It’s not everyday you score unprecedented access to the secretive International Broadcast Centre of the world’s premiere motor racing event, but for one lucky ginger that dream became a reality when Rolex invited us along to experience how their timing expertise is entrenched in Formula One tradition.
The opening round of the 2019 Formula One Grand Prix was once again staged at Melbourne’s iconic Albert Park, a street circuit which sees some of the season’s most exciting battles taking place across sixteen high-speed corners.
The day was also one that was met with sombre celebration due to the sad passing of the sport’s long-serving Race Director Charlie Whiting just a day prior. Whilst the mood was naturally reserved out of respect for Whiting, it also displayed a side of Formula One to us that’s rarely witnessed amongst all the heated battles – unity.
It’s the same unity that was on show at the latest round in Monaco which paid tribute to the late racing legend, Niki Lauda. It’s evidence that Formula One is more than just a sport; it’s a family which is uniquely built on competition and compassion that’s been nurtured since 1946.
One of the key players of the sport today is Rolex and this is how they play a pivotal part in the grand show.
“We can’t pick or choose tournaments. I drove for over 1,000 days in the car in my career. Testing, racing...I think I missed three days of work out of the 1,000.” - Mark Webber
To beam the greatest races around the world you need cutting edge technology and talented people behind the desk. Well they’re not all perfect – our tour guide pointed out the guy who was responsible for the ‘Last Name/Last Name’ gaff at a 2018 Grand Prix where driver’s names were replaced with generic labels across television screens. We were so glad to see he got to keep his job.
Rolex has been a part of this team for more than half a century, having first partnered with Formula One back in 1968. It was a partnership that formed on the back of Sir Jackie Stewart’s three-time Driver’s World Championship after he partnered with the Swiss watch brand. The rest, they would say, is history.
Although that was then and this is now. The moment you step into race control there are explicit signs warning you not to take photos, selfies or anything else that may earn you a free one way trip to general access. We gladly abided and scored yet another lanyard to add to the three already around our neck.
Charling Whiting would have been one of the minders on this epic tour but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Still, we were able to enter the highly secure location which controls all the broadcast that is seen around the world and its scale was daunting.
Five shipping containers are dropped in every city of a race. These containers open up to reveal the entire race control centre which houses over 100 geniuses who are responsible for reviewing real-time telemetry and radio comms coming in from the drivers on track.
If Sebastian Vettel complains, these guys hear it and can broadcast it. If Kimi Raikkonen tells his team to get lost, these guys hear it and can broadcast it. It’s quite a spectacle to see how each container controls a specific task from graphics to team radios with every personnel tasked with a specific and crucial role.
All of this data and race communication is fed to the head honcho at the director’s chair, the man who decides what the world sees – and doesn’t. What this looks like is something out of The Matrix. Picture one person plastered across twelve 42-inch screens and you have this weird phenomena that’s like Big Brother at 300km/h.
It’s not everyday you get to sit down with an ex-Formula One star to wax lyrical. Thankfully Australian race driver and the man who once flipped a Le Mans car at 290km/h was on hand as a Rolex ambassador.
This meeting gave us the perfect chance to sit down with Mark Webber to talk about the intensity of Formula One and more importantly, life after the bright lights and burning rubber.
“We can’t pick or choose tournaments. I drove for over 1,000 days in the car in my career. Testing, racing…I think I missed three days of work out of the 1,000,” he told us.
“Most people won’t subscribe to that. That’s being a professional by representing your team and what you stand for. It’s in our nature. We can’t not have goals and push boundaries.”
These days Webber is much calmer as a partner of Rolex. He says that for him, it’s not really work anymore.
“I’m lucky to work with such brands as Rolex. It’s a conversation piece and people can have this for 50 years and still talk about it.”
Beyond Mark Webber, Rolex has relationships with Nico Rosberg and Jackie Stewart, arguably the most loved man in the F1 Paddock. Sitting nearby at lunch, you can see how much time the man has for everyone. Hilariously on our tour of the pits he got asked for photos more than the drivers.
As Rolex continues to build its legacy with Formula One, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the Swiss watchmaker has been a part of motorsport since the 1930s when Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the 300mph land speed record with a Rolex on his wrist.
These days Rolex is fully dedicated to multiple disciplines including the iconic Rolex 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex 24 At Daytona, Pebble Beach Tour De Elegance and Goodwood Revival.
It’s a stellar credits list which proudly shows off an equally stellar watchmaker that’s dedicated to the art of driving fast and pushing the limits of competition.