Rac­ing Roy­alty

TAG HEUER HAS A SPE­CIAL RE­LA­TION­SHIP THAT GIVES IT AC­CESS TO THE GLAM­OUR AND PRES­TIGE OF THE MONACO GRAND PRIX. FOR­MULA ONE FAN Sean Li WAS IN­VITED TO JOIN THE PRINCIPALITY’S PARTY

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It wasn’t long after Bertha Benz played mid­wife at the birth of the au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try—she grabbed global at­ten­tion for hus­band Karl’s alarm­ing con­trap­tion by mak­ing a road trip of 100-odd kilo­me­tres, lead­ing to his first sale—that man’s com­pet­i­tive spirit spawned one of the world’s most ex­cit­ing pur­suits: mo­tor rac­ing. By 1894 road races were be­ing run in France and ever since then mo­tor­sport has been at the fore­front of the in­dus­try’s tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments. Those early grands prix evolved into “for­mula rac­ing” and even­tu­ally into what, for many, is the pin­na­cle of mo­tor rac­ing, For­mula One, or F1.

Since the first F1 World Cham­pi­onship se­ries in 1950, fans have avidly fol­lowed the bat­tles be­tween teams and driv­ers played out around the globe. Tracks that hosted epic tus­sles have them­selves be­come fa­mous, such as Sil­ver­stone (Eng­land), Spa-fran­cor­champs (Bel­gium), Suzuka (Ja­pan) and Monza (Italy), and the F1 cir­cus con­tin­ues to scorch their tar­mac many decades later. But there’s one track that stands out, one that hosts the most glam­orous event—and the one where ev­ery driver most wants to win: Monaco. The tiny Mediter­ranean principality has been host­ing grand prix rac­ing since 1929. It joined the F1 cal­en­dar at its in­cep­tion in 1950 and has hosted a meet ev­ery year since 1955.

Con­sid­ered in the light of to­day’s F1 en­vi­ron­ment, the Monaco Grand Prix is some­thing of an anachro­nism. The principality’s nar­row streets chal­lenge mod­ern safety reg­u­la­tions and the cir­cuit’s lim­i­ta­tions pre­vent the cars from us­ing their full po­ten­tial. The cor­ners are so sharp that spe­cial steer­ing com­po­nents have to be in­stalled. The cir­cuit’s fastest sec­tion is a long tun­nel, the only one on an F1 track, that ends with a sharp turn as driver’s rocket out into the glar­ing sun­light to race along Monte Carlo’s famed ma­rina. Its fea­tures make it one of the most de­mand­ing tracks in F1 rac­ing. And the support teams have to con­tend with fa­cil­i­ties that have been un­able to adapt to mod­ern-day op­er­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, their state-of-the-art mo­torhomes have to be parked away from the pits, pre­sent­ing sig­nif­i­cant lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges.

Yet the Monaco Grand Prix holds a par­tic­u­lar fascination for all—teams, driv­ers and spec­ta­tors, in­clud­ing hordes of celebri­ties and roy­alty. Win­ning the race puts any driver among the greats; four-time F1 world cham­pion Alain Prost may have won the French Grand Prix six times, but it’s his four Monaco Grand Prix wins that peo­ple re­mem­ber. This year An­to­nio Ban­deras, George Lu­cas, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch and Pa­trick Ste­wart were among the celebri­ties to be spot­ted in the pit lane. And Bri­tish singer Pixie Lott per­formed for more fa­mous faces at the leg­endary Am­ber Lounge after-party, in­clud­ing Justin Bieber, who seemed to be get­ting along very well with F1 boss Bernie Ec­cle­stone—go fig­ure.

Given the im­por­tance of speed and tim­ing in mo­tor rac­ing, it’s no sur­prise that watch brands have al­ways had a close as­so­ci­a­tion

with the sport, spon­sor­ing en­tire race se­ries, a team, or in­di­vid­ual driv­ers. Rolex’s Day­tona is named after the track in Florida that hosts another of the world’s leg­endary races, the Day­tona 24 Hours. Rolex has long fo­cused on en­durance rac­ing, but ex­panded into F1 in 2013, be­com­ing the se­ries’ of­fi­cial time­keeper and time­piece.

Another brand, TAG Heuer, main­tains a very close part­ner­ship with F1. In 1969, TAG Heuer be­came the first watch brand to spon­sor a pro­fes­sional rac­ing driver, Switzer­land’s Jo Sif­fert. Two years later it be­came the first to spon­sor a Grand Prix team, Scud­e­ria Fer­rari. From 1992 to 2003, it was the of­fi­cial time­keeper for the F1 se­ries. But it’s through Mclaren Mercedes that TAG Heuer has had its long­est as­so­ci­a­tion with mo­tor rac­ing—an un­in­ter­rupted 29-year part­ner­ship dur­ing which the team has won at Monaco 15 times, mak­ing it by far the race’s most suc­cess­ful con­struc­tor.

I’ve been fas­ci­nated by mo­tor rac­ing since child­hood and have at­tended a few F1 races over the years, the 1992 Cana­dian Grand Prix be­ing the first. With F1’s ex­pan­sion into Asia, I’ve been able to see a few more in China, Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia. While I’ve vis­ited Monaco sev­eral times over the years, the trips did not coin­cide with the Grand Prix. Need­less to say, when TAG Heuer in­vited me to this year’s race, I ac­cepted.

Ar­riv­ing in Monaco is almost like trav­el­ling back in time. The lay­out of the street cir­cuit has changed lit­tle since the first race. While the cars have evolved tremen­dously, Monaco’s spec­tac­u­lar back­ground hasn’t, and if you’ve fol­lowed F1 rac­ing for as long as I have, it’s very spe­cial to be able to set foot on the cir­cuit—lit­er­ally. Monaco has learned how to run the Grand Prix while al­low­ing reg­u­lar traf­fic to use the roads when­ever pos­si­ble. This means that at cer­tain times,

THE MONACO GRAND PRIX HOLDS A PAR­TIC­U­LAR FASCINATION FOR ALL—TEAMS, DRIV­ERS AND SPEC­TA­TORS, IN­CLUD­ING HORDES OF CELEBRI­TIES AND ROY­ALTY

you can ac­tu­ally walk on the track it­self, some­thing that’s sel­dom pos­si­ble at a pur­pose-built cir­cuit.

Be­cause of its part­ner­ship with the race’s or­gan­iser, the Au­to­mo­bile Club of Monaco, TAG Heuer’s brand name is promi­nently dis­played at key points around the track, along with that of its suc­ces­sor as of­fi­cial time­keeper, Rolex. The part­ner­ship also al­lows TAG Heuer to host a fan­tas­tic VIP party on the club’s yacht, moored just a few min­utes’ walk from the pits. With the Mclaren team in attendance, in­clud­ing CEO Ron Den­nis, rac­ing di­rec­tor Éric Boul­lier and driver Kevin Mag­nussen, this year’s fes­tiv­i­ties con­tin­ued well into the night.

Be­ing the guest of one of the main spon­sors comes with some won­der­ful ben­e­fits, such as stay­ing on the beau­ti­ful yacht Sea Dream for three nights, each day en­joy­ing break­fast on deck with the lovely vista of the Monte Carlo ma­rina as a back­drop. Another is that TAG Heuer has a prime spot for its guests to watch the rac­ing—a VIP lounge di­rectly across the pit lane, a priv­i­leged van­tage point from which you can ob­serve all the ac­tion on the track and keenly an­tic­i­pate the cars zoom­ing into the pit lane for their tyre changes.

It was a shock at first to hear the en­gines. With tur­bocharg­ing re­turn­ing this year for the first time since 1988, the fa­mil­iar scream of the nor­mally as­pi­rated power plants of the past two decades has be­come a muted roar, tak­ing away slightly from the ini­tial au­ral ex­cite­ment of be­ing track­side.

A high­light for me was be­ing driven around the track on race day—un­for­tu­nately at a some­what pedes­trian speed, as the driv­ers pa­rade was mak­ing its way around the track at the same time.

The qual­i­fy­ing round saw TAG Heuer am­bas­sadors Kevin Mag­nussen and Jen­son But­ton gain the 7th and 12th places on the start­ing grid re­spec­tively. The highly ex­pe­ri­enced But­ton, with 15 F1 sea­sons un­der his belt, in­clud­ing a World Cham­pi­onship win in 2009, climbed from 12th to fin­ish the Grand Prix in 6th place; Mag­nussen had some dif­fi­cul­ties but man­aged to take 10th place, a use­ful points fin­ish for the team.

The Mercedes AMG Petronas team con­tin­ued its dom­i­nance of the 2014 race sea­son, with Nico Ros­berg con­vert­ing his pole po­si­tion into a race win, just ahead of team­mate Lewis Hamil­ton. With many more races still to be run this sea­son, it will be in­ter­est­ing to watch the ten­sion be­tween Ros­berg and Hamil­ton play out as they vie for the driv­ers cham­pi­onship.

The ac­tion didn’t stop with the che­quered flag. On the rac­ing front, the teams were almost im­me­di­ately pack­ing up and head­ing to their bases to pre­pare for the next race, the Cana­dian Grand Prix. And on the so­ci­ety front, Monaco was still teem­ing with celebri­ties and par­ties, es­pe­cially as the Cannes In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val was un­der way just a short drive away.

After decades of thrills and spills, the glam­our and magic of Monaco en­dures, draw­ing rac­ing fans and celebri­ties alike. It would be dif­fi­cult to imag­ine an F1 sea­son that doesn’t in­clude a stop at the his­toric street track be­side the Mediter­ranean. Ec­cle­stone re­cently caused con­ster­na­tion by sug­gest­ing the F1 cir­cus might skip Italy’s Monza track, but I can’t imag­ine he would ever con­tem­plate the same fate for Monaco. Thank you, TAG Heuer, for giv­ing me the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence it.

F1 FAC­TOR CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: THE TRACK RUNS PAST MONTE CARLO’S FA­MOUS MA­RINA; THE TAG HEUER F1 GIRLS; CROWDS LINE THE RACE TRACK

IN IT TO WIN IT

KEVIN MAG­NUSSEN ON THE TRACK AS PART OF THE MCLAREN F1 TEAM

STAR SPOTT ED MAG­NUSSEN SIGNS AU­TO­GRAPHS AT THE TRACK

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