great drive by Ayrton senna in awful conditions. It was great to see the joy he showed at the end of race. It brought back great memories.

  • Comment number 19.

    When will the classic races be shown on 301???
    I still cannot see anything listed on the EPG.

  • Comment number 20.

    Please, can we have rain for the Chinese GP, please please??

  • Comment number 21.

    @#19 - it says above when it's on. Just set the timer!

  • Comment number 22.

    nice suprise to see classic f1 on freeview tonight. Thank you.

    @19 its listed on the freeview epg as F1 preview, between 7.15 and 9.45pm tomorrow.

  • Comment number 23.

    Thanks in advance for this on Freeview, the EPG also says says something about Murray previewing the Chinese GP as well! If anyone has a PS2 or a Dreamcast look out for Ferrari F355 by Sega Featuring Long Beach (as well as Monza an Suzuka). Interesting reading the background to the USW GP, also get BBC News to bring back Wattie or yourself to Inside F1 as it could do with a decent studio guest. Also I agree with a previous posting on getting rid of the rule dropping an original BBC-era race from future selections if it's been shown as a short highlights package, I for one would love to see something like Estoril '85 given another chance, I'd imagine you wouldn't be able to show the short highlights again, though. Finally, what are your thoughts on a BBC Senna tribute this year considering he would have been 50 - even a repeat of the one from '94 would do on 301/Red Button. Again, many thanks :-)

  • Comment number 24.

    How come Senna (Suzuka 1998) and Mansell (Hungary 1989) didn't make the list (I know Senna recovered from a stall rather than a bad qualifying peformance, but to take the entire field, with no refuelling involved, is still pretty amazing).

  • Comment number 25.

    Simple #24. They can only choose 5 races to show us.

  • Comment number 26.

    It's a shame that you already used the 2000 German Grand Prix highlights last year...I had the pleasure of witnessing that one in person - seeing Rubens win from 18th place on the grid (and not forgetting the crazed & very disgruntled Mercedes employee) was awesome!! :-)

  • Comment number 27.

    Japan 88 and Hungary 89 were chosen for the extended highlights for those respective races last year so to have them again would be a waste! :)

    Absolutely loved Long Beach 83. Also it was the first time a race from 1983 was featured as extended highlights, it seems a fantastic year as a whole!

  • Comment number 28.

    "You can make a strong case for any of our choices - Alan Jones's fightback to victory in Argentina in 1980, Ayrton Senna's stunning maiden victory in a torrential downpour in Portugal in 1985, Fernando Alonso's brilliant defence of the lead from Michael Schumacher at Imola in 2005 and Sebastian Vettel's domination in China last year."

    If you're going to mention Vettel you may as well mention Hamilton's brilliant British GP in the wet. More impressive for me.

  • Comment number 29.

    Interesting on the John Watson race about the importance of physical preparation. I guess driving these cars was a lot more demanding and with the concrete walls and bumpy surface of long beach allied to a weaker car than the modern cars, it was a riskier challenge. It reminds me that passing was easier at least in that race, so it wasn't a figment of my fading memory!

  • Comment number 30.

    Thank you for getting these on Freeview, I'm watching Long Beach right now. Thursday evening is a great time to show it, it extends the grand prix weekend coverage by an extra day - let's hope China delivers something as exciting as these races! I agree with several of the previous posts, the BBC has taken coverage a big step forward since it won the rights back from ITV. I remember finding the Classic Australian GPs by accident last year and assumed it was a one-off for the first BBC race, I'm very glad you've kept the feature going.

  • Comment number 31.

    As for Spain, Andrew might find some Montjuich race highlights in archival Wheelbase programmes from BBC. I think Wheelbase covered most of race from 64-75 era.

  • Comment number 32.

    Just watching the wonderful Long Beach highlights. There were some very good-looking F1 cars in 1983, weren't there!

  • Comment number 33.

    Juts watched these on Freeview

    Great Track, and also great to see the cars sliding around and becoming unstable over the bumps.

    One thing that stands out is just how big the braking distances are for the cars, a bit like Moto GP nowadays, which allows the cars a better opportunity to outbreak each other, as opposed to nowadays where the braking distances and almost immediate drop in speed makes it so much more difficult to outbreak another Driver

  • Comment number 34.

    Hi all,

    Thanks for your responses.

    I thought I would come on here and answer some of the questions that have arisen about why we selected these five particular races this time.

    We are not pretending these are the five greatest races of all time. This blog is part of a series that started at the start of the 2009 season, when F1 returned to the BBC.

    The idea is to whet your appetites for the race weekend ahead by highlighting previous grands prix at that venue. Where that approach falls down is at some of the newer venues - such as China - where either we used all the previous races in 2009, or there are simply not enough previous races.

    In those cases, we are selecting great grands prix from the past to highlight how entertaining F1 can be. We are trying to make them relevant editorially to the current race if we can. So for Bahrain this season we chose classic season openers, and in this case the races all fell early in the relevant season, just as China does in 2010.

    So, yes United Dreamer, Hamilton's drive a Silverstone in 2008 was better than Vettel's in China last year - it was one of the greatest wet-weather drives of all time. But a) it wasn't in China; and b) we made that one of our selections for Silverstone last year:

    And rf63ogl, as James Chapman points out, the races you mention were also part of last year's selections.

    Thanks again, and I'm glad you're all enjoying the series.

  • Comment number 35.

    Oh dear, Andrew has to point out the blindingly obvious to a select few again.

  • Comment number 36.

    China 09: I remember this one more for Webber's performanve that Vettel's. Great duel with Jenson that really put him on the map.

  • Comment number 37.

    US West 83: Great work from Watson and it makes me wonder why McLaren ditched him for '84. With all due respect to Lauda, it was clear from this showing that Watson was capable of beating him at this point in time.

  • Comment number 38.

    Having now seen all the classic coverage, I have concluded that...

    1980 Argentine- A fantastic race, also arguably worthy of full race highlights. To see these old races is a treat, especially when there are greats like Villeneuve, Jones, the overwhelmingly arrogant Piquet and Laffite fighting for the lead.

    1983 US West- Two great performances from the McLaren drivers from the back of the grid, highlighting once again the harshness of John Watson's replacement for 1984. I agree with James Hunt- Keke Rosberg seemed to drive completely differently to how he did at any other point in his career.

    1985 Portuguese- Senna confirmed his greatness in this race. Senna used his wet weather skills to lap everyone apart from Michele Alboreto, who himself was over 1 minute behind. That race would never have been allowed to have continued under green flag conditions now.

    2005 San Marino- Alonso's arrival as a major contender in F1 was a breath of fresh air compared with the bludgeonings that Schumacher had handed out 3 out of the past 4 years. Also, the race reminded me of the ridiculous tyre situation then- can't imagine some drivers of 2010 managing those tyres.

    2009 Chinese- Vettel putting in a great performance and a surprisingly entertaining race that I'd forgot (My only memory of the race is Sutil smashing into the barriers). Perhaps will quieten the slightly annoying Jenson support (Why can't people back both of Britain's drivers?)


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