Let’s be honest, this past season of Formula 1 was not the most exciting between the usual suspects up front, just like the last three seasons have basically seen one team dominate the whole year. The battle within that team however was particularly exciting, right down to the final meters of the final lap of the final race. Amidst all that internal drama however a few teams and driver’s still managed to steal the absolute show! The talk of the town and the team and driver on everyone’s mind: Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen! This young Dutchman surprised everyone by pulling off a seemingly impossible achievement; becoming the youngest-ever Grand Prix winner. Along with his teammate, he was the only driver outside of Mercedes this season to clinch a victory, doing things on the track that no one has ever seen before! All of that is here to remind us about the partnership that goes along: TAG Heuer and Red Bull Racing – and the long history of Heuer into F1 timekeeping.
Personal opinions aside, the young man (I don’t consider him a boy anymore, despite his age) is an absolute sensation. Not only in the way he blows the mirrors off some of the older runts in the field, but also the way he manages to compose himself most of the time. When I was only 18 or 19 years old, my main concern was what I would be doing the next day, weekend or week basically. Definitely not whether I should drive for Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari or something else entirely! Max is a powerhouse and while I fully admit he still has a lot to learn, he has almost singlehandedly brought back the fun to the sport during the course of this season. Just think about his final laps resulting in his historic, maiden win in Barcelona, or the entire race in Brazil; the guy is history in the making personified.
In all fairness, we must not forget his teammate; the honey badger, the smiling thunder from down under, Daniel Ricciardo. He finished an impressive third, behind Hamilton and Rosberg in the driver’s championship, with his multiple podium finishes closing the gap between the two frontrunners. A solid season resulted in a total of 8 podium finishes, including his win in Malaysia and 256 points. Red Bull in total enjoyed 15 podium finishes and claimed 468 constructor championships points, 70 points ahead of Ferrari. The gap to Mercedes is still enormous if you look at the points (765 versus 468!) but considering the top 4 drivers of the final race finished no more than 1.7 seconds apart it shows you how close the Austrian team has gotten over the course of this season. And yes, Lewis did back Nico up into Vettel and Verstappen in an effort to save his title but still.
Red Bull Racing has been a solid contender for the past several years, and admittedly I almost forgot how long they have been active in the sport as a team/constructor! I remember the days when Sauber drove around with Red Bull sponsoring on their cars, which started all the way back in 1995. After the 2004 season the brand stepped up from being “just” a sponsor to running a full-fledged racing team. Red Bull purchased the Jaguar Racing Formula One team that was basically a rebranded Stewart-Ford Grand Prix team after Jackie Stewart sold it to the Ford Motor Company. Since 2005 Red Bull has been very successful as a team in the highest echelon of motorsports. Aiming for a strong 6th place in the constructors’ championship in its maiden year, only to be debunked to 7th with the fast improving BAR-Honda team, all the way to 4 consecutive drivers and constructors’ titles with Sebastian Vettel. Over the course of the last 12 seasons Red Bull Racing has been heavily focused on bringing up young talented drivers for a possible seat in F1 with a driver-development program and participation in several supporting championships.
The “golden era” for Red Bull Racing kicked-off with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in 2009 after the German youngster won a very wet Monza race in 2008 with Red Bull’s junior team, Scuderia Torro Rosso, and was promoted (They have more or less done it before!) to take over the seat of the retiring David Coulthard. Scoring a second place in the constructors championship at the end of the 2009 season, it marked the beginning of the dominant years for the Austrian team; the period of 2010-2013 saw 4 drivers’ championships (all of which Sebastian Vettel won), 4 constructors’ championships, 83 podium finishes of which no less than 41 were victories and 52 pole positions out of 77 race starts.
Before we make the jump to watches, it is important to know that Red Bull Racing has switched engine supplier only a few times. It started out with Ford, followed by one season of Ferrari-engines and then Renault from 2007 onwards. The Renault engine deal has been an interesting collaboration to say the least. Renault supplied them during the glory days, racking up victory after victory. When they were being surpassed by Mercedes (running Mercedes engines of course) the partnership became unstable, with Red Bull Racing questioning the power-plant in terms of power and reliability and Renault in turn questioning the constructor’s loyalty towards the signed engine-deal in place. The deal ended after the 2015 season, and Red Bull Racing was free to find another supplier. By then, the Renault engine seemed to have improved enough to satisfy the Austrians, although the car was rebranded to TAG Heuer instead, and the current partnership between Red Bull Racing and the Swiss watch brand was born.
The history of (TAG) Heuer in motorsports dates back many decades as it was once the official timing partner for the entire Formula 1 and responsible for many innovations that led to the systems in use today. An overview of the birth of timekeeping in motor racing and the evolution that took place was part of Watchmaking & Formula 1: Episode 1 – Historical Overview and Rolex as official timekeeper. As a watch related brand, TAG Heuer is obviously steeped in historic relevance as well, including iconic motor racing inspired watches such as the Monaco, Monza and Carrera. The long-lasting TAG Heuer Formula 1 collection is of course directly linked with the Formula 1 championship.
Replacing Casio, who were a long time partner for Red Bull Racing, and have been producing watches since the eighties (best known for its G-Shock collection), TAG Heuer seems like a logical choice if you think about it for more than 2 seconds. The brand is in the midst of a major rejuvenation, with Mr. Biver busy cleaning house (out with the old, in with the new) since his switch from Hublot to Tag Heuer. This wasn’t without a little controversy of course, but that is always part of an evolution I guess. The confusion about the departure and eventual return of the CH80 movement, the introduction of a Tourbillon watch for under 16k, the involvement of the people to choose the inspiration of a new watch based on a famous vintage model (which ended up being the Autavia). TAG Heuer is being polished up and remarketed in a solid, very definable position.
The first fruit we’ve seen from the RBR-TH partnership was the TAG Heuer Formula 1 Max Verstappen Youngest Grand Prix Winner Special Edition (What’s in a name!) The first question that comes to mind is, why quartz? But considering that it is positioned as a sports watch, an automatic movement is not necessarily the way to go. Plus there are already several automatic powered variations of the TAG Heuer Formula 1, including the Calibre 7 GMT powered ones with black and blue bezel.
Next to Formula 1, and Red Bull Racing, TAG Heuer is closely working together with other disciplines and teams around the world. If you dig into this on the website, you could stumble upon the following segment which perfectly summarises just how important this support is to TAG Heuer: “TAG Heuer is also the founding partner and Official Timekeeper of the FIA Formula E Championship, Official Timekeeper of the legendary Carrera Panamericana and Pike’s Peak in the USA, the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) and the Monaco and Macau Grands Prix, the Indy 500 in Indianapolis, and the Patrick Dempsey Racing team and WTCC endurance racing.”
As for what the future holds? Well, that is a bit hard to say. It is obvious that the partnering between Red Bull Racing and TAG Heuer is a solid choice, with some depth in terms of watchmaking and marketing possibilities, but time will tell what might come to fruition between the two in terms of products. Considering Mr. Biver is at the helm, and we’ve seen what he is capable of at Hublot (not to mention Blancpain and Omega), the future seems bright for TAG Heuer. We’ve already had a preview of his antics in the special one-off with Alec Monopoly, based on one of the strongest motor sport related names in the TAG Heuer collection: the Carrera!