Thanks to the record-breaking exploits of John Watson, F1’s last race at Long Beach 30 years ago today was a humdinger.
Watson scorched his way through the field to win from 22nd on the grid – the lowest starting position any has ever won an F1 race from.
Then as now, it was tires that shaped the race and its extraordinary outcome. McLaren could not master their Michelins in qualifying and their drivers lined up 22nd and 23rd on the 26-car grid.
But when the race began the pair of MP4-1Cs swiftly made their way to the front. What their tires lacked in one-lap performance they more than made up for in durability across a race stint.
All the action at the front of the field centered on reigning world champion Keke Rosberg. From third on the grid he clouted Rene Arnoux’s Ferrari then performed a 360-degree spin in front of the field while only losing one place.
Later on he turfed Patrick Tambay out of the lead with an ill-judged move at that perennial Long Beach trouble spot, the hairpin leading onto Shoreline Drive.
Meanwhile the McLarens had patiently made their way through the field, Watson passing team mate Niki Lauda who’d opted for the softer Michelins.
When Watson passed Rosberg’s team mate Jacques Laffite he didn’t realise he’d just taken the lead as he hadn’t noticed Brabham’s Riccardo Patrese heading down an escape road earlier.
Watson’s feat has never been equaled and with just 22 cars in the field this year it won’t be beaten any time soon. Sebastian Vettel came close last year, climbing to third in Abu Dhabi having lined up in the pit lane with 23 cars on the grid.
Since F1 left Long Beach IndyCar has been a fixture at the track. You can watch this year’s Long Beach Grand Prix on April 21st live on NBC Sports Network.