THE HISTORY OF MOTORSPORT WATCHES
Perhaps no other sport requires precise timing more so than the world of motorsports, where a split second can mean the difference between glory and defeat. (In the recent F1 Austrian Grand Prix, Leclerc pipped Verstappen to the finish line by a mere 1.5 seconds – after more than two hours of driving attrition.)
It is thus no surprise that watches and timekeeping play an integral role in motorsports. From the early days of the sport, stopwatches – and later chronograph wristwatches – were used for timekeeping. Through the decades, drivers can often be seen with a “racing watch” strapped on their wrist, which became almost as essential an equipment as helmets.
Without further ado, let's take a look at two of the most iconic watches to have been worn on the track.
Heuer – not to be confused with the modern TAG Heuer – was undoubtedly the most prominent watch brand in the motorsports world. In the 1930s, Heuer started manufacturing dashboard timers such as the Master Time, Monte Carlo and the Autavia, which was given a second lease of life as a wristwatch in 1962.
Then there was the Heuer Carrera, a simple manual-winding chronograph (named after the Carrera Panamericana rally racing event) that graced the wrists of legendary drivers such as Niki Lauda, Bruce McLaren and Ayrton Senna.
However, the definitive racing watch is arguably the Heuer Monaco, the striking square timepiece Steve McQueen wore in the 1971 film Le Mans. Introduced in 1969, the Monaco was a pioneer on two fronts.
Firstly, its Calibre 11 (made in development with Breitling, Hamilton-Buren, and movement maker Dubois Depraz) was one of the first automatic chronographs to hit the market, alongside Zenith’s El Primero movement and Seiko’s Calibre 6139.
An automatic chronograph was seen as such a feat that then CEO Jack Heuer consciously chose to have the crown of the Monaco to be positioned on the left, so as to remind customers that the watch did not require manual winding.
Secondly, the Monaco was also notable for being the first water-resistant square watch.
Though rectangular watches and round watches are a dime a dozen, square watches were far from the norm, much less water-resistant ones.
Conceived by case designer Piquerez, the square case utilised a square gasket, instead of round gaskets as was the standard in square watches back then.
Jack Heuer acquired the patent for the design, and the Monaco was born.
In many ways, the Heuer Monaco was a rebel. At a time where most watch companies (including Rolex) were making small, 34-36mm round dress watches, Jack Heuer and his eponymous brand decided to take the path less taken and create a hulking, 39mm square monster of a watch. It was a radical approach to watchmaking and design, and even today the Monaco is still viewed as an unconventional timepiece.
ROLEX COSMOGRAPH DAYTONA
If the Heuer Monaco holds the title of most iconic racing watch, then the Rolex Daytona is undoubtedly the world’s most popular racing watch.
Named after the racing city of Daytona in Florida (where the headquarters of NASCAR is located), the Rolex Daytona was first introduced in 1963 as the brand’s chronograph offering. A second series was introduced in 1988 that featured the automatic Zenith El Primero movement, while the third (and current) series that was launched in 2000 updated the Daytona with Rolex’s in-house chronograph movement.
The Daytona was initially unpopular when it first launched, with few drivers wearing it on the track.
However, there was one notable exception – the actor/racecar driver Paul Newman, who wore a Daytona with an exotic dial configuration that was gifted by his wife Joanne Woodward.
The watch had the inscription “Drive Carefully Me”. When it was sold in 2017 at Phillips New York Winning Iconsauction, the watch fetched an astronomical sum of US$17.8 million.
The record-breaking sale catapulted the Daytona into horological stardom, cementing its place as one of the most sought-after watches.
PANZERA TIME MASTER CHRONOGRAPH
However, both the aforementioned watches cost a pretty penny – more luxury statement timepieces than beater watches. For those looking for an affordable racing chronograph, the Panzera Time Master Quartz Chronograph is a great choice.
It has scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, 100 metres of water resistance, an incredibly accurate Miyota chronograph movement that can measure down to 1/20th of a second.
It’s even has track credentials – Olympic and Commonwealth Games medalist John Steffensen wears the Time Master collection in the world of motorsport – from contesting rounds of the Porsche Michelin sprint challenge and Carrera Cup, through to the recent Bathurst 12 Hour endurance race.