TAG Heuer has just announced, at the Monaco Grand Prix, that they’ll be launching three new watches inspired by the world of F1 racing in general, and by Ayrton Senna in particular. Senna is widely revered in the motorsports world as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. His death in 1994 at the age of 34, which had been immediately preceded by the death of rookie driver Roland Ratzenberger, and the serious injury of Rubens Barrichello, prompted widespread criticism of safety standards at F1, as well as numerous reforms to F1 car and track safety standards. Those reforms have made fatalities in F1 an extreme rarity – Senna’s death was the last in Formula 1 until that of Jules Bianchi, who sustained fatal injuries racing in very wet conditions at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2015.
Senna was a brand ambassador for TAG Heuer and the first TAG Heuer Ayrton Senna watch was the TAG Heuer 6000 Senna Limited Edition, produced in 1994 (this was also the only Ayrton Senna watch produced during his lifetime). His daily wear watch was a quartz Analogue/ Digital TAG Heuer S/el, from the Sports and Elegance line. What you might not know is that TAG Heuer has a history with Formula 1 that extends beyond its relationship with Senna as a brand ambassador. One of the most notable instances of the company’s extensive relationship with F1 was its relationship with McLaren – TAG paid for the development of a 1.5 liter engine that McLaren used in the mid 1980s and of course, as F1 fans will know, actually bought 50% of McLaren International in 1981.
Ayrton Senna And TAG Heuer
The TAG Heuer watch worn by Ayrton Senna was this analog/digital model, the Analogue/ Digital TAG Heuer S/el, as seen on Calibre11.com. For a full breakdown on every Ayrton Senna watch made by TAG Heuer, check out Calibre 11’s amazing coverage, right here.
The new Senna Special Edition collection consists, at launch, of 3 watches: one mechanical chronograph, and a quartz chrono and time-only piece. They were launched at TAG Heuer’s new boutique in Monaco – the site of arguably the most prestigious race in Formula 1, where Senna first won in 1987.
The Monaco Grand Prix
The Monaco Grand Prix takes place on a course which has remained largely unchanged in its basic outline since the very first Monaco Grand Prix in 1929. Currently TAG Heuer partners with Red Bull Racing, which is one of ten teams competing this season and which, as of the conclusion of the Monaco Grand Prix, has seen Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes taking turns at the top spot on the podium. Historically Red Bull Racing has had its own share of top honors in F1; the team won the Constructor’s Championship title four years running, between 2010 and 2013, and in those years, Sebastian Vettel also won the World Champion Driver award.
Formula 1 is as much a miracle of logistics as it is of racing, with cars, teams, drivers, support staff, and team-specific hospitality areas as well as associated staff, all traveling together to the different cities that provide tracks or, as in the case of the Monaco GP and a few other venues, driving on public roads that have been closed for the event. The differences between a place on the podium, or not, is often measured in tiny fractions of a second and both driver skill and extremely careful management of things like power plants, brakes, tire composition (a marginally wrong choice of tires on the part of a team can doom its chances) and especially aerodynamics, are all part of the game.
In a sport with hundredths or thousandths of a second margins of error at best, there are no non-critical elements, but perhaps the most important is the use of aerodynamic downforce to hold cars to the road. An F1 car is in a sense an upside down airplane, with lift pressing the car into the road rather than into the sky. It’s this aggressive exploitation of aerodynamic downforce that makes the high corner speeds characteristic of F1 racing possible, but which can also result in a team having to extract its car and driver from one of the barriers.
The Monaco Grand Prix is considered one of the most prestigious of all motorsports events, for a number of reasons – there is its history of course, and there is also the fact that the circuit is extremely technically difficult. There are no real long straights and thanks to this, and a number of very tight turns (including a hairpin where cars pass through in single file and speed drops to almost walking velocities) average speed at Monaco is lower than at any other F1 course. The close quarters on the track mean that passing at Monaco is extremely difficult, and many champions have ended their bid for a podium position at Monaco in the barriers. This combined with the need to negotiate very challenging turns, is what makes a win at Monaco more coveted than at any other F1 venue; Senna won at Monaco six times, which is a record still unbroken today.
Being trackside at F1 is a full-bore physical experience – the engine vibrations and noise rattle bones and eardrums, and the cars scream as drivers upshift out of turns (you can hear the sound clear across the entire principality of Monaco, I’m sure). This was a tightly contested race by any standard – Ferrari’s Kimi Raikonnen (nicknamed "The Iceman") won the pole position during qualifying rounds but it was his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, who though starting in second position would go on to win for Ferrari for the team’s first victory in Monaco in 16 years. Red Bull racing did very respectably however, with 3rd place on the podium occupied by Daniel Ricciardo, and his teammate Max Verstappen taking 5th.
The Ayrton Senna Special Editions
The new Senna Special Editions are faithful in many respects to earlier watches created to honor the champion, and to give his fans and F1 fans as well a tangible connection to the champion and the sport. The most notable common element is the Senna "S" which can be found prominently on the bezels of all models, and which TAG Heuer has used on all Senna watches since the first model that was launched during Senna’s lifetime. The most complicated model is a mechanical chronograph which uses the Heuer-01 caliber, with a skeletonized dial and in a large 45mm black PVD steel case. The bracelet is titanium, with the S-shaped links favored by Senna for his own TAG Heuer watches.
The movement is an aesthetically modified version of TAG Heuer’s caliber 1887 and in this version, was first introduced in 2015. From a purely technical and performance standpoint it can essentially be thought of as the cal. 1887; HODINKEE’s Nick Manousos discussed some of the movement’s technical properties with TAG Heuer’s Head of Products, Marc Walti, in 2015 as well.
This particular model is priced as you would expect for a mechanical chronograph: $6200, and they’ll be in stores in October. The two quartz models also carry the signature Senna "S" and are being offered in somewhat smaller cases: 43mm for both models, in PVD coated stainless steel. Interestingly enough the quartz versions are 200m water resistant; the mechanical Senna Special Edition is 100m water resistant.
These two quartz watches are referred to by TAG Heuer as the Formula 1 models and are basically a way for both Senna and F1 fans to get an accurate, durable, easy-to-wear-and-care for watch that connects with both. And of course, Senna himself wore a quartz TAG Heuer so a quartz movement in this case is quite on-brand and even historically correct.
Next stop of the F1 season is Montreal, this weekend; good luck to TAG Heuer and Red Bull Racing who will be working hard to break the lock that Mercedes and Ferrari have had on first place so far.
For more on the Senna Special Editions, and on TAG Heuer’s involvement with motorsports (including Indycar) check out TAGHeuer.com.