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The speediest racer in the world has nothing to write home about without a device to time his or her laps. From cross-continental rallies and 24-hour endurance tests, to the very pinnacle of motorsports as represented by Formula 1, the importance of a timekeeper is thus well known. After all, speed is defined as a measure of distance covered over a measure of time. But, this is not what makes motorsports tick, as it were, because absolutely no one gets into this to clock up the fastest absolute speeds.
In November last year, three Rolex Testimonees – Sir Jackie Stewart, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber – got together to discuss the real appeal of motorsports, while figuring out what the partnership between Rolex and motorsports really means. We present their fascinating conversation.
Rolex has been involved in motorsport since the 1930s. As racing drivers, what does this enduring partnership mean to you?
Mark Webber (MW): I think that clearly innovation and pushing the boundaries unites Rolex with motorsport– they’re both synonymous with world-class products. In motorsport, you can never rest on your laurels – the only easy day was probably yesterday, you never know what is around the corner. When Rolex is designing and developing watches, the company is constantly pushing the boundaries of the products’ capabilities.
Sir Jackie Stewart (SJYS): Beyond that too, Rolex has always associated itself with excellence, it goes back a long way. This is demonstrated by the brand’s association with Sir Malcolm Campbell, who broke the World Land Speed Record on Daytona Beach in the 1930s wearing a Rolex watch. When Edmund Hillary climbed Everest in 1953, he was again wearing a Rolex. And when Mercedes Gleitze, the first-ever Rolex Testimonee, crossed the English Channel in 1927, she wore a Rolex Oyster.
Nico Rosberg (NR): As Sir Jackie says, Rolex has always been associated with extraordinary achievements. I think that Formula 1 is one of the most prestigious sports in the world. It has been in the past, and still is to this day, it has a huge legacy. Those two attributes – prestige and legacy – fit perfectly with Rolex.
SJYS: And Rolex partnered with Daytona and Le Mans long before they formally came into Formula 1.
MW: Which signifies the endurance component of the Rolex and motor sport partnership really well. I mean, when has a Rolex let you down? To even come close to (finishing), let alone (winning), a 24-hour race, your car needs to be just as robust and reliable.
What does it mean to be a Rolex Testimonee?
SJYS: I’m very proud that my relationship with Rolex started so long ago when I hadn’t even won a World Championship! I will be forever grateful for their foresight and my admiration for the brand continues to grow every single year because of the quality of the people involved and the quality of the product. As the brand continues to support individual excellence, I feel incredibly privileged to still be part of the Rolex family over 50 years later. Rolex’s long-term relationships also include the greatest tennis players and golfers in the history of sport. Only the best sportsmen and women have had partnerships with Rolex and that is because excellence and the quest for perfection is so embedded within Rolex’s culture. It’s an honour for the three of us to be a small part of this.
MW: For me, it means a great deal. When I was younger, growing up in a little-known corner of Australia, the chance for me to see a Rolex, let alone have one, was out of this world. A lot of it also goes back to my relationship with Sir Jackie– he was a very significant part of my career– and he spoke volumes about Rolex and how fantastic a brand they are to work with.
NR: I was honoured to become a Rolex Testimonee last year. It’s a privilege to represent the brand, alongside other international sportsmen and women, like yourselves, who have achieved unbelievable things in their respective fields. Sir Jackie, your legacy in Formula 1 truly speaks for itself – it is testament to you and the brand that your partnership started over 50 years ago.
How much do you consider your style and your choice of watch? Do you have different watches for different occasions?
SJYS: When you are succeeding at the top level in sport, you mix with lots of different and extraordinary people, and are exposed to such a variety of styles. I always thought that it would be nice to mould into the right occasion; for instance, if I’m dressed in black-tie I feel as though I should be wearing a watch to suit that occasion. It’s almost a fashion statement, in a way; we all wear different things for different times – and a watch, for me, follows the same pattern.
MW: For me, my lifestyle probably comes into consideration a little more. I like the sporty side of the Oysterflex bracelet; I think it’s sensational on the Daytona. The motor sport component of the Daytona is something that is pretty significant to me too. But when I put a watch on, I often don’t take it off for anything – the watch stays on. I might even go a month and have the same watch on; which watch that is will simply depend on my mood. However, to Sir Jackie’s point, if it is a very special occasion, I may well change gears and wear something a little different.
NR: I like the elegance. At the moment, I’m wearing the white-dial Daytona, which was a gift from my wife to mark 10 years of being together. For me, it’s really the most beautiful piece of art that I’m wearing on my wrist, and it is absolute pure elegance. That’s why in Sir Jackie’s words, it’s a subtle and classy fashion statement. I just absolutely love wearing it.
As motor sport legends, how do you approach your role of inspiring the next generation?
MW: Well, Sir Jackie inspired us. The legacy of Sir Jackie – whether it was on track or his pioneering stance on safety – he was totally before his time. Sir Jackie was my dad’s hero and that rubbed off on me, I went on to have posters on my bedroom wall of my generation – Senna, Prost, Mansell, Piquet. Legends of the sport help fuel the next generation and the role of inspiring future athletes is never taken for granted.
For me, it’s about transferring the hunger and the passion, and inspiring the next generation to do those simple things really well. I think it’s very easy as a young kid to overcomplicate what the vision is. If you really have the appetite for it and if the sport comes naturally to you, then you absolutely have a reason to chase the dream. I probably get asked once a week by aspiring racing drivers about how he or she should chase this dream. I sometimes think it’s unfortunate – chasing the Formula 1 journey is a tough one because of the financial component. In simple terms, it’s about keeping it clean and real, and just being super hungry about chasing it – that is always my advice.
SJYS: I think that asking for help is crucial. During my professional sporting career, I was a strong believer that I always needed help – I wanted to have counsel. Nowadays, with the sport’s advanced telemetry and technology, in addition to the complex simulators, there is even greater benefit to be had from listening to others and bouncing ideas around. Of course, timing is always essential, but being in the right place at the right time usually happens when you have good people around you – it’s key for success
NR: Attitude is very important, also. For us to remain humble with what we have achieved, and to help the next generation understand how special motor sport is – to really make them appreciate our sport and what we’re able to do out there.
In 2019, Formula 1 celebrated the sport’s 1000th race at the Chinese Grand Prix. How do you see motor sport developing and the future of Formula 1?
MW: Motorsport in the future – Sir Jackie, where are we going to be in a couple of decades?
SJYS: Everywhere in the world people drive cars. There are currently more cars in the world than there has ever been; it’s one of the great possessions, to have a car and to therefore have the independence to travel. The motor vehicle is here for the long term, and as long as we’ve got people driving cars, we will have motor sport.
We don’t know exactly what direction Formula 1 will take in the future, but it will certainly continue to raise the game, improving the sport and technology, be it better fuel consumption or environmental factors, for example. But Formula 1 has always got to be the highest level in the sport. It has been now for a good many years. The cars that we have driven during our time in Formula 1 are the absolute epitome of engineering. The sport has a secure future ahead.
MW: What particularly interests me is why do people gravitate towards athletes as much as they do? The gladiatorial element of Formula 1 is obviously huge – people look at the man and machine component – and are fascinated by this combination.
NR: I agree, Formula1 is a gladiatorial sport and there’s always going to be an appetite to watch gladiators. And this is what Formula 1 is about: cutting-edge technology being operated by gladiators. What those humans are doing out there with these remarkable machines is incredibly entertaining for us all to watch and that’s going to remain the case for a long, long time.
Of course, Formula1 needs to ensure that it remains entertaining, so they need to encourage the gladiators to be able to overtake and battle with each other. This is why we’ve seen the proposition of some new regulations for 2021 – to make sure that the entertainment factor remains and we see some great wheel to-wheel action – because that’s what you need for the longevity of the sport. And the sport has it in it.
The balance has to be struck between the technology and the physical element, ensuring that the technology harnesses and promotes the human element of our sport.
MW: I think what’s intriguing for me is the appetite for risk in society. We consider the sport in gladiatorial terms, we talk about our spirit when we were growing up and what we did to go racing, so it is fascinating to consider how a Grand Prix car will look 20 years from now. These are the big questions that motor sport is currently examining: how sophisticated the car will be, how much input the gladiator will have, and what the risk element is. It’s exciting to be part of these discussions and help pave the way for motor sport in the future.
Why do you think that Rolex and motorsport is such a natural partnership?
MARK WEBBER (MW): I think it starts with the vision and the design. The elegance, but also the toughness and robustness, that you need in such mechanisms, both in terms of watches and cars.
Take the Rolex Deepsea (below), for example, it’s incredible how that watch is waterproof to a depth of 12,000 feet. It’s highly unlikely that anyone wears the watch that deep, but Rolex are showing what the watch can do. Similarly, a Formula 1 car can do extraordinary things in the right hands; it’s incredibly over-specified for what it needs to do, and the car is rarely pushed to its absolute limits.
When you compare the vision that the designers at Rolex possess, and the vision that the designers have in the concept of building a Formula 1 car, as well as how many thousands of pieces are involved to ensure that all of the components work in harmony – the parallels are really exceptional, and that’s why motor sport and timing are so inextricably linked. Crafting a beautiful piece of jewellery like a Rolex watch is very similar to designing and building a top-flight racing car.
SIR JACKIE STEWART (SJYS): The standards of precision and engineering excellence upheld by Formula 1 and the highest echelons of motor sport are very similar to those set by Rolex; levels that are incredibly rare. Performance has to be one of the major reasons why Rolex is where it is today. No other watch company in the world demands precision to such a high standard; the testing and the components that go into its watchmaking have enabled Rolex to achieve the ultimate in engineering. Similarly, in Formula 1 we are leading the way – we have the best aerodynamics, we use the best equipment and materials and we also have exceptional people working together to push the boundaries of technology and engineering. It is this shared ethos and the values of teamwork that unite the worlds of motor sport and watchmaking.
NICO ROSBERG (NR): I completely agree. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motor sport, showcasing racing drivers and teams who are constantly testing the limit of what is possible. As one of the biggest and most legendary sports, with a prestigious history, Formula 1 connects with people around the world. Rolex and motor sport both continue to set new standards of excellence and precision.
A watch comes to represent a special moment in your life, could you identify a key memory that one of your Rolex watches symbolizes?
MW: Each Rolex I own is special to me in its own unique way; every watch holds a personal story. When I won my first Grand Prix in 2009, at the Nürburgring in Germany, I bought a GMT-Master II, a present to myself to mark the occasion.
NR: I did the same in Monaco, after my first win there. On the Monday morning – the day after the race – I went straight to the shop. I bought my wife her wedding gift – because we were getting married the following year – and myself the green Submariner to celebrate my first Monaco win.
SJYS: See then, in that case, all three of us bought a watch because we had won something, long before we were personally associated with Rolex. In 1966, I went to Indianapolis and qualified well. And so, I went and bought an 18-carat gold Day-Date with president bracelet; I had always dreamed of having a Rolex.
MW: Watches are so incredibly personal, aren’t they? And I think that’s because (a watch) represents something in your life which you’ll never, ever forget – like those key moments that we just spoke about. A Rolex watch will certainly be a lifetime gift to yourself. For my Dad’s 70th birthday, I bought him a Rolex, it was a very special moment for both him and myself.
You have all accomplished a great deal at the highest level of motorsport, what attributes do you associate with success in this sport?
SJYS: The animal that is a racing driver, is an unusual animal. Certainly, in my day, there were so many people being killed but yet the mentality was to keep going. Racing drivers have an ability – once they get to a certain level and all three of us have been at that level – to exercise mind-management, allowing us to remove emotion. It is a skill that I attribute strongly to my success, one that I learnt and extensively developed throughout my years shooting for Scotland and Great Britain before I became a racing driver.
MW: I think you’ve got to have a tremendous amount of belief in yourself – there’s no question about that. You have to have a certain amount of confidence to get in the car and to do the job we did. As well as a real mix of other attributes such as the ability to tackle the risk component and manage adrenaline. Equally, as Sir Jackie mentioned, composure and mind-management are required to truly reach the highest level. While learning from your mistakes and being prepared to listen to older people – which, when you’re a young racing driver, doesn’t come easily – helps give you vital experience.
I’m not a huge fan of believing in sacrifices – because if you really want something enough, then you already have the passion and there’s no real plan B. Plan A is: “We’re going to make this work. I want to get as far as I can and I’m really going to exhaust all of my potential to get the most out of myself.” It’s also crucial to surround yourself with good people – because you’ll never achieve success on your own, especially in our business. You need the best mechanics, the best partners – and that’s how you get the job done.
NR: As you say, dedication is extremely important to achieve success. The engineering aspect of it, for instance – that’s an area where we really need to apply ourselves. Without the engineering side, we can drive as well as we want, but we’re not going to win anything, because we need to be able to adapt the car to our needs at all times. And to work with the engineers, that really requires a certain depth of understanding in that field, and a huge amount of dedication and time.
MW: Interestingly, since I’ve stopped racing, it’s been fascinating to spend a bit more time with other sports people. In our sport, we can’t miss a race. In golf and tennis and lots of other sports, you can miss certain events. I’m the biggest tennis and sports fan there is in the world – I’m not belittling how their sports are – but in motor sport, we can’t miss two or three races because we have a sore back or have the flu. I did not miss a day of work in racing. Not one day of work, in fifteen years. I did not miss a test, I did not miss a PR day, I did not miss one single practice – because I couldn’t. You can’t in motor sport – it is about absolute dedication.
NR: Same for me, I never missed a day. And to be at the top of my game I had to dedicate my whole life to the sport and to winning that next race. My team mate was Lewis Hamilton, who as we know is one of the best drivers of all time, and to beat him, I had to deliver the best possible performance throughout the entire season.
MW: It’s amazing! For us it’s about absolute focus and mind-management.