Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1

Before the Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1

Last Updated on June 22, 2019 by Calibre 11

David’s recent article on Ayrton Senna’s watches made me look again at some of the drivers who wore Heuer watches during what many vintage collectors consider Heuer’s “Golden Era” of the 60s and 70s. It was perhaps a more innocent time, before ambassador programmes, and many of the drivers wore the watches simply because they liked them (or because one of their fellow racers sold it to them, but more on that later). It’s a distinguished roll call by any measure, with a number of world champions amongst them, and includes my personal all-time favourite F1 driver.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[0]

For this article I’ve focused entirely on F1 drivers, even though there were plenty of sports car racers, rally drivers etc who wore Heuers too. That leaves some scope for future articles, but it’s also important to remember that racers at the time weren’t defined by Formula 1 as much as they are now. Double F1 world champion Jim Clark was killed in an F2 race, John Surtees was world champion on two wheels as well as four (in a probably unrepeatable feat) so being an F1 driver didn’t mean you couldn’t drive anything else. Robert Kubica’s rallying accident shows that it might be better only to be an F1 driver but at the time in question it was pretty much the norm to race in other formulae.

Rather than make it a simple listing of the drivers and what they wore, I’ve given an idea of their racing career and why you might be proud to wear the same watch.

Jo Siffert

Let’s start with “Smokin’ Jo”. There were Heuer-wearing racers before him, of course, but possibly none before were as much of a Heuer advocate as Siffert. So much so that he was buying watches from Heuer at wholesale and selling them on to his fellow racers!

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[1]

From an interview that David conducted with Jack Heuer about Siffert’s role as a Heuer “dealer”:

“Jo as you may know from his background, he was a very poor guy and he was a born “wheeler and dealer” and he would always have a collection of watches, and he would place them with all of his friends on the circuit, between wholesale and retail, and we didn’t mind of course because it was in public and so actually the Formula 1 circuit, if you looked around, they all wore a Heuer Chronograph….”

So strong is Siffert’s connection with Heuer that the model he is most associated with, the Autavia 1163 T Chronomatic, is commonly called the “Siffert” by collectors, along with similar models in the same (more or less) colour scheme.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[2]

With just 2 wins and 2 poles in his Formula 1 career, cut short by his death in a non-championship race in 1971, Jo might not have been the most successful of the Heuer-wearing F1 drivers but certainly one of the ones who had the most impact in terms of spreading the Heuer word amongst the drivers (below is Jo on a tour of the Heuer factory with Jack Heuer). And for that he is rightly remembered and renowned amongst the Heuer community.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[3]

Niki Lauda

So let’s move onto a world champion next. A 3-time one, no less, and quite probably would have been 4 times after his near-miraculous recovery from a crash at the Nürburgring in 1976, if Lauda hadn’t bravely decided to end his race in Japan in dangerously flooded track conditions, handing the championship to James Hunt by a scant single point.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[4]

As a Ferrari driver, Lauda received one of the Carrera 1158s that were presented to all their drivers of the period. It became almost as much of a permanent fixture as the trademark cap he wears to cover the burns incurred in the Nürburgring crash, even when his career moved on to Brabham following Lauda’s unhappiness with how he had been treated by Ferrari following his Nürburgring accident .

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[5]

After two years at Brabham, Lauda became disillusioned with F1 and “driving round in circles” and retired to look after his aviation business. Unusually, however, he made a successful return to the sport with McLaren in 1982, winning at Long Beach and Brand’s Hatch. The following year was less successful, although team-mate John Watson was able to claim a win. The tail end of the season would see Lauda racing an engine branded with a name that was soon to become very important for the Heuer story – TAG.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[6]

1984 though would see Alain Prost, sacked by Renault, return to McLaren and the driver pairing would go on to dominate the season with 12 wins between them in a 16 race calendar. Prost had 7 wins to Lauda’s 5, but thanks to Prost’s Monaco win (when being closed down by Senna, with the Heuer-wearing Stefan Bellof faster than both) only receiving half-points as the race was stopped after just 31 laps, Lauda was able to win the championship by a scant 0.5 point. 1985 was more disappointing, with 11 retirements and 2 races missed through injury, so Lauda retired from F1 for good at the end of the year, having seen team-mate Prost win the first of his four championships.

Unfortunately, his original Carrera was later stolen, though the story has a happy ending, with Lauda being reunited with Jack Heuer and another 1158 at an event at von Köck’s jewellers in Vienna, held as part of the promotion for the Bonhams’s Auction of vintage Heuer watches.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[7]

Lauda has clearly continued to wear the watch after the event, as shown in this meeting with Stewart and Fittipaldi at the Brazilian Grand Prix later that year.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[8]

Jochen Rindt

Moving on from one Austrian world champion to another, and one with the unfortunate distinction of being Formula 1’s only posthumous champion.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[9]

Rindt had been in F1 for a number of years with some success including a couple of second places in 1966, but it wasn’t until joining Lotus as a replacement for the late Jim Clark that he was in a position to win. His maiden victory came at Watkin’s Glen in 1969 but the Lotus 49B was fragile that year, Rindt being forced to retire from six races on the way to fourth in the championship in a season dominated by Jackie Stewart, who won 6 of the 11 races.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[10]

1970 seemed set to follow suit, with only a win in Monaco to show for the first four races but then four straight wins in Holland, France, Britain and Germany gave Jochen a commanding lead by that point in the season. After retiring in Austria and the team noting that the Ferraris had been considerably faster down the straights, Lotus tried running without a wing in practice at Monza although this probably did not contribute to Rindt’s ultimately fatal accident into Parabolica following a front right brake failure. Despite his closest rival Jacky Ickx winning two of the season’s remaining three races, Rindt’s points advantage was sufficient to give him the championship at the end of the year.

As for his watch, it was a 2446 Autavia with the smaller registers, like this one (shown before and after restoration) belonging to collector Peter Moller:

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[11]

Clay Regazzoni

And here comes our second Swiss driver, after Siffert, although Clay was from an Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, as evidenced by his full forenames – Gianclaudio Giuseppe.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[12]

Clay entered F1 in 1970, the same year we lost Jochen Rindt, alongside championship contender Jacky Ickx at Ferrari, although only for some of the season’s races. He impressed in the late season though, claiming four podium finishes including the win at Monza where Rindt had died in practice.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[13]

Two further years at Ferrari yielded five more podium finishes but no further wins, but a move to a by then clearly uncompetitive BRM in 1973 was spectacularly unsuccessful, giving just 2 points on the way to 17th in the driver’s championship. The Ferrari team had a big turn-out of staff in 1974 following the appointment of Luca di Montezemolo and Regazzoni rejoined along with his BRM teammate, one Niki Lauda (shown in the photo above with Jack Heuer and Clay).

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[14]

Regazzoni was immediately back in contention, going into the final race in Watkin’s Glen level on points with McLaren’s Emerson Fittipaldi. Handling problems in that race meant Clay had to settle for second in the championship. Ferrari went into 1975 on a high but Regazzoni increasingly found himself outperformed by his younger teammate Lauda and was replaced by Reutemann for 1977. Clay was still in demand though, but surprised some by joining the relatively small team Ensign. An unsuccessful season was followed by another with Shadow in 1978, but a move to Williams for 1979 yielded a further win at Silverstone. His 1980 season with Ensign was cut short by an accident that left him paralysed below the waist, although he was later able to race again in other formulae, finally retiring from competitive racing only in 1990.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[15]

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that Clay was indeed keen on his Heuers. As well as the Carrera 1158 he received from Heuer whilst at Ferrari, he wore an Autavia and a Silverstone, and Sothebys sold a Monaco with provenance as having belonged to him in 2010 too.

Mario Andretti

And on to another multiple Heuer wearer, and this one a world champion too. Italian American Mario Andretti also started a racing dynasty, with sons Jeff and Michael and grandson Marco all racing in IndyCar. Michael also had a spell in F1 at McLaren alongside Ayrton Senna in 1993, but failed to gel with the car and left the team after finishing 3rd at Monza, replaced by world champion-to-be Mika Häkkinen.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[16]

Mario’s own debut in F1 was initially more auspicious. Having raced in a wide variety of cars in the US from stock cars to Indy cars, on paved courses and dirt tracks, including a win at the Indy 500, he took up an offer from Colin Chapman to race at the US Grand Prix in 1968. Andretti took pole by just 0.07 seconds, impressing the establishment and although overtaken by Jackie Stewart on the first lap, was able to challenge for the lead before ultimately retiring. Andretti didn’t commit to F1 at this point in his career, though, appearing in selected races for first Lotus and then STP-March with only a 3rd place 7 retirements to show for it.

Joining Ferrari in 1971, again for only selected races in the season, broke that trend and Mario won on his debut in South Africa. That was however the highlight of a year that saw him fail to qualify for Monaco, thanks to qualifying proper being rained off and Mario not having set a representative time in Friday practice. He raced again for Ferrari in 1972 but then concentrated on his US career until surprising many by joining new entrant Parnelli Jones for the last two races of 1974. Parnelli Jones were unable to repeat their US success in F1 and despite Andretti committing to a full F1 season for the first time ever in 1975, the team folded 3 races into the 1976 season.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[17]

Andretti then rejoined Lotus, to more success and although the Lotus 77 was fragile, he was able to win in Japan in 1976, setting up a serious tilt at the title in 1977. Focussing on aerodynamics and the “ground effect” caused by sealing the car more closely to the ground using rubber skirts, the Lotus 78 was a big step forward.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[18]

And the amount of work Andretti had put into testing paid off, leading to 4 wins on the way to 3rd in that year’s championship, won by Niki Lauda. Lotus were the class of the field the next year and Andretti went on to win 6 races that year, winning the championship ahead of his team-mate Ronnie Peterson, who unfortunately succumbed to injuries incurred at the Italian GP. Lotus was in decline after that and Mario’s F1 career went the same way. His return to racing in the US was successful again, however, Mario clinching the CART championship in 1984.

Mario’s Heuer of choice in his early career was the Autavia 2446 shown in the photos above, but as a Ferrari driver during the period of Heuer sponsorship he was another driver to receive a Carrera 1158, a watch he still owns.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[19]

Gilles Villeneuve

And lastly to my favourite F1 driver of all, the Canadian Gilles Villeneuve (or Villanova as some Ferrari team members would have it!). Not the most successful of this list by any means, nonetheless his driving style won him a lot of fans and plaudits. His son Jacques might have surpassed Gilles’ results to win the 1997 championship but, for my money, he never surpassed the man.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[20]

Villeneuve’s early career had largely been in snowmobile racing, and that gave him a notable degree of car control, able to slide and recover the car perhaps better than many of the other competitors. This was perhaps most evident during wet practice for the 1979 US GP, when Villeneuve was at least 9 seconds faster than the next fastest car, an unheard of margin in F1 racing.

Having moved to Formula Atlantic and winning championships there, he caught the eye of the McLaren team by beating James Hunt and several other F1 drivers in a non-championship Atlantic race, leading to an invitation to drive for McLaren at a number of races in 1977. He made his debut at the British GP and generally impressed, but McLaren didn’t take him up for the following season. Later that year he was introduced to Enzo Ferrari, who was taken with the driver, comparing him to pre-war racer Tazio Nuvolari, and offered him a contract with Ferrari for the last two races of the season and for the whole of 1978.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[21]

Results gradually improved through that first full season, culminating in a win at the last race of the season, which happened to be in Canada. The Montreal circuit where he celebrated his first F1 win would later be renamed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in his honour. 1979 looked to be a big chance for both Ferrari drivers, Gilles being partnered with new arrival Jody Scheckter. Villeneuve won 3 races during that season, but ultimately finished second in the championship to Scheckter, having obeyed team orders to follow his team-mate home at the Italian GP. Scheckter was expected to return the favour in 1980, but that year’s Ferrari was desperately outclassed by cars with better ground effect, finishing only 10th in the constructor’s championship.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[22]

Ferrari introduced a turbo-engined car for 1981 but still struggled for handling against the other teams. Despite other teams having around four times the downforce of the Ferrari, Villeneuve was able to use the power of the engine and thus straight-line speed to win two races against much sweeter-handling cars. His car control also came to the fore again in Canada, where he managed a podium finish despite the car’s nosecone being damaged and eventually missing for most of the race. 1982 started well for Ferrari, but Villeneuve was incensed at being passed and repassed by his team-mate Didier Pironi at Imola when the drivers had been instructed to save fuel by the team to ensure a win. Gilles, remembering his own obedience in following the team’s instructions in 1979, felt betrayed by Pironi and vowed not to speak to him again. That would prove prophetically true as Villeneuve would lose his life following an accident in qualifying at the next GP in Belgium.

As a Ferrari driver whilst sponsored by Heuer, Gilles received one of the 1158 Carreras given to the drivers.Another Jack Heuer quote from David’s interview:

“One thing that I’ll never forget is that 5-6 years ago it was the Grand Prix of Monaco and Gilles Villeneuve’s son, Jacques, he had this big boat and he had his mother on the boat, and so he gave a little reception on the boat and we had to go up these stairs to get to the top deck where we had the reception and at the top of the stairs was his mother who received guests. When I was introduced to her, she said “You know that I still have the watch that you gave to my husband” and so you nearly cry, it’s so emotional to think that she cherishes this gold watch, so these are some of the memories…this is one of my favourite watches”.

However, he is more often pictured wearing the Chronosplit in the earlier picture.

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[23]

When I started this article, these were the only two Heuers I was aware of Villeneuve having owned and worn. And then a reader on Chronocentric found a picture of him wearing a late Autavia 73663:

Before The Ambassadors: Heuer & Formula 1[24]


Well, that is just six drivers of the 17 I had in mind when I started. I hope that writing a bit more about each of the drivers helped give a bit of colour to both them and the watches they wore, though I’m mindful it ended up perhaps more of a motorsports article than a watch one! But Heuer’s link with motorsport and F1 is inescapable and many of these drivers were wearing watches paid for out of their own pockets, so I think it appropriate for a fellow Heuer fan to celebrate their lives as well as their watches. I hope you do too – let us know here, and maybe the other 11 drivers and more besides will get their chance too!



[0] [1][2][3] [5] [13] [15] [23] TAG Heuer

[9][12][17] Courtesy

[4][6][10][14][18][20][22] Courtesy Wikipedia under Creative Commons

[7] Courtesy

[8] Courtesy and Mark Thompson/Getty Images South America

[11] Courtesy Peter Moller and

[16] Courtesy Gianvittorio Molteni and

[19] Courtesy

[21] Courtesy Armando Camacho and

[24] Courtesy Foxy100 and