In Formula1, Sport Sponsorship

Rolex became the official Formula 1 timekeeper back in 2013, and the brands have since proven to be a great match. In a sport where milliseconds matter, it would be difficult to find a better partner than Rolex.

According to Forbes, Rolex pay an estimated annual fee of $50 million to Formula 1 in order for their logo to be plastered on cars, drivers and advertising boards at race tracks. Whilst this cost may seem excessive to some, aligning with a top level sport like F1 makes a lot of sense for one of the most iconic swiss watch makers in the world. Rolex epitomise class, and there aren’t many sports classier than F1.The watch company has continued to demonstrate the significance of sports partnerships, which includes a 10-year contract signed in 2013. This has seen many interesting collaborations ranging from signature limited edition watches to the official Rolex Pit Lane Clock. Taking a deep dive into this special partnership, we learn why Rolex involvement in Formula 1 is so pivotal…

The historic Rolex-Motorsports link

Whilst the deal to become F1’s official time keeper and global partner was signed relatively recently, Rolex’s presence in motorsport spans decades. The Swiss watchmaker have had a presence in racing going back to 1935 when Sir Malcolm Campbell became the first driver to break 300mph, whilst wearing a Rolex. Apart from holding the world speed record, Campbell was known to be a big fan of Rolex watches and he helped grow the brand in the racing world by introducing Rolex to other drivers. This love was reciprocated by Rolex as the momentous feat was celebrated with the creation of a limited edition watch for the ‘Speed King’- the Malcolm Campbell Oyster.

This partnership they had established with Campbell propelled them to the top of the racing world, as Rolex became synonymous with high speed racing. They built a reputation for making the best watch for sport, due to Rolex watches having an iconic ‘oyster case’. The partnership between Rolex and motorsport was consolidated in the 1960s with the birth of one of the most popular watch models ever- the Rolex Daytona. Daytona is not just any old city in Florida, it is rooted in the history of motorsport. Daytona is home to the ‘Daytona 500,’ the most prestigious NASCAR race. Its compacted sand beaches also make it the ideal place for drivers to attempt to break speed records– this saw Daytona international speedway become the speed capital of the world.

The Rolex Daytona has since become one of the most desirable watch models, with potential buyers having to endure a long wait just to have a chance at buying the watch for list price. Rolex’s link with the city itself, and its rich history of high speed racing, is also seen through the ’24 Hours of Daytona,’ also known as the ‘Rolex 24 at Daytona’. It is one of the most popular events in the endurance racing world, and winning drivers each receive their own special Daytona watch.

rolex daytona

Thanks to the success of their partnership with Campbell, Rolex decided to expand in motor sports, and they accelerated their growth by partnering with other top drivers. A good example of this was Sir Jackie Stewart joining the Rolex brand as an official ambassador in 1968. Sir Jackie Stewart had an illustrious Formula 1 career, taking part in 99 races and winning 3 world championships (1969, 1971, and 1973). In 2012 he was made Grand Marshal of the 50th anniversary edition of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, 50 years after he was gifted a Rolex Daytona for a legendary victory in the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix.

The special relationship with Stewart was invaluable to Rolex. Being aligned with such an iconic F1 driver helped them fight off fierce competition from rival watchmakers for the 2012 sponsorship deal. Stewart revealed that he was heavily involved in the deal, and that he was called by the CEO of F1 at the time, Bernie Ecclestone, to help connect the two brands. It’s as if this partnership was simply meant to be.

Formula 1’s relationship with watchmakers

On the other side of the partnership, Formula 1 have a special history with watchmakers. Naturally, in a sport where milliseconds matter, partnerships with top brands have been common. This can be seen today as other luxury watchmakers sponsor F1 drivers and teams. For example, Richard Mille sponsor both Ferrari and McLaren. Luxury watches are often donned by drivers, and just like Rolex did with icons like Campbell and Stewart, many of these brands have partnered with popular F1 drivers. Lewis Hamilton’s deal with IWC sees him receive $2 million a year!

The importance of timekeeping in the sport has also been highlighted as various watchmakers have taken on the role of ‘Official Timekeeper’. Heuer were in charge of officiating the timekeeping in the 1970’s, before Longines took control in the 80’s. The rebranded TAG Heuer won back control in the 1990’s, and Hublot assumed the role before Rolex became the ‘Official Timekeeper,’ from the 2013 season.

Why do Rolex sponsor F1?

Some may still be questioning ‘Why does Rolex sponsor F1?’ so it’s important to underline again how special the partnership is. The partnership marks two brands with intertwined values and histories coming together. F1 and Rolex both mean luxury and they are undoubtedly in the upper echelons of their respective fields. Being a sport where there are only 20 drivers, competing for 10 teams, F1 is aligned with the exclusivity of Rolex. The quality of Rolex watches is another reason for their desirability, and this value of quality is also seen in F1- teams are constantly looking for new ways to innovate their cars and make them that millisecond faster.

On a basic level, sponsoring one of the world’s most popular sports has obvious benefits, especially seeing as it is now breaking into markets all over the world. Being the F1 global partner means Rolex get to enjoy this growth as even more eyes, in even more markets, are on the brand.

It’s also crucial to note the partnership isn’t simply for show, Rolex are in charge of the upkeep of timing equipment.

As previously mentioned, F1 races can be decided by a fraction of a second, and right now you’d struggle to find a brand more reliable than Rolex to help maintain the accuracy of results.

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Ronnie Peterson