Shot on the Tracks
Inside the partnerships of Formula One
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.