Here's a very brief history of watches in motorsport | Top Gear
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Top Gear Guide To Watches

Here's a very brief history of watches in motorsport

Special edition watches have turned into the ultimate F1 team merch

Published: 16 Nov 2021

So you’re a fan of Formula One and want to buy a watch. Consider yourself extremely well catered for, because the sport is absolutely mad for the things. Nine out of 10 teams have a watch sponsor this year – Alfa Romeo is the only one this year to show up empty wristed. 

Ever since cars first raced against each other, watches and motorsport have been closely intertwined. The first cough-and-splutter motor races in the 19th century had to make do with early pocket chronographs developed to time horse races. But as motor racing proper got going in the 20th century, the watch industry worked hard to keep pace – not easy when you consider cars went from walking pace to 150mph in a few decades, while the watch industry had been fettling its old world craft for centuries. 

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Heuer (the TAG was added later) was the first big name in motor racing. It began in the Thirties by making dash-mounted rally timers and later wrist chronographs that were popular with racing drivers in the Fifties and Sixties, often used by F1 teams as their principal timing devices. One distinctive chronograph, the Monaco, was worn by Steve McQueen in Le Mans, cementing a race cred the brand enjoys to this day. 

Rolex has also been involved with motorsport longer than anyone can remember. Sir Malcolm Campbell wore a Rolex Oyster when he drove Bluebird at 300+mph on the Utah salt flats in 1935. He’s credited with introducing the brand to driver friends, and Rolex went on to sponsor the Daytona Speedway from the late Fifties – the circuit later giving its name to the chronograph worn by another actor who liked his cars, Paul Newman. Rolex remained embedded in motorsport, and since 2013 has been the title sponsor of F1 – its clocks and logos are in every prominent position you could hope for on the circuit.

One of the newer big players to emerge is Richard Mille, the ultra-luxe Swiss brand founded by a car crazy Frenchman. It’s the only watch brand to sponsor two F1 teams – McLaren and Ferrari. No new watches have been revealed to celebrate the tie-ups, but when they do you can guarantee they will be visually arresting and cost somewhere around the same as a brand new McLaren or Ferrari. You have been warned. Luckily you don’t have to be in the billionaire club to enjoy an F1 timepiece. 

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