Formula 1 season preview – the teams and watch brands partnering up for 2021Fergus Nash
As the anticipation rises and the desert air shakes from F1 engines firing up, before the five lights go out at the 2021 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, we will see the Rolex hands ticking into position, ready to start racing. Time+Tide will, of course, have watches on the mind. Any sport associated with speed and timing has some link to timekeeping and watches by association. But, unlike Omega with the Olympics, and Seiko with World Athletics, Formula 1’s litany of watchmakers are all entwined even deeper. Not only with timing the laps, but also with the sport’s reputation for opulence and cutting-edge engineering.
Developments in the world of F1 timekeeping sponsorship aren’t usually the most exciting part of a season. This, after all, is a sport where the cars travel at over 320kmph, political turmoil bubbles away in the paddock and there are occasional spectacular crashes where modern safety measures (usually) allow drivers to walk away unscathed. But for keen-eyed viewers there is a lot to be gleaned from which watches are worn where. While the regulations for 2021 only allow minimal changes to be made to the cars from last season, this year has seen quite a lot of shifting around when it comes to the watch sponsors, and there’s a reason behind all of this.
The most glaring change for 2021 was Scuderia Ferrari’s pairing with Richard Mille, having left behind a multi-year partnership with Hublot. There was no official word on why Hublot no longer sponsor the proud Italian marque, however the team’s drastic loss of form in 2020, dropping from 3rd place in 2019’s constructor’s championship all the way to 6th place, did seem to lose them a few of their key partners.
Although sponsorship lost is typically a sign of underwhelming results, conversely a sudden influx of clamouring sponsors can prove a sign of good things to come. While 2021’s cost cap regulations mean that teams can’t endlessly funnel cash into their development for every marginal aero gain they can find, extra sponsorship shows a faith in the team’s progression and provides the important morale boost for a winning mentality. Two teams with sponsors brand-new to Formula 1 are definitely ones that threaten to shake up the grid, although admittedly at opposite ends.
Aston Martin are joined by Girard-Perregaux after their first pole position and race win last year under the name Racing Point singled them out as rising stars in F1. Since billionaire businessman and petrolhead Lawrence Stroll saved the team, which had gone into administration in 2018, he has been playing the strategic investment game like a fiddle. Not only did he purchase the F1 team, but he also dropped a cool £182 million into Aston Martin, owning 25% of the company and stepping into the Executive Chairman role. Now, merging his two projects together to bring Aston Martin into F1, it’s no wonder that hoards of companies are jumping onto Stroll’s train heading for success.
Down the back of the pack, Williams have appropriately partnered with Bremont, another independently founded British company that has a passion for its nation and craftsmanship. Bremont finally replaces the void left by Oris, and signals a reassuring confidence that the squad can return to regular point scoring, and perhaps even jump back into the midfield battle come 2022. Alfa Romeo and Haas, their two main competitors in recent years, have been struggling to keep sponsorship — with rumours that Alfa Romeo may even pull out of Formula 1, leaving the Swiss team Sauber without a title sponsor.