Tag Heuer’s 50th Anniversary of the Carrera coincides with their partnership on Ron Howard’s film “Rush.” With impeccable attention to detail, this film tells the story of the 1970s era rivalry between McClaren driver James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth), the flamboyant playboy with beautiful women at his call, and Ferrari driver Niki Lauda (played by Daniel Brühl), the no-nonsense analyzer who finds a 20 percent risk of death acceptable. One of the film’s meticulous details is the Heuer logo across the front of Ferrari’s monocoque, on Lauda’s racing suit and all over the tracks because you cannot tell the history of Formula 1 without simultaneously telling the history of TAG Heuer.
James Hunt and Niki Lauda developed a competitive symbiosis, and their gasoline-fueled rivalry marked an era of glamour, innovation and death. Germany’s Nürburg Ring, a track of dubious safety due to its narrow roads and proximity to the forest, was scheduled to hold its last Formula 1 race in 1976. Before the start of the race, a seemingly oracular Niki Lauda suggested boycotting the race, but the other drivers voted him down, and the race continued in heavy rain. Formula 1’s exit from the Nürburgring was marked by Lauda’s ignominious crash where he sat in a burning car without proper aid from track personnel or firemen. If not for the bravery of his fellow drivers, Lauda might have perished, and as it was, he bore the burns on his body as a continual reminder of calculated risk.
The movie establishes the rivalry, highlights the crash, and then chronicles Lauda’s determination, despite his injuries, to return that season. Bloodied and bandaged, Lauda, in obvious pain, leaves the hospital to race again in a duel with James Hunt that comes down to the last race of the season. Hollywood lives for this kind of drama.
Since 1963, the Carrera has been synonymous with motorsports, and the watch is a standout in the flim: Niki Lauda wears a vintage Carrera Silverstone and James Hunt wears a vintage Carrera Full Gold. The first Carrera was the black and white “Panda” with tachymeter. The name comes from the Carrera Panamericana Mexico Road Race, a punishing endurance race. Jack Heuer says, “I first heard about the Carrera from Pedro Rodriguez at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, where I was the Official Timekeeper. He and his brother Ricardo were two of the fastest, smartest and bravest endurance drivers of all time. To hear them talk of the Carrera, which our brand’s longtime friend Juan-Manuel Fangio had won in 1953, but which had been stopped in the 1955 after a number of fatalities, made my imagination soar. Just the sound of the name itself – elegant, dynamic, easily pronounced in all languages and charged with emotion. I knew then that my new chronograph was the perfect tribute to this legend.” Jack Heuer had advanced sports timekeeping on the sidelines, but now he had a timepiece for the driver. He knew he needed a large dial with excellent legibility and a shock-resistant and waterproof case to endure the extremes of the sport; the Carrera was the answer.
In 1969, Heuer worked with a consortium of other manufacturers to design and produce the world’s first automatic chronograph, the Calibre 11 (arguably beating the Zenith El Primero). This movement used Edouard Heuer’s oscillating pinion, which he invented in 1887. Heuer put this new movement in its Carrera Chronomatic (a fusion of “Chronograph” and “Automatic”) Calibre 11, which boasted a special patented excentric regulator setting and moveable spiral block. The accuracy of the watch matched the precise needs of motorsports and allowed for pinpoint regulation.
Tag Heuer loaned their 70s-era timing equipment to the movie production, which Jack Heuer first developed for Ferrari, and these timers, seen throughout the movie, were the first to measure to 1/1,000ths of a second. Most teams on the grid followed suit and used Heuer timers. Jean Campiche, Heuer’s Official Timekeeper for Scuderia Ferrari at the time, describes: “I was in charge of giving timing information during practice, qualifying sessions and during the race, not only about the two Ferrari cars but also about all other cars. I remember very well the day Niki Lauda got back into his car in Monza in 1976. He was wearing a balaclava over his bandages. After the race, he took it off and his head was covered with blood. It all gave us on the track a very good sense that his will had almost no limits.” The two vintage watches loaned to the actors and the timing equipment are now back behind glass at Tag Heuer’s 360 Museum in La-Chaux-des-Fonds, Switzerland, but you can see them and Lauda’s improbable comeback on the silver screen.
In 1971, Heuer signed as official timekeeper for Ferrari, and every driver wore a Heuer chronograph with his name and blood type engraved on the case. Jack convinced il Commendatore, Enzo Ferrari, to feature a large Heuer logo on the cockpit of his Formula 1 cars and thereby laid the foundation for the globalization of the Heuer brand. Heuer became TAG Heuer in 1985 and then joined the LVMH Group in 1999, and its conspicuous presence, not only currently in Formula 1, but also historically in the Indy 500 and 24 hours of Le Mans, ensures its global association with motor racing. Additionally, TAG Heuer has sponsored Formula 1 legends: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, David Coulthard, Kimi Räíkkönen, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
The movie’s subtext is the story of Heuer timing, and thanks to director Ron Howard’s eye for detail, Heuer is an unmistakable presence. With the Carrera’s 50th anniversary, the story continues. Recalling Edouard Heuer’s 1887 oscillating pinion used in the Calibre 11, TAG Heuer, in 2011, created their first in-house movement dubbed the Calibre 1887. This column-wheel chronograph movement is a modern re-engineering of the past, replicating the 1887-patented pinion to assist the column wheel in the start, stop and return-to-zero functions. For the anniversary, they used this movement in the 45mm TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 1887 Jack Heuer 50th Anniversary Edition. To view the 320 components, 39 jewels, and pinon/blue column wheel of this movement, you look through a smoky sapphire caseback, which has emblazoned across it Jack Heuer’s coat of arms and signature.
The bull’s head case, with pushers and crown at the top, is identical to the Carrera Mikrogirder’s asymmetrical case. The black titanium carbide steel bezel, steel and titanium cage, and tachymeter and pulsometer on the dial take their design cues from the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team and aeronautics. The TAG Heuer story and its imitable Carrera continue to advance the vision of Jack Heuer and remain a pervasive presence in Formula 1 racing.
What new Formula 1 rivalry awaits? What legendary driver will command the podium next? What will be the Formula 1 engine, aerodynamic design or space-age material of the future? Whatever chapter awaits in the Formula 1 story, TAG Heuer and the Carrera are up for the task and new movies are likely in the making.