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Watch brands and Formula 1

Watch brands and Formula 1

Friday, 03 May 2019
By Shining Zhu
Shining Zhu

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5 min read

Innovation, performance and precision: Formula 1 racing and watches have a lot in common.

On April 14th, FIA Formula One (F1) celebrated its 1,000th race at the 2019 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. This was a huge milestone for the world’s foremost single-seat racing series, which attracts the largest television audiences globally after the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. When the first FIA world drivers championship took place in 1950, Heuer was trackside with its manually-wound mechanical chronographs. However, it was Longines that became the first official timekeeper of F1 in 1982 and remained so for the next ten years until TAG Heuer claimed the title. Next up, in 2010, was Hublot, handing over to Rolex in 2013. Since then, the Rolex logo has featured on and around the circuit at every F1 race.

Rolex as Formula 1 Official Timekeeper

While it’s common practice now for a luxury watch brand to have an F1 sponsorship deal, Heuer was first to strike a long-term partnership with a Formula 1 team, starting with Scuderia Ferrari between 1972 and 1979, BRM in the 1970s, then McLaren-Texaco from 1985. In addition to F1 teams, Heuer was also first to sponsor F1 drivers, such as Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni in the 1970s, or Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the 1980s. Unsurprisingly, given its longstanding connection with the sport, TAG Heuer has the most F1-related watches. As well as the well-known Monaco, Monza and Silverstone, named after famous F1 circuits, there is an entire Formula 1 collection. The relationship was cemented in 2016 when the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team’s car was named the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing – TAG Heuer RB12: the first time a watchmaker had been named in the official title of an F1 team.

Red Bull Racing F1 team © Aston Martin
Red Bull Racing F1 team © Aston Martin

To mark the event, that same year TAG Heuer released two special-edition TAG Heuer Formula 1 Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Team watches. The steel chronograph bears the team’s colors of midnight blue and red, and features a tachymeter scale on the matte blue aluminum bezel. The caseback is engraved with a black and white checkered flag together with the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Team logo. Timing, courtesy of a quartz chronograph movement, is accurate to one-tenth of a second.

Lewis Hamilton is the most successful F1 driver still racing.

Without doubt, the most famous F1 team is Scuderia Ferrari. It is the only team still racing that has competed in every single world championship since the 1950 season. As Ferrari’s official partner since 2012, Hublot became the official sponsor of the team in 2013. This year, to celebrate 90 years since the foundation of Scuderia Ferrari in 1929, Hublot has released a Big Bang Scuderia Ferrari 90th Anniversary. Each of the three versions is produced as a limited edition of 90, in addition to ten “collector’s sets” with all three watches.

Ferrari and Richardo Guadelupe, CEO of Hublot
Ferrari and Richardo Guadelupe, CEO of Hublot

So what about the drivers? The most successful driver still racing is five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton, who also won the 1,000th race in Shanghai. To accompany its brand ambassador in his journey towards what will likely be his sixth drivers championship title, IWC – official partner of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team since 2013 – presented Hamilton with a bespoke Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar sporting a 48mm black ceramic case and an 18k red gold crown.

Richard Mille, Bell & Ross, Roger Dubuis

Other brands on the starting grid are Richard Mille, Bell & Ross and Roger Dubuis. True to form, the first of the three does things its own way by maintaining a partnership with not one but two F1 teams: McLaren and Haas. The RM50-03 McLaren F1, released in 2017, is the world’s lightest tourbillon split-seconds chronograph. Made from Graph TPT™, a revolutionary nanomaterial that is six times lighter but 200 times stronger than steel, it weighs a mere 38 grams including the strap; a world record reserved for the 75 lucky owners of this limited edition.

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Now into its fourth year of racing with the Renault F1 team, Bell & Ross adds new watches to its R.S.19 collection on an annual basis. Designed as a high-octane race car for the wrist, the BR-X1 R.S.19 is built for behind the wheel. The ergonomic “rocker” pushers are easily operated with gloves on, the color accents on the highly legible dial are taken from cockpit buttons, while the combination of grade 5 titanium, ceramic and rubber ensures it wears light on the wrist. A limited edition of 250 pieces, new this year is the addition of a “time marker” on the rotating bezel for comparing lap times.

While most watch brands want to become part of F1, some are leaving.

Pirelli has been the exclusive tire supplier in Formula 1 since 2011. In 2017, Roger Dubuis struck a deal with the Italian firm, following up the announcement with the Excalibur Spider Pirelli collection. The outer surface of all the straps in the collection is made from actual Pirelli tire rubber taken from F1 race-winning cars; the inside uses a softer rubber, enhanced with a Pirelli tire tread pattern. As a bonus, the buyers of these limited-edition models are invited to a two-day VIP motorsports event as guests of Pirelli.

Excalibur Spider Pirelli Double Flying Tourbillon © Roger Dubuis
Excalibur Spider Pirelli Double Flying Tourbillon © Roger Dubuis

While most watch brands want to become part of F1, there are some who decide to quit. Oris is one. Following its decision to no longer sponsor energy-hungry events, focusing instead on environmental protection, the brand ended its sixteen-year collaboration with the Williams F1 team. Maybe it should consider Formula E (FE), a class of motorsport that uses only electric-powered cars and which already has… TAG Heuer as a partner!

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