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Tag Heuer Takes Pole Position In F1

Robin Swithinbank 4 minute read
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On the eve of the 2022 season-opener in Bahrain, discover how the first watch brand of Formula 1 answered our need for speed.

If you’ve ever tuned into Formula 1 television coverage, or indeed watched a race nose pressed up against the asphalt, it can’t have escaped your attention that F1 is awash with watches.

A watch, preferably one with significant wrist presence, has become a pit-lane prerequisite, along with a tight-fitting team shirt and a pair of those sneakers that look like they might be proper shoes. Drivers, mechanics, commentators and of course the phalanx of celebrities vying for pole position on the paparazzi grid are all garlanded with liberally proportioned timekeepers, some worth hundreds, others millions. Given F1 has 450 million global viewers during a season, Switzerland doesn’t have a better catwalk.

But before there were parades of Rolexes and Richard Milles, and before the modern-day watch brand grid took shape \(IWC, Bell & Ross and Bremont are among the watch brands in the sport these days\), there was just one timekeeper in F1. And that was TAG Heuer.

Anyone growing up watching the sport in the last half century will recognise first the Heuer logo that gave the iconic red Ferraris of the 1970s so much of their visual identity, and then the TAG Heuer (Techniques d’Avant Garde bought out the family firm in 1985) logo that became almost synonymous with the sport through Ayrton Senna.

TAG Heuer’s F1 story began in the glory days of the late 1960s. At that time, sponsorships were mostly linked to the automotive world and cars carried the logos of Dunlop, Elf, Ferodo… Tobacco brands were among the first from outside the industry to break in, but the first dial name in F1 – by a mile – was Heuer.

How it got there is the stuff of legend. At some point in 1968, a young Jack Heuer (who by then had taken control of the business his great-grandfather founded) met with the Swiss racing driver Jo Siffert. Jack, a gifted product man and marketeer, saw how consumers were connecting the daring and excitement of racing to the drivers and their style, and talked Siffert into an arrangement that would go down in motor racing history.

As part of a two-year deal, Siffert would sport the Heuer logo on his car and overalls, no matter the car he was racing, and wear a Heuer Autavia watch on his wrist. To sweeten the deal, Siffert could buy Heuer watches at trade prices and sell them to his friends and colleagues at retail, pocketing the difference. This way, Jack – who couldn’t afford to send a salesman to every race – seeded his chronograph watches up and down the pit lane. Three years later, Heuer became Ferrari’s timing partner, and the brand was on its way to becoming the first and most famous watch name in Formula 1.

TAG Heuer f1 red bull racing collection goldsmiths 2

More than half a century on, the link endures through TAG Heuer’s connection to Red Bull Racing. The partnership between Swiss timekeeper and F1 team began in 2016, meaning TAG Heuer was onboard when Max Verstappen claimed his maiden – and hugely controversial – Drivers’ World Championship in Abu Dhabi last year. The TAG Heuer logo sits on top of this year’s RB18 car, just in front of the halo protection system.

And, as surely as another race follows the last, ahead of the new season kicking off in Bahrain on March 20, there’s a new watch, too. In fact, technically, the TAG Heuer Formula 1 Red Bull Racing Special Edition is two references, one with a stainless steel bracelet and another with a blue rubber strap. Blue is the prevailing colour in both variants, with accents in red and sunbeam yellow completing the Red Bull-inspired livery.

TAG Heuer says it worked with the team to develop the 43mm watch, which has a number of subtle nods to the world of F1, most obvious of which is the cockpit instrument panel-inspired dial. Less obvious, but just as deliberate are the starting grid markings around the chronograph’s 1/10th of a second counter at 6 o’clock. Another aesthetic quirk is the use of the word ‘Speed’ engraved into the blue-coloured aluminium bezel.

Quietly – oddly so, given its ties to the noisiest of sports – the Formula 1 has become a fixture in the wider sports watch canon, despite playing second fiddle to TAG Heuer’s more often celebrated Carrera and Monaco designs. It may not share the 1960s heritage these and the recently revamped Autavia will always enjoy, but having been introduced in 1986 as a fun, colourful gateway into the world of TAG Heuer watches, it’s more than earned its place. This latest chapter, burnished by association with Verstappen’s championship win, only adds to the Formula 1’s legacy.

Discover the TAG Heuer Formula 1 Red Bull Racing Special Edition here at Goldsmiths.

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