Pierre Gasly’s incredible Monza triumph over the weekend has helped breathe a wave of fresh air into the sport of Formula 1. But, few will have necessarily acknowledged the win’s Kiwi connection.
Gasly’s Scuderia AlphaTauri team manager, Graham Watson, was also invited onto the Italian Grand Prix podium to represent his against-the-odds race-winning team.
Pukekohe born and raised, Watson competed in various New Zealand rallying events in his early years, both as a driver and as a co-driver. This helped him make connections in the World Rally Championship, and in 1989 he joined the Ford World Rally Team as a prototype mechanic.
Watson eventually became the marque’s lead mechanic for its British campaign and certain WRC events. By the mid-’90s his transition to the world of open-wheel circuit racers was in full swing, and this led to his first Formula 1 gig.
In 1996, he joined Benetton F1 as its test team mechanic. And by 1998, he was the team’s number one mechanic for the team’s drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz.
An extended stint with Honda F1 as a race team and chief mechanic followed, through the Japanese brand’s various iterations — first as British American Racing and then as a solely Honda assault. It was a relatively fruitless period, save for a handful of moments including Jenson Button’s memorable first win at the Hungaroring in 2006.
Then the tides turned for the 2009 season, Graham now the Engineering Liason for the re-branded Brawn F1 — a team that would romp to title glory at the end of the year with Button leading the way.
After a four-year stint with Lotus, Graham joined Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2014 as Team Manager, a role he has held for six years following the team’s recent AlphaTauri re-brand.
“To be the son of a farmer living in the middle of nowhere on the back roads of New Zealand, to being a team manager in Formula 1 — that’s what it means for me. It means everything, because I’ve put everything on the line to achieve it,” Graham recently said in an interview with Autosport.
“I think I proved to everybody that it doesn’t matter what education you have or where you come from or what your nationality is. If you work hard and you stick with your guns and push hard, you can achieve everything. And that’s what F1 means to me.”