|Car racing teams use the timekeeping industry to develop their competitive edge and watch makers use the sport to develop better clocks, writes Hiren Kumar Bose|
Admiration, joy, desire, envy and the feeling of ‘having arrived’ are emotions cars and watches evoke, and rightly so. International watch brands have their favourite car brands – luxury or sports – which they continue to promote intrepidly year after year, and in one case, for almost a century. What’s in a car that’s analogous to a watch? The combination of beauty and technology, watch makers will tell you, for the objects themselves are very similar. In the watch there’s the movement, in the car, an engine. There’s a chassis with the car, and that’s the watch box. There are instruments in a car, needle hands as well.
The fascination that leads many car enthusiasts to be obsessed with sporting machinery often also leads to an interest in watches. After all, if you’re interested in high-speed, you want to know just how fast you’re going, and you can’t do that without some form of measurement. Understandable why there is an indisputable and emerging trend towards car-watch brand collaborations.
Watches emblazoned with car manufactures’ logos – Aston Martin and Jaeger- LeCoultre, Bentley and Breitling, Maserati and Audemars. Mercedes-AMG has recently collaborated with IWC, while Ferrari and Girard-Perregaux have discontinued their association after cohabiting for 13 years. Alfa Romeo is in tango with Chopard and, as Formula One watchers know, BMW Williams races with Oris and McLaren-Mercedes with TAG Heuer. The contemporary affairs have a history beginning with timekeeping for motor racing. Most think motor racing is just about speed forgetting that it’s also about timing. The men behind the wheels are not after speed for its own sake. They just don’t get a high watching the speedometer. The real buzz comes from lap times, braking times, acceleration times, pit-stop times and the precise, marginal differences between them that build incrementally to the outcome of the race.
Motor racing and timepieces or putting it correctly, chronometry, have always gone together. Rarely is the association stronger than in Grand Prix racing where the technology of the cars is the ultimate expression of precision timekeeping. That’s why up and down the pit lane, race drivers, team owners and engineers have always been fascinated by watches. Watch makers return the compliment by creating devices ranging from stopwatches to wristwatches to lap-time counters. The racing teams use the timekeeping industry to develop their competitive edge and the timekeeping industry uses the sport to develop its watches.
Car-themed watches, most of them with chronographs (stopwatches) have become as iconic as some of the most famous racing cars. Paul Newman made the Rolex Daytona famous by wearing it in a racing film, and it remains one of the most desirable items on the used market. Steve McQueen wore a Heuer Monaco in Le Mans, and such is its status that it’s still sold today. “Motor racing obliges us to take on challenges to make instruments that would otherwise seem impossible,” says Stéphane Linder, product development director at TAG Heuer of Switzerland. Indeed, few brands are as closely connected to motor racing as TAG Heuer which has been involved with fast cars for nearly a century and with Formula One for nearly 40 years. Motor racing is by far the No 1 sport in terms of investment and uniqueness for TAG Heuer.
It was Edouard Heuer who patented the first stopwatch that which measured to one-fifth of a second in 1869. In 1911 his company made the first car dashboard chronograph. Six years later, it created a stopwatch called the Micrograph that measured to one-hundredth of a second. In 1933, it made a dashboard timekeeper for race cars and airplanes. Today this tradition is carried on by Edouard’s great grandson Jack Heuer who carries on the family tradition of the passion for motor sports.
When Jack became chairman of TAG Heuer, he brought back memorable timepieces that truly captured the brand’s motor racing spirit the Classic Series. It was in 1969, as a sponsor to Jo Siffert, the Swiss driver, that TAG Heuer became one of the first non-automotive sponsors of Formula One racing. In 1971 it started an eight-year relationship with Ferrari as its official timekeeper, putting its name on the car and creating a sophisticated timing system at the team’s Fiorano test track. That system was a precursor to the computer telemetry that has since become the standard way of analyzing how to make a racing car go faster. Ferrari used nearly 50 photocells and timers to analyze how its cars accelerated, decelerated and cornered on all parts of the track. In 2003 TAG Heuer expanded its range from F-1 to become official timekeeper for the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis 500 race in the United States where, with small oval tracks and cars that are technologically very similar to one another, timekeeping is done to 10,000th of a second.
Watch companies also use F-1 drivers to perform live tests on their watches. On the F-1 driver’s wrist on the track, a watch is exposed to acceleration forces and vibrations that cannot be simulated under laboratory conditions. Interestingly, F-1 has become a treasure house for watch companies in the development of new materials. F-1 engineers, for instance, are experts in the use of Grade 5 titanium used in accelerator pedals, gearboxes and parts of the transmission. TAG Heuer uses the material since it is much lighter than steel but more scratch-resistant and shines like white gold or steel, like the Kirium F-1 model. Carbon fibre, a material used for the chassis of F-1 cars, has been transferred to watch dials. For such people, TAG created the SLR Chronograph, a special edition offered only to buyers of the Mercedes- McLaren SLR sports car.