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
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