Belfast Telegraph

Formula 1 legend John Watson's collection of memorabilia from glittering career going up for auction

By Victoria Leonard

Northern Ireland Formula 1 icon John Watson is to set fans' pulses racing with the first ever auction of memorabilia from his glittering career.

The Belfast man (72), a five-time Grand Prix winner, will part with a range of signed items from the 1970s and '80s during the sale next Friday, August 10.

They will be among 600 lots coming onto the market as part of the auction of the contents of John's family home.

The ex-race ace, whose team-mates included Niki Lauda and Alain Prost, said he hopes to "inspire" younger generations by making part of his collection available to purchase for the first time.

"My professional career began in 1973 and lasted until '83," said John, who admits he is a "hoarder".

"It was the fulfilment of a dream - if I was that age again, I would be doing everything I could to get into a Formula 1 car and be a driver.

"It is the pinnacle of motorsport, and if you have dreams and aspirations, that's where you want to go - it is a phenomenal opportunity."

John has many great memories from his years on the F1 circuit.

"I was the first person from Northern Ireland or Ireland to win a World Championship Grand Prix," he added.

"In 1973 I was under contract to Bernie Ecclestone, then I drove for Hexagon of Highgate in '74, and in '75 I drove for John Surtees.

"From '75 to '76 I drove for Penske, then in '77 and '78 I was back to Bernie Ecclestone and Brabham.

"From 1979 to '83 I raced for McLaren and, at different points, Niki Lauda and Alain Prost were my team-mates.

"I think that even though people haven't had the opportunity to do what I did, by auctioning a collection of memorabilia it gives them a link to me."

John says that the items to be auctioned are all in "immaculate condition", and accumulated in his family's south Belfast home over 40 years.

"There are a number of calendars and British Grand Prix official programmes from the '70s and early '80s, posters, team stickers, and stitched-on badges from Penske, with whom I won my first Grand Prix in 1976," he continued.

"There's a caricature of racing drivers from that period, signed diaries, clothing related to Formula 1 like caps.

"I hope it gets interest from around the world - I have never offered anything associated with me for an auction before.

"I am letting them go for fans of Formula 1 from my generation or the younger generation to look back to the '70s and '80s and enjoy it.

"I hope they go to good homes and the purchasers enjoy them."

John admits that some of the items hold particular poignancy, due to their links with now-deceased team-mates.

"The thing that is really sad is there are so many of my contemporaries who are no longer around," he explained.

"You go through the calendars and you think, 'He was killed,' or 'He died there'.

"In the period I was active, from '73-'83, there was a considerable amount of danger, and many friends lost their lives.

"That's what Formula 1 was like before the technology and safety we now enjoy.

"In a way I'm very fortunate - I found my way through 152 Grand Prix, and there aren't a lot of us around.

"Only today I heard that Niki Lauda has been hospitalised in Vienna with the flu."

John says he "never formally retired" from racing, but "tapered down", going from Formula 1 to racing Group C sports cars before becoming a commentator for organisations such as the BBC and Eurosport.

He describes his experience of Formula 1 in the 1970s and '80s as more "wholesome" than the competition today.

"I think with Formula 1 in the '70s and early '80s there was a bigger sense of camaraderie and family - even though we were competitors, we still had friendship and interacted," he added.

"Formula 1 today has become so embroiled in the corporate side and the drivers are all briefed - if you ask them a direct question it's unusual to get an answer.

"In the '70s the drivers were bigger personalities, characters."

In addition to the auction, John intends to donate some of his awards from his time racing in Ireland to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, along with racing trophies belonging to his late father Marshall.

He hopes that some day they can be displayed together in an exhibition.

Richard Bell of Corporate Auction Solutions, who are selling the memorabilia and other house contents at Belfast Harlequins Rugby Club next week, said he anticipated "a good bit of interest" in the auction.

Belfast Telegraph

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