by Russell Atkins


Former grand prix winner John Watson enjoyed his return to the cockpit at last weekend's inaugural GPlive event at Donington Park, wowing the crowds with a series of demonstration runs in a modern-day A1GP machine.

The three-day celebration of motor racing nostalgia reunited a number of old cars with their former drivers, but erstwhile Brabham and McLaren ace 'Wattie' seemed to have more fun behind the wheel of the current, 550-bhp single-seater.

"I think it went very well," the Ulsterman told "There was a lot of racing going on, and it was exciting being able to watch it all on the big giant screens around the circuit. I went out for a run in the A1GP car, which was interesting. I think that was the first time an A1GP car has run at Donington, and the first time that car had run in anger for a while. It was painted in Team Ireland's colours too so it looked absolutely fantastic.

"I already knew the car; I had driven one at every round of A1GP this year outside of Beijing so I was familiar with it, but of course no two cars are the same. Every one of them is individual, and we had a software problem on the Saturday morning that prevented us from being able to run then."

Nevertheless, the 60-year-old - who competed in a total of 152 grands prix from 1973 to 1985 and five times tasted victory champagne in the top flight - was quickly back in the groove, and perhaps surprisingly stated there wasn't a massive difference between the 2007 A1GP car and the turbocharged Formula 1 machines he raced more than 20 years ago.

"The biggest, most obvious difference is the paddle-shift which means you can do more things in corners," Watson explained. "For example coming out of Coppice in the A1GP machine, if you want to short-shift from third gear to fourth you don't have to take your hand off the steering wheel. That's a big advantage in a corner like that, and the same thing applies going down through the Craner Curves.

"I suspect the current cars are more rigid and the development of carbon fibre has moved forward considerably, but in out-and-out performance and grip levels there's probably not a million miles' difference between the two cars."




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