At the risk of upsetting devotees of NASCAR, Indycar, rallying, drag-racing, and other forms of motorsport, the global consensus is that Formula 1 represents the cutting edge. No, make that the bleeding edge of racing technology. Electronics, materials, telemetry, fuels, safety, communications, tire design, aerodynamics – you name the area, and Formula 1 is so far ahead of the rest of the world that it makes the other forms of motor racing seem primitive.
And while Ferrari would argue this, despite having had not a few British employees, England is the heart of F1 design. It is the site of the creation of the vast majority of chassis, and it’s no slouch where engines are concerned; after all, the “winningest” motor of all time came from Cosworth in the UK. Come to think of it, more than a few Indycar chassis originated in the UK.
And what does this have to do with watches? Simple: over the past few years, the two have become inextricably linked beyond the mere hiring drivers as ambassadors. Most obvious are the TAG-McLaren/TAG-Heuer relationship, and more recently, Ferrari’s association with Panerai, though the latter also includes spiritual links to the road cars. The appeal is obvious: while we who worship mechanical watches need no excuses to respect a watch’s engineering brilliance, for the world at large, Formula 1 is far more important and heroic. So nothing better reinforces the entire concept of top-flight engineering than some form of collaboration with an F1 team.
Among the latest to stress that the synergy goes further than a patch on the driver’s fireproof suit, and a decal on the fuel tank, is Oris, whose relationship with the highly successful Williams F1 team was emphasized by a visit to their factory. The privilege accorded to the watch press cannot be underestimated: F1 teams rarely allow outsiders to see the heart of their factories, as industrial espionage is a constant threat. Use of cameras was utterly forbidden.
[The camera embargo is not mere paranoia. This F1 season has been marred by the theft of Ferrari’ design secrets, the documents finding their way to a McLaren engineer. At the time of writing, the two are neck-and-neck in the lead, so it could create the sport’s biggest-ever upset.]
Launching its new TT3 Chronograph 2nd Time Zone, Oris likened the engineering of their latest watch with that of a Williams F1 car, without too much Madison Avenue taurean faeces. And those who have visited both F1 factories and watch ateliers note that the major difference is the size of the components. Advanced computing, CAD/CAM facilities, spotless working conditions – you find them in both. But we’d sure love to see the watch manufacture that needs a wind tunnel …
Side by side, the likenesses were drawn for us: The Oris’ strap and Williams’ tires both require flexibility and durability. The analogy likens the strap’s buckle to the wheel’s fasteners. The watch-case and the car body? Words like “streamlined” and “aerodynamic” were used. More seriously, both the TT3 and the Williams use carbon fiber, titanium, assorted alloys and DLC coatings. And both require – categorically – microscopic precision in their manufacture.
A stretch? Perhaps. But a watch beats at typically 28,000bph. It’s a far lower speed than the rpms of an F1 car engine, but that runs for a two-hour-race and then it’s rebuilt. A wristwatch? That runs 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, with usually two-to-five years between servicing. So any engineer will tell you: that’s just as impressive.