Held in the small Principality of Monaco, right off the south of France on the Mediterranean Sea, the Monaco Grand Prix has been held annually since 1929. As a sponsor of the Automobile Club de Monaco as well as official sponsor of the Red Bull Racing Team, TAG Heuer hosted several guests and press to enjoy not just the Formula 1 race, but all the requisite fêting that’s associated with the event. Of course, no event like this would be complete without some appropriate timepieces. First, the new TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 Red Bull Racing Edition watch, a subtly modified Carrera Heuer 01 honoring the F1 team sponsored by TAG. Complementing this “new” (read, post-Biver) TAG Heuer watch was the motorsports heritage timepiece classic – a “Steve McQueen” Heuer Monaco.

In this article I discuss my experience at the race as well as some watches. I’ve added photos from not just the event but Monaco itself throughout which I hope will help give you an idea of the setting.

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Though it’s far from news at this point, Ferrari’s F1 team took the top two spots at the Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen taking the first and second spots, respectively. Red Bull Racing’s own Daniel Ricciardo came in third. What stood out to me was the sheer narrowness of the streets coupled with the tight turns throughout. For those who have been to the race and seen the track this isn’t news, but I really got a true feeling for it after a lap on the race route (albeit in a van going at a considerably unhurried pace).

Nearly every apartment building was filled with spectators packing the balconies and rooftops.

Though Monaco itself is small in size at .78 square miles, there’s nothing lilliputian about the place. Well known for its lax, or rather, nonexistent, tax laws, Monaco is the second most densely populated country in the world, after Macau. It’s populated with multi-millionaires, billionaires, their cars, and their yachts. For the annual race, the population swells to several times the 40,000 residents (I believe there are something like five or six public colleges in the United States that have more students enrolled) with the entire city-state essentially serving as the venue.

An Autavia Heuer 02 spotted in the crowd

It’s tough to separate TAG Heuer in 2017 with the man at the helm, none other than Jean-Claude Biver. Making his presence known by donning chef’s whites and a toque blanche (all branded, naturally), Mr. Biver pitted brand ambassadors, actor Chris Hemsworth, and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo against each other in a match-up worthy of Thor and an F1 racer: a fondue contest. Of course, Biver is known for making his own cheeses so it’s no surprise that this cheesy sauce battle took place. I’m not entirely sure who won, but I believe Hemsworth took this one.

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Nobody can accuse TAG Heuer of under-appreciating the art of branding…

…no, seriously.

Of course, this isn’t the first time aBlogtoWatch readers have heard about the connection between motorsports and TAG Heuer. Ariel did his best Anthony Bourdain with his Chasing Time video at the Indianapolis 500 last year. You’ll remember he accompanied the lucky winner of the 2015 Watch & Experience Giveaway where he won a trip to the race and got his own Carrera timepiece.

As I mentioned before, I was sent a TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 “Steve McQueen” (Ref. CAW211P) watch and the new Carrera Heuer 01 Chronograph Red Bull Racing Special Edition watches. I’ll begin with the new Heuer 01, a watch which is the epitome of what can be considered the “new” TAG Heuer under Jean-Claude Biver, and will later get to the Monaco which is the embodiment of a “heritage” reissue piece and one of my favorite watches in the mid five-figure range (and beyond, really). I do want to note that I specifically chose these two watches, so these are going to be pretty positive looks at both of them. Two arbitrarily picked TAG Heuer pieces would probably get harsher treatment.

And though the environment would suggest otherwise, the $5,900 price for the Monaco and $5,350 price for the Heuer 01 ($5,950 in 45mm) presents a lot of value to a broad range of buyers. In a time when there is uncertainty in the industry and a vast swath of options for buyers, especially in this price range, both of these timepieces stand out and outclass many similarly priced offerings.

Thousands of words have been written on the Carrera Calibre Heuer 01, a watch which goes into the “Hublot-lite” territory with gusto. A contemporary timepiece with the design language of a much pricier watch, it’s completely emblematic of the direction TAG Heuer is going in to appeal to a whole new audience base. Where the Monaco evokes images of a romantic technicolor racing heritage, this watch is the “now” as 2017 was TAG Heuer’s second year as partners with Red Bull Racing, which is about as long as the Heuer 01 has been released.

Thankfully, the designers of the watch decided to keep any in-your-face team branding to the case back, with the dial differing enough from the standard Heuer 01 to stand out from it, but not obnoxiously so. It’s got a different skeletonization structure, the words “Drive Timer” on the 12 o’clock sub-dial, and large Arabic numeral 5-minute markers. It’s once you turn the watch around where you notice the smoked exhibition case back featuring the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team logo and text. That’s about it for branding on the watch, which is refreshingly subtle considering it’s a partnership with a racing team titled after an energy drink.

Note that the model I wore is the new, smaller 43mm version as opposed to the previous 45mm models. The two are basically the same apart from some black titanium carbide on the base of the pushers and the center of the case. The matte ceramic blue bezel is deep and attractive, matching the dial wonderfully. I’m also happy to report that the new date window between 3 and 4 o’clock is actually quite legible and easy to read.

While I prefer a bracelet to a leather strap 99% of the time, I have to say I was really enticed by the model on the leather strap. Perhaps it’s because the leather strap kind of softens the whole watch up a little bit. Alas, I wore it on the steel bracelet which still looked good.

Getting back to the event, I’ve never actually seen a crash during any kind of race. Fortunately, there was no serious incident during the race, though Pascal Wehrlein’s clash with Jenson Button was a notable exception. What was fascinating to watch during the qualifying sessions was a minor crash (not sure of the driver) where the front right wheel blew out. Nearly a dozen pit crew guys go onto the track during the race to pick up debris and secure the car to an attachment from a crane which lifts the crashed vehicle out of the race. You can see the visual representation of what I mean in the photos above. It’s probably not remarkable to a lot of enthusiasts who attend a lot of races, but seeing the process up close in person was pretty wild.

When I wasn’t watching the race, I was snooping around trying to see what watches people had on. It was mostly the usual suspects but I did particularly appreciate a Monaco V4 watch in titanium. You’ll remember the Monaco V4 was introduced back in 2004 (though released in 2009), designed for TAG by Jean-Francois Ruchonnet as a high-end concept watch that took 14,200 days of research and development to create. The name makes sense when looking at the case back (alas, I didn’t ask this gentleman to remove his watch but you can check the stock image above) which has four cylinders reminiscent of a car engine. It’s certainly a very cool watch and considering the six-figure price and limited edition run, it’s one that is most appropriate to see in the wild at the Monaco Grand Prix.

There were moments of some downtime on the TAG Heuer Yacht, where we lodged and also attended several parties. During one of these brief moments, I got a moment to sit down with the brand’s newest ambassador Chris Hemsworth, who has played Thor in Marvel movies like The Avengers and Captain Kirk’s dad George Kirk in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie. He chose to wear a Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon in gold, but what I really wanted to know was what his on-screen progeny Captain Kirk would wear. He thought about it for what I thought was far too long before suggesting it would obviously be the Connected watch. I’m not entirely sure what generation it would be by the time we reach the Star Trek universe timeline but Hemsworth agreed (probably because he wanted to move on to his next battery of interviews). Anyway, he couldn’t have been more gracious and I look forward to seeing his watch appreciation in the future.

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