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Cars & motorsport

The Watch Brands Spending Millions In Formula 1

In honor of F1's summer break, here's a detailed look at the brands putting up big money in the world's most significant stage for racing.

By Josh Shanks

Ever since man invented the wheel, people have been finding new and inventive ways to test their wits in a car against their fellow man. Of course, timekeeping and racing have been intrinsically linked from the beginning. Whether it was the first recorded auto race in France in 1887 or the modern age when drivers now look to shave precious milliseconds off their lap times. It's safe to say, watchmaking and racing go hand in hand.

Any driver will tell you, as you move up to the upper echelons of racing, you'll do anything in your power to find speed and save time. While a watch certainly can't make you go faster, it can inspire a driver to put that extra bit of pressure on the gas and go after those illusive milliseconds during qualifying.

Today we're taking a look at the watches of Formula 1. Without a doubt, THE top-tier series of motorsports. Ever since the F1's inaugural season in 1950, watch brands have been clamoring to put their names on cars, drivers, scoreboards, and even the series itself. 

How we got to today

On any given Sunday (and sometimes Saturdays), you can tune to F1 races broadcast from far-flung places such as Abu Dhabi, China, Sao Paulo, and even Austin, Texas. Behind the speed and agility of the cars and drivers, as you look deeper, you'll begin to see what makes F1 "tick." It's of course –money – and lots of it. To run even a middle of the pack F1 team, you're looking at a minimum investment of 100 million dollars. The top tier teams? Ferrari and Mercedes are said to spend upwards of $300 million on a single season. A lot of dough indeed.

Without delving into the complicated revenue sharing and television royalties that keep team's coffers full, let's break down how watchmakers help the sport. First, there's the "Official Timekeeper" role which Rolex has proudly claimed since 2013. Rolex's partnership goes way beyond timing, and in fact, The Crown is a global partner AND the Official Timepiece of F1. Rolex is also the official sponsor of the Australian and British Grand Prix's.

Prior to Rolex, TAG Heuer and Longines played a massive role in the sponsoring of F1. Nowadays, Longines has shifted their efforts to equestrian sponsorships, and TAG Heuer focuses on individual teams and IndyCar. More on that below.

A team by team look at the watches of Formula 1

In 2018, ten teams competed in the Formula 1 World Championship. The current regulation requires each team to run two cars and employ two primary drivers along with a reserve driver. While Rolex is the primary sponsor of F1, they don't actually sponsor a race team or current driver. It's worth noting however that Rolex counts on two former F1 world champions as brand ambassadors, Jackie Stewart and Nico Rosberg. While Stewart has always been a Rolex guy, Rosberg only recently signed with Rolex, having recently ended his partnership with IWC after his retirement in 2016.

Today, all ten teams can sign a watch brand to a sponsorship/partnership. And sign they have! Nearly every team has a significant brand as a sponsor.

During my research, I found these brand partnerships to be quite diverse, ranging from haute horology to consumer quartz pieces.

Here's a team-by-team breakdown of all the major horological players in F1. To make a list more interesting, I've organized its based on team standings before F1's summer break.

Mercedes – IWC Schaffhausen

The Mercedes team (aka the Silver Arrows) is one of the sport's most dominant teams. It's six world championships in the modern era make Mercedes a force to be reckoned with. The team currently employs Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas as their number one and two drivers.

IWC has acted as the official partner of Mercedes since 2013. On any given weekend, you can spot an IWC Ingenieur or Pilot printed on the wrist of each driver's suit. A quite clever way of putting your watch on a driver, but not impeding his wrist during a race. In 2018,  Lewis Hamilton is fighting to win the world championship. Every weekend, the British driver dutifully fulfills his role as IWC ambassador by dazzling fans on and off the track. It's usually a safe bet that at least one (often both) of the Mercedes drivers find themselves on the podium spraying celebratory champagne.

It's safe to say, while Mercedes is at the top of the constructor's championships, they may very well have the best visibility for a watch brand in F1.

Scuderia Ferrari – Hublot

Founded by Enzo Ferrari and participant in F1 since 1950, the Scuderia Ferrari team is hands downs the most famous team in all of motorsport. Year after year, this strong Italian team brings their ever-powerful prancing horses to circuits around the globe. The team currently employs Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen as drivers. Impressively, Ferrari has won 16 constructors' championships and 15 drivers' championships.

Since 2011, Hublot and Ferrari have been "watch and timekeeping" partners. Before Hublot, Panerai and Girard Perregaux adorned the wrists and cars of Ferrari. Similar IWC's partnership with Mercedes, the Hublot/Ferrari partnership is quite ambitious. 

What I found particularly special about this partnership is the research and development that goes into the production of timepieces. Ferrari and Hublot engineers work hand-in-hand to develop new materials and concepts which go into every piece. While this partnership has resulted in a bevy of Ferrari branded Hublot timepieces, my favorite may be the Hublot MP-05 "La Ferrari" edition, an incredibly intricate piece made up of 637 individual parts laid out around a central cylinder which looks remarkably like a mid-engine Ferrari. Knowing each of these brand's propensity for the extreme, we can be sure that this partnership will yield results on and off the track.

Red Bull Racing – TAG Heuer

Just a few years ago, many in the F1 world thought a race team owned by an energy drink company would fade away before it began. However, Founder Dietrich Mateschitz had bigger ambitions. Fielding an impressive pair of cars with state-of-the-art aerodynamic kits which made Red Bull Racing a super competitive team. The results speak for themselves, in just a little over a decade in F1, Red Bull has amassed four drivers' and constructors' championships. An impressive feat for the Austrian makers of $2 cans of fizzy lifting drinks.

TAG Heuer's connection to F1 runs remarkably deep. Back in the Eighties, the brand was technically the engine manufacturer for McLaren. The Porsche built ‘TAG Turbo' engines powered cars for the likes of Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. While some may find it strange to see a watchmaker take part in the manufacture of racing engines, it just goes to show the commitment that TAG Heuer has to motorsport.

Which brings us to today, Red Bull Racing currently counts on TAG Heuer as Official Timekeeper, Official Watch, and Team Performance Partner. As for performance partner, TAG Heuer is also back on board as an engine supplier. On top of these partnerships, each Red Bull Racing driver (currently Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen) while not officially TAG Heuer ambassadors, have relationships with the brand. Notably, Ricciardo has just announced that he'll be leaving the Red Bull team at the end of 2018 for a ride at Renault. It will be interesting to see how this development unfolds for the brand.

Beyond the advertising on Red Bull's cars, helmets, racing suits, gas cans, and anything else you can think of, TAG Heuer makes an impressive array of racing-inspired pieces. The Formula 1 may be most fitting for this article. This accessibly priced (mostly quartz) chronograph has been made in more iterations than you can count.

Renault – Bell & Ross

The leader of F1's so-called "midfield" Renault has endured many ups and downs during its four-decade run in F1. Renault holds the distinction of being the first turbocharged car to win a Grand Prix. While the team is undergoing a bit of a rebuilding year in 2018, it's still enjoyed many top 10 finishes this year. Bell & Ross are the official timing partners of the Renault Team.

The current driver stable is comprised of Nicolas Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. both young and talented drivers with bright futures ahead of them. From the partnership standpoint, Bell & Ross has been manufacturing mostly chronographs in their BR-X lineup. Materials such as carbon fiber and titanium are commonplace. Keep an eye on the Renault team in 2019 as the team will be receiving upgraded engines and driver Daniel Ricciardo.

Haas – Richard Mille

Haas racing has the notable distinction of being the only American constructor in the F1 World Championship hunt. Based out of North Carolina, this relatively young team employs Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen as their primary drivers. For those unfamiliar, Haas Racing is backed by Gene Haas and his behemoth CNC machine building empire. Haas also runs cars in NASCAR's Monster Energy Cup Series.

2018 has been a banner year for the team, in just their third year of competition the team has managed to score multiple top-five finishes and challenge Mercedes and Ferrari on occasion.

From a sponsorship standpoint, Haas has a relationship with Richard Mille, the only watch brand with multiple team sponsorships in F1. The alliance currently seems to be one of mutual respect as there are no official Haas Richard Mille models. However, the brand's logo is emblazoned on the cars and driving suits.

Force India

The struggling Force India team has just exited administration. Which is a nice way of saying the team was nearly bankrupt. That being said, I couldn't find any solid watch partnership in place. I did see a few references to TW Steel, and Felio Siby watches. But it's unclear if the team officially endorses these pieces.

McLaren – Richard Mille

Ah, McLaren…. So much can be said about this iconic team. Winner of 12 driver's championships and playing host to some of the biggest names in the sport. Ayrton Senna, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Mike Häkkinen, and Fernando Alonso to name a few. Behind Ferrari, the second oldest continually operated F1 team. While the team hasn't won a race since 2012, they still hold an impressive 21.7% winning percentage of all races entered.

The McLaren of today looks very different from the glory days of the seventies and eighties. The team has struggled mightily and as a result has turned over staff and engine manufactures faster than you can say "start your engines."

While the team is struggling to stay in the Top 10 every weekend and with the recent announcement of Fernando Alonso's departure from F1, the team still has an impressive partnership with Richard Mille. The crowning achievement of this partnership being the RM 11-03, which our Simon De Burton covered HERE.

Without a primary sponsor in 2018, McLaren has given Richard Mille prime visibility on their cars and related paraphernalia. With drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne sporting RM's at all times. A true partnership that will further evolve and elevate so long as McLaren can get back to their winning ways.

Toro Rosso – EDIFICE / Casio

Want to know how big Red Bull Racing is? Look no further than Toro Rosso, as the junior team of Red Bull, Toro Rosso acts as a development team for junior drivers and unproven technology. The driver lineup is currently comprised of drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley.

For their watch partnership, Toro Rosso has opted to partner with Japanese brand EDIFICE, a sister company of Casio. For young collectors looking for an entry point into F1 branded watches, the $150 quartz chronographs on offer from EDIFICE may fit the bill.

Sauber – Edox / Richard Mille

The only Swiss team in the F1 World Championship, Sauber has only won one race in its nearly three decades of existence. Today, the team mostly acts as a de facto junior team to Ferrari with talented young driver Charles Leclerc waiting for his call-up to the Italian mothership.

For watch partnerships, Sauber has two. The primary (on the car) sponsor is Richard Mille a fitting pairing for a Swiss team. However, when Googling Sauber, things take a strange turn. It appears the team has also licensed their name to Swiss brand Edox. Which manufactures a limited edition Chronorally Sauber Chronograph. I'm not sure of the current status of this partnership, but all Edox watches appear in stock and heavily discounted throughout the internet.

Based on photos, it would appear Sauber drivers prefer Richard Mille.

Williams – Oris

Last on our list but first in our hearts, Williams F1. Another king of Grand Prix relegated to the back of the field. Makers of arguably the greatest F1 car ever built – the FW14B – a car so good it was banned from competition.

Williams has struggled to compete with the top tier and even midfield competitors. The team sadly missed the boat when aero kits were coming in fashion and have been playing catch up ever since. Now led by Frank Williams' daughter Claire, the team continues to push its technical and development efforts and you'd be hard pressed to find an F1 fan that doesn't want to see Williams back atop the podium.

While the team may have been humbled on the race track, they've chosen a very forward-thinking humble partner in Oris. Since 2002, Oris has partnered with the renowned Williams team. Oris now has the distinct honor of being the team's longest-standing partner. Just recently, Oris introduced updated ‘Williams Collection' pieces comprised of Chronographs and Day-Days made in the Williams color scheme.


See you in Victory Lane!

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