A Comprehensive Round-Up Of The Watch Brands On The 2021 Formula One Grid
In anticipation of Formula 1's forthcoming 2021 season, we take a look at the current state of the most notable racing/watchmaker partnerships.
Use of the adjective “unprecedented” is almost always hyperbolic. Timepiece enthusiasts, however, must consider this: In the span of a fortnight, TAG Heuer announced a partnership with Porsche; Richard Mille declared an alliance with Scuderia Ferrari; and, finally, Girard-Perregaux became the official watch partner of Aston Martin. That is unprecedented.
A timeworn axiom might help clarify this exceptional cluster of news: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” (A saying that seemingly applies – at least in theory – to both auto and watch showrooms equally.) Certainly, this, in part, explains the race to horological glory in which three watch-industry titans all announced new partnerships with the biggest names in autos and auto racing. Whenever a racing/timing partnership is vacant, a vacuum is created – and ultimately, something will fill it in the interest of increased sales and brand visibility.
It’s all a bit like a gearhead game of duck-duck-goose. There are only so many truly distinguished carmakers and racing teams, and there are only so many luxury watchmakers – so the contest becomes an interconnected, codependent endurance race. Hublot is out, Richard Mille is in; TAG Heuer is out, Girard-Perregaux is in; Chopard is out, TAG Heuer is back in.
These marriages aren’t just about money, either. As Henry Ford once put it, “Auto racing began five minutes after the second car was built.” Something had to time all those races, then given as prizes to the winners. Rolex started at Daytona in the early 1960s and Heuer with Formula 1 just a few years later, and then things really accelerated.
Lest we forget, there’s a deeply rooted historic and symbiotic mechanical element that unites carmakers and watchmakers, too – one that helps perpetuate this enduring (and endearing) timepiece category. It is the critical clutch, an engineering element that cars borrowed from watches.
The bottom line? It’s been a long-haul two-lane track, with no finish line in sight…ever. So, what’s the current state of the most notable carmaker/watchmaker partnerships? Here’s a look under the hood.
FIRST PLACE: TAG Heuer x Porsche
Last month, via a web press conference-cum-virtual consumer event, TAG Heuer and Porsche announced a mostly undefined “long-term strategic alliance.” There were few details but considerable enthusiasm. And the basis of the partnership is an almost 60-year kindred heritage and, most importantly, shared intellectual property: Carrera.
The initial partnership timepiece is a 44mm steel and black ceramic bezel TAG Heuer Carrera Porsche Chronograph Special Edition, powered by the in-house Calibre Heuer 02 manufacture movement, which debuted during the same event online. The watch offers an integrated design, conspicuously showcasing blended TAG Heuer and Porsche motifs and iconography – and, of course, the Carrera name.
The present alliance between the two companies can ostensibly be traced to the 2019 formation of the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team. The flirtation, however, has been going on since the 1960s in the form of coincidentally named car and watch models. Official cooperation between the brands dates to the ’80s, with the development and production of the Porsche-TAG TTE P01 Formula 1 power unit, a joint-venture (TAG-bankrolled and -developed, and Porsche-built) twin-turbocharged V6 engine that enabled the McLaren team to win three consecutive F1 world titles. A championship combination.
SECOND PLACE: Richard Mille x Scuderia Ferrari
Here is another partnership with few publicly known details – very few – and ample enthusiasm. Richard Mille’s pairing with Scuderia Ferrari was perhaps the worst-kept sponsorship secret in the watch world. RM seemed to jump the starting light all the same, in part because of the far more fully formed Porsche/TAG Heuer and Aston Martin/Girard-Perregaux launches. But for Ferrari, it’s all old hat. There have been “Ferrari watches” since the 1950s and more formal watch world partnerships since the ’70s.
Indeed, Ferrari and Scuderia Ferrari’s track record with watch partnerships is impressive, starting in 1971 when Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 first paired with Heuer. That was followed in chronological order by Longines, “Formula Ferrari” by Cartier, “Pour Ferrari” by Girard-Perregaux, “Ferrari Engineered by Officine Panerai,” Cabestan, Hublot, and now Richard Mille.
ROUNDING OUT THE PODIUM: Girard-Perregaux x Aston Martin/AM Cognizant Formula 1
As is the case with Ferrari (Maranello and Scuderia), Aston Martin has enjoyed more than its share of Swiss-watch collaborations: Jaeger-LeCoultre (2004-2014), Richard Mille (2016, an abortive partnership that bore exactly zero timepieces), and TAG Heuer (2018-2020).
Now it’s Girard-Perregaux’s turn in the driver’s seat for its first such large-scale partnership since it parted ways with Ferrari in 2004. G-P’s initial AM offering will be a haute horlogerie timepiece scheduled for release in May. That will be followed by a more approachable standard-production limited-edition watch slated for release later in the year.
ALSO ON THE GRID
FORMULA 1 x ROLEX
Rolex is a global partner and the official timepiece of all Formula 1 (a prize that comes with an estimated $50 million price tag). It’s also the title sponsor of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the key sponsor and official watch of Le Grand Prix de Monaco, the FIA World Endurance Championship, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
On the vintage-auto side, it’s a sponsor and the official timepiece of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytonas abound, at least on the track.
MERCEDES-AMG PETRONAS F1 TEAM x IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN
IWC has been the “Official Engineering Partner” of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team since 2013. A significant spin-off from this partnership was the 100-piece limited Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “Lewis Hamilton”; the eponymous seven-time world champion driver re-upped with Mercedes-AMG Petronas for the 2021 F1 season – rumored to be his last.
IWC also made Sir Lewis an all-black (save for white hands and gray/white calendar sub-dial) Big Pilot “blackout” Perpetual Calendar as a #BlackLivesMatter statement piece. He wore it prominently throughout the 2020 season, featuring it on social media.
MCLAREN x RICHARD MILLE
It’s remarkable, given its new partnership with Scuderia Ferrari, but Richard Mille steadfastly remains the official timepiece of McLaren, as it has been since 2016 when McLaren announced a long-term partnership with the luxury watchmaker.
The brands share a passion for modern technology, cutting-edge design, and precision engineering, though the same can be said of RM and Ferrari. The RM-McLaren relationship has yielded four striking timepieces, including the $1 million RM 50-03 Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph Ultralight McLaren F1.
We’d be remiss to not mention two other brands on the 2021 F1 grid. Each brand has an albeit smaller marketing budget than the aforementioned giants, but still worthy of their place in the 2021 championship.
First up, we have Casio’s Japanese market only brand, Edifice, which returns to Red Bull Racing’s sister team Alpha Tauri. Over the past few years, Edifice and Alpha Tauri (formerly Scuderia Toro Rosso) have collaborated on a variety of cleverly designed timepieces all at accessible price points.
Finally, we have the newly renamed Alpine F1 team (formerly Renault) which will have Bell & Ross back for the 2021 season. This will be an interesting partnership to watch as returning two-time champion Fernando Alonso is famously a Richard Mille ambassador, and if his team photos are any indication, he’s not planning to strap on a Bell & Ross anytime soon.
(Photography by Watchonista)