Minutes & Seconds

Formula One's hottest watches

Watches are integral to the motor racing event and both go back a long way

The F1 Singapore race attracts more than 80 million television viewers on average.
The F1 Singapore race attracts more than 80 million television viewers on average. PHOTO: ST FILE

Luxury watches are small and refined; Formula One cars big and brash. But they make good bedfellows and it is not hard to see why.

Both are marvels of great design and even more impressive engineering, and both have a big and loyal fan base.

Their relationship goes way back. Time-keeping is a crucial part not just of Formula One, but also of motor racing in general, and has been so ever since the first documented motor racing event more than 150 years ago.

Without time-keeping, there will be no recording of lap times or race times and no way of determining winners and losers.

Wristwatches in motor racing came into the limelight in the 1930s, thanks to the late Malcolm Campbell, a famous racing motorist and motoring journalist, who made headlines for breaking records, sometimes in unsafe vehicles.

On Sept 4, 1935, he set a new land speed record of 485kmh on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah while wearing, he proudly proclaimed, a Rolex.

The first F1, as we know it today, took place in 1950 but it was not until 1968 that commercial sponsorship was allowed.

Among the many companies that forked out wads of cash to have their logos emblazoned on racing cars were Swiss watchmakers including Tag and Heuer, which were originally two different companies. Tag even bought a stake in McLaren in 1983.

Three years later when it bought over Heuer, Tag Heuer went into a collaboration with McLaren which went on for 30 seasons. During this time, the watchmaker produced a whole range of F1 timepieces, many in limited editions.

Over the decades, many of the biggest names in watchmaking have sponsored F1 teams and produced watches for the event.

Although global TV viewership has waned somewhat, the event still reels in more than 400 million today. The Singapore race attracts an average international viewership of more than 80 million.

Partnerships on the horological grid this year include Tag Heuer and Red Bull, Hublot and Scuderia Ferrari, Bell & Ross and Renault, as well as Richard Mille and McLaren- Honda.

Race watches to look out for 


Mr Jean-Claude Biver, chief executive officer of Tag Heuer and president of the LVMH Watch Division, says F1 is deeply rooted in the brand's DNA.

In addition to three watches under its Ayrton Senna Limited Editions, the brand has also come out with a head-turning chrono in Red Bull's striking colours of red and blue.

The forceful 45mm diameter watch comes with a bezel which sports a tachymeter scale in blue ceramic, a blue skeleton dial and a sapphire caseback which allows you to admire the mechanism within.

There are two versions: one in a steel bracelet and the other in a blue leather strap with red top stitching (above). Prices are $8,200 and $7,950 respectively.


Hublot's partnership with Ferrari began in 2011 and the collaboration has yielded some arresting timepieces.

The Big Bang Ferrari is a new edition of the iconic watch, with a minute counter and date window designed like a car tachometer and style of date inspired by a Ferrari speed dial.

Equipped with a Unico movement, the watch's bezel has countersunk notches for the six screws while the crown - marked with the Hublot logo - reminds one of the Turbo Performance Engineer in the middle of a Ferrari dashboard.

The 45mm watch comes with a black strap made from black alacantra on black rubber, with red over-stitching like that seen in Ferrari upholstery; or in black Schedoni leather to reference the design of Ferrari seats.

The titanium edition (above) - of which there are only 1,000 pieces - costs $37,200. There are also editions in King Gold (500 pieces) and uni-directional carbon (500 pieces).


Last year, Bell & Ross entered the F1 arena and launched its first collection of watches with Renault, RS16.

This year, it is following up with the RS17 trilogy. Reminiscent of an F1 steering wheel, these chronograph models feature different colours found on the steering wheel of the Renault F1 racing machine.

There are three models. The BR 03-94 (500 pieces at $9,000 each) has a ceramic case and a sporty carbon dial, making it light but sturdy. The start-and-stop push button is rendered in yellow anodised aluminium, the same hue used by Renault since it entered F1 in the mid-1970s.

The BR X1 (250 pieces at $34,900 each) is a new take on the brand's iconic BR 03, with a skeleton mechanism which can be admired through grey-tinted sapphire crystal. The bezel has a tachymeter scale for calculating racing speeds, while the dial flange has hour segments in different colours.

And if you have the means for something unique and different, the BR X1 Tourbillon (above) has a glorious tourbillon movement inside a cage that is fitted on a hub but looks as though it is floating on air.

The stunning piece, of which there are only 20 pieces, goes for a cool $245,000.



This is a new Ingenieur collection launched at this year's Goodwood Members Meeting (Goodwood is a famous venue for motor sport in the United Kingdom).

First introduced in the 1950s, the Ingenieur line was developed by IWC to offer protection against magnetic fields generated by modern gadgets such as TV and radio receivers. Magnetic fields can negatively affect the precision of mechanical watches.

Boasting elegant classic lines, the new collection runs from a basic Ingenieur Automatic up to a perpetual calendar.

F1 enthusiasts will probably zoom in on the IWC Ingenieur Chronograph Sport Edition 50th Anniversary Of Mercedes-AMG limited-edition model (above).

Equipped with the calibre 89361, the caseback has holes drilled in a circular formation to make it look like a brake disc. The words Tribute to One Man One Engine are engraved on the soft iron cage, referencing the fact that every AMG engine is put together from scratch by just one mecahnic.

IWC has opted to use red, white and anthracite for different features to reflect the colour schemes found at race tracks all around the world.

The 50th anniversary Ingenieur model retails for $17,900.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'Formula One timekeepers'. Print Edition | Subscribe