Shot on the Tracks

Inside the part­ner­ships of For­mula One

Augustman - - Highlight - WORDS SEAN MOSSADEG

THE MAR­KET­ING PART­NER­SHIPS in the watch world have been an easy tar­get for crit­i­cism. While brands may spend mil­lions of dol­lars ev­ery year try­ing to en­list the hottest trend­ing celebri­ties or spon­sor the most high pro­file events, the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing it back­fire is very real.

One of the in­fal­li­ble are­nas in watch mar­ket­ing, how­ever, has been For­mula One. Over the years, some of the big­gest brands have backed con­struc­tors and suc­cess­fully cre­ated last­ing sto­ries. It helps that the list of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the two in­dus­tries are end­less. The never-end­ing quest for in­no­va­tive ma­te­ri­als, ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy and the his­to­ried pas­sion be­hind the two are just some ex­am­ples.

Like watches, cars were first built for func­tion but has since evolved into a lifestyle ‒ one that’s big, bold and loud ‒ es­pe­cially when it comes to the hal­lowed For­mula One tracks.

While global view­er­ship may have dropped since pay­walls have been in­tro­duced to the sport, the Fed­er­a­tion In­ter­na­tionale de l’Au­to­mo­bile (FIA)’s statis­tic of 425 mil­lion global views in 2014 is still a largely healthy num­ber.

The stag­ger­ing num­ber of eye­balls on the sport puts it just be­hind foot­ball. When you add the con­tin­u­ous tour around the world ev­ery sea­son, this means re­gional mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for watch brands present them­selves at ev­ery race. Driver ap­pear­ances, au­to­graphs ses­sions, press con­fer­ences; the oc­ca­sions for ex­po­sure are huge.

But with a lim­ited num­ber of con­struc­tors to work with (just 11 this year), the race to jump on the ‘brand-wagon’ gets a lit­tle more com­pet­i­tive ev­ery year.


In­de­pen­dent lux­ury sports watch­maker Richard Mille has never quite been run of the mill and its en­trance into For­mula One was proof. Straight off the brand’s in­cep­tion in 2001, it was lauded as one of the most tech­ni­cally sound brands, push­ing the lim­its of sports luxe. The syn­ergy and even­tual part­ner­ship be­tween Richard Mille and For­mula One was one that was bound to hap­pen sooner or later and in 2004, it hap­pened.

While many watch brands would have ap­proached a con­struc­tor first to part­ner as a step into For­mula One, Richard Mille found it­self one of the great­est mar­ket­ing sto­ries in Felipe Massa. Tim Malachard, in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor at Richard Mille, shared with us how the part­ner­ship first started. “It was or­ganic, re­ally. Richard (Mille) hap­pened to meet Massa’s man­ager some­where by chance and ap­proached him, sell­ing the brand’s vi­sion for high-end time­pieces that could take a beat­ing,” he said.

Massa would even­tu­ally progress to be­come a part­ner of the brand and as Malachard re­vealed, a good per­sonal friend of Mille’s.

With other watch brands in­volved in For­mula One, ex­po­sure usu­ally first came through their lo­gos plas­tered on cars, press con­fer­ence boards and the like. Driv­ers of the part­ner’s teams would then wear the brand’s watches at events and other en­gage­ments but Richard Mille nat­u­rally took that to the ex­treme. Felipe Massa wore his spe­cial­ly­crafted tour­bil­lon chrono­graph dur­ing ev­ery race ‒ proof that the watches were built to with­stand the pun­ish­ing stres­sors of car rac­ing.

This was al­most un­prece­dented in For­mula One. With ev­ery mil­ligram on trial, driv­ers usu­ally leave their time­pieces back at the pit stop. But the light­weight con­struc­tion of Richard Mille watches gave Massa a plat­form to show off form and func­tion with­out com­pro­mis­ing sec­onds.

Since then, only one other driver in For­mula One has had the hon­our of hav­ing his name tied to a Richard Mille time­piece. His name is Ro­main Gros­jean.

In 2013, the watch­maker part­nered up with the Lo­tus F1 team that Gros­jean was rac­ing for. That gave them an in with the driver. The Franco-Swiss racer was much like Massa back then, up-and-com­ing with the same drive and de­ter­mi­na­tion Mille looks for in its part­ners.

When Re­nault bought Lo­tus last year, Richard Mille dropped the part­ner­ship but stayed with Gros­jean. When the driver moved to the new­comer Haas F1, a brand new op­por­tu­nity opened up for the watch­maker.

“It was the first time in 30 years that an Amer­i­can con­struc­tor was com­pet­ing in For­mula One. Haas comes from a huge back­ground of motor rac­ing in the US and to us, that’s an op­por­tu­nity that we had to take,” Malachard shared.

The open­ing of the Amer­i­can mar­ket to Richard Mille was also a driv­ing fac­tor in the brand’s part­ner­ship. “They’re a big team, with big names and a drive for­ward. Plus they’re one of the big­gest man­u­fac­tur­ers of tools back in the US.

This vis­i­bil­ity is some­thing that both par­ties can lever­age on,” stated Malachard.

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