For as long as I can remember, watch brands, and a few in particular, have been involved in Formula 1 motor sport. This is not surprising of course, in the fast-paced world of Formula 1, timing is everything. In recent times, one relationship has proven particularly fruitful: Red Bull Racing and Tag Heuer. Last month we were invited to visit the Red Bull Racing factory in Milton Keynes, UK to see first-hand how a Formula 1 team operates and learn just how important its timing partner can really be.
You don’t have to be a watchnerd to know that the automotive and watchmaking worlds are inextricably linked. There are literally examples everywhere. Recent ones that spring to mind include; the Bell & Ross BR03-94 AeroGT Chrono, the Singer Track1 Chronograph and the IWC Ingenieur Chronograph Sport Edition “50th Anniversary of Mercedes-AMG”. Back in the seventies there were of course the infamous Heuer watches, the Heuer Carrera, Heuer Monza, Heuer Monaco and Heuer Camaro. And yes, before you point it out, chronographs are a recurring theme in this relationship. After all, the primary role of watches in the automotive world is timekeeping, specifically elapsed time.
All About Timing
At Red Bull Racing, the importance of this relationship is amplified significantly. Having the right timing partner can be the difference between winning and losing. That may sound a tad exaggerated but the reality is that in this high-tech sport, advantages are gained in tiny increments. Little tweaks here and there that make the cars just that little bit faster than the rest, just that little bit more reliable, just that little bit easier to steer. All these potential improvements start with the analysis of data collected from up to 150 different sensors fitted to each car during testing, with timing playing a major role throughout the process.
Although improvements may be measured in milliseconds, putting two cars on the track consistently every week is a mammoth task, requiring a massive team. Somewhere around 800 employees to be precise, although we only see a handful of these highly passionate people in pit lane on our TV screens on race day. Like a good watch manufacturer, the Red Bull Racing factory is vertically integrated, which means the team designs, tests, builds and assembles the thousands of parts required to construct each race car, in house.
It All Starts With A Good Design
At its heart is the Technical Office, led by Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey, widely considered to be one of the best engineers in Formula One. With ten Constructors’ Championships, he has won more than any other designer and is the only designer to have won constructor’s titles with three different Formula One teams. Six different drivers have won the Drivers’ Championship driving Newey’s designs. Suffice to say, his impact at Red Bull Racing was felt almost immediately upon his arrival in 2006.
Formula 1 is a team sport however, and so the leadership of the Technical Office devolves to four department heads who report into Newey; Dan Fallows, Head of Aerodynamics; Rob Marshall, Chief Engineering Officer; Paul Monaghan, Chief Engineer – Car Engineering and Pierre Waché, Chief Engineer – Performance Engineering. Together they oversee a team of over 100 design department employees who produce over 30,000 design updates throughout the season. In its busiest weeks, the Technical Office can produce over 1,000 designs a week! What is perhaps most incredible however is the speed at which a new design goes from concept to testing. In the space of one week, a new body work drawing can be put into manufacture and tested in the wind tunnel using a model that is approximately 60% of scale.
This is made possible by a dedicated manufacturing department staffed by over 240 employees and equipped with state of the art machinery supplied by Red Bull Racing’s technical partners, like DMG Mori. This part of the factory runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and are responsible for turning the virtual models dreamed up by the designers in the Technical Office into physical components ready to be used on the race cars. More than 1,600 components are processed through the Machine Shop each week. The set-up is somewhat similar to that of a watch manufacturer, only the machines are bigger and it’s a lot noisier. The team is also increasingly using hi-tech 3D printing technology to create parts for rapid prototyping and testing.
Not all components are manufactured in house however, as it may be more cost and time effective to source some of these from a third party. What is absolutely made in house though, is the carbon fibre surrounding the engine, gearbox and driver. A highly skilled and labour intensive process, sheets of carbon-fibre cloth are laid by hand into a mould – heated using decidedly low-tech hair dryers to get them to fit – before being sealed in a vacuum bag and cured in one of Red Bull Racing’s five autoclaves (essentially a very large, high-pressure cooker). A familiar material nowadays in watchmaking, carbon fibre is used everywhere possible in a Formula One car to reduce weight, without compromising on strength and reliability. More than 50 different types of carbon cloth, each with its own weave pattern and thickness, are used by Red Bull Racing to create the different components required by the designers.
Once the car’s exceptionally strong bodywork has been created, it of course needs to be painted. According to our guide however, a Formula One car’s livery is about much more than just colors and logos. It’s a science that is as intensely developed as every other aspect of Formula One technology. The exact painting processes used by the team are top secret but as with everything else, the focus is on reducing weight and increasing speed. Smooth to the touch, how the cars look is almost as important as how they perform. One thing is for sure; there’s no room for error, everything must be perfect.
Practice, Practice, Practice
At the end of the tour we come to what we are told is the one place everyone wants to see; the Race Bays. This is where new cars are assembled before the season starts, and where they are stripped and reassembled whenever the Team returns to the factory. It’s also the place where, in between races and during the winter months, the pit crew practice the all-important pit stops. Each driver has a dedicated pit crew that will only work on their car, and within that team each member has a dedicated position based on their physical attributes and skill set. There is a full simulated pitbox, complete with gantries, where the crew spends hours rolling the cars in and replacing the wheels and tyres, the length of each stop timed using extremely precise Tag Heuer timing equipment. Such is the Team’s dedication, that at the 2013 US Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing became the first team to complete a pitstop in less than 2 seconds. Timing really is everything.
The watch… TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 Chronograph Red Bull Racing Special Edition
To celebrate its ongoing relationship with Red Bull Racing, Tag Heuer has introduced the Carrera Heuer-01 Chronograph Red Bull Racing Special Edition. Presented in a 45 mm steel case, it features a skeletonized dial with midnight blue and red highlights, the Team’s colors. A sapphire case back further reveals the inner workings of the Calibre Heuer-01 Automatic Manufacture Chronograph movement, and features the Red Bull Racing Team logo. It is available with your choice of either a steel bracelet or midnight blue leather strap with red stitching.
Technical specifications – TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 Chronograph Red Bull Racing Special Edition
- Case: 45 mm in diameter – black PVD coated stainless steel case – 100m water resistant – blue ceramic fixed bezel with tachymeter scale – domed, beveled sapphire crystal with double anti-reflective treatment – sapphire caseback
- Movement: TAG Heuer Calibre Heuer 01 – power reserve is 50 hours, and with chronograph operating 40 hours – 28’800 vibrations/h – 39 jewels – hours, minutes, small seconds and date – chronograph for elapsed time
- Strap: blue calf skin rubber / leather strap or steel bracelet with folding clasp
- Price: € 5.250 EURO
For more info, visit the TAG Heuer website: www.tagheuer.com