TAG Heuer and the McLaren F1 team have had a long association, not just through common ownership (TAG formerly owning both TAG Heuer and 50% of what was called McLaren International; Ron Dennis of McLaren being a shareholder in TAG Heuer), but also through TAG Heuer’s sponsorship of the McLaren F1 team.
In the mid-late 1990s McLaren was undergoing a period of change- it had split from long-time engine partner Honda in 1993 and lost the Marlboro sponsorship deal at the end of 1996. So 1997 was a new chapter for McLaren, with the team entering its second year using the Mercedes engine and for the first time since the 1970s, a new lead-sponsor and colour scheme to replace the iconic Marlboro white with red flags.
As part of the effort to create a distinct McLaren brand, the team introduced a new logo (The McLaren red “tick”) and increased its focus on building McLaren into “the British Ferrari”, a plan that has gained further momentum with the launch of the MP4-12C road car in 2011.
This focus on branding also saw an increased partnership with TAG Heuer and a series of limited edition watches from 1998-2001 in the carrying both the McLaren name and the names of the two drivers during this period- Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.
There have been four limited edition McLaren TAG watches released during this period, two S/els, a 6000 series and a Kirium.
TAG Heuer McLaren S/el I
Ref.CG1117.BA0423 (above) is a quartz Limited Edition of 3999 watches launched in 1998 to commemorate McLaren winning the Constructors Championship. The watch has a silver dial with grey chequered flag and ” West McLaren Mercedes” written on the dial.
On the back are the signatures of Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and Ron Dennis.
TAG Heuer McLaren S/ el II
The following year a second S/el was released (Ref CG2113.BA0473), a Limited Edition of 1500 watches. While Mika Hakkinen also won the 1999 F1 Drivers Championship, McLaren was beaten by Ferrari to the Constructors title.
This time TAG Heuer used the Calibre 16 (ETA 7750) movement and a cleaner design. The dial is quite a detailed design, featuring a patterned inner circle and a flat outer circle (see above) and black sub-dials.
TAG Heuer McLaren 6000
Launched in 2000, the 6000 McLaren was limited to 2000 watches and for the first time used the 6000-series as the basis. This is my favourite of the McLaren watches and features a textured black dial with the red McLaren “tick”. The design is far simpler than the previous watches, and the better for it.
TAG Heuer Kirium McLaren
The last of the McLaren series was launched in 2001 and this time was a titanium Ti5 Kirium. Like the 6000-series, the Kirium had the black dial with the red accents and a rubber strap with grooves to mimic the grooves on the F1 tyres of the day.
In addition the watches that were co-branded with McLaren, there was also a series of watches released in partnership with the two driver who drove for the team during these years- double World Champion Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.
Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen joined McLaren in 1993, when he was officially the reserve driver to Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti. When Andretti was sacked during the season, Hakkinen was drafted in to replace him and made an immediate impact, out-qualifying Senna at Estoril.
Hakkinen became the team’s lead driver in 1994 when Senna went to Williams Renault, and he kept that role until retiring from F1 in 2001 as a two-time World Champion.
The first of the Hakkinen watches is this blue S/el (below), which doesn’t have any marking on the dial, but has Mika’s signature on the back of the watch
The better-known of the Hakkinen series are two 6000 Series released as a Limited Edition of 2000 to mark Hakkinen’s first world title in 1998. Again on the back is Mika’s signature and his nickname: “The Flying Finn”. The watch came with either a white dial with black sub-dials, or black dial with silver sub-dials.
Scot David Coulthard was the Williams test driver in 1994 and was promoted to the race team when Senna died at Imola. He drove for the remainder of the 1994 season before getting the full-time job in 1995, by which time he already had an option to join McLaren, which he did in 1996. Coulthard raced for McLaren until 2004, before spending the last four years of his career with Red Bull Racing.
There is only one David Coulthard TAG Heuer, but while Mika had to settle for a quartz watch, DC scored an S/el Chronometer. It’s a fairly simple design, with a small chequered flag in the centre of the dial with “Coulthard” across the middle.
TAG Heuer and McLaren Today
While the partnership between TAG Heuer and McLaren remains strong, it has changed over the last few years. The McLaren F1 car no longer carries a TAG Heuer logo, although TAG Heuer remain a sponsor and partner of the team. Each McLaren driver has become brand ambassadors for TAG Heuer, including Kimi Raikkonen who maintained this relationship (although limited to TAG Heuer sunglasses) after his switch to Ferrari.
In terms of watches there have been two limited editions released under Lewis Hamilton’s name- a Carrera and (somewhat surprisingly) an Aquaracer Calibre S (above).
The Carrera is the pick of these, with a metallic grey dial and red highlights, including Hamilton’s signature. The Carrera also has the words “2008 World Champion” on the left-hand sub-dial to mark Hamilton’s title.
While TAG Heuer have decided that the strategy of backing brand ambassadors in F1 is better value than paying for stickers on a F1 car, I would love to see the TAG Heuer logo back on a McLaren, just as I would love to see TAG Heuer focus more on the relationship that it had with perhaps the most famous McLaren driver of all- Ayrton Senna.
1) 6000 McLaren, West McLaren S/el, 6000 Hakkinen: Stephen Lovell – SwissWristWatches.co.uk
2) McLaren S/el, Coulthard S/el: Premier Brands Boutique
3) Hamilton Carrera: Rage2: http://forums.watchuseek.com/f25/tag-heuer-carrera-lewis-hamilton-limited-edition-370249.html