SAVOIR FAIRE Turning back time with...the TAG Heuer Formula 1

A look at the evolution of the TAG Heuer Formula 1

8 min

Today, we’re looking back at the evolution of one of our signature timepieces, the TAG Heuer Formula 1. We dug into the archives to learn more about this special watch, from it’s very first tick to today.

Think about the TAG Heuer Formula 1 as a port of entry to the world of luxury watch collecting. With its sporty, bright look, the watch often stands out in a boutique window, beckoning the uninitiated and planting the seed for future acquisitions. At an accessible price point, it’s a comfortable investment in a piece from a top-tier Swiss brand. No matter how you look at it, the TAG Heuer Formula 1 has a colourful past (and present) and we’re going back in time to see how it has evolved.

Context and beginnings

The TAG Heuer Formula 1 debuted in 1986, shortly after Techniques d’Avant Garde acquired Heuer, finally becoming TAG Heuer. Techniques d’Avant Garde (now you know where “TAG” comes from) was a leading manufacturer of high-tech aviation and race car components, like ceramic turbochargers for Formula One cars. In a decision that would define the brand for decades to come, TAG Heuer chose to nourish that relationship with watches like the Formula 1 and various motorsport partnerships.

One of the inspirations for the Formula 1 is the Heuer Easy Rider from the 1970s, a sporty watch that attempted to engage a younger audience with its affordable mechanical movement, resin case and stark colours. While the watch didn’t find extensive commercial attention, we can draw a direct line between the Heuer Easy Rider and the TAG Heuer Formula 1. 

Released in the 80s, the Formula 1 is a product of its time, not just in terms of politics and culture, but also for its arrival on the heels of “the quartz crisis.”  This period in the 1970s was in some ways a dark chapter of watchmaking history when quartz watches, especially from Japan, began to flood the market, threatening to disappear the art of mechanical watchmaking altogether. While the quartz crisis decimated parts of the industry, it also acted as a great catalyst for change, pushing many watchmakers to the edge. TAG Heuer came up strong. With the release of the Formula 1, a quartz watch with a reliable time-only movement and crowd-pleasing design (resin case, rubber strap and colourful accents), TAG Heuer proved itself as a modern timekeeping brand, one that was fluent in new technology as well as in classic analogue watchmaking. 

Introducing the chronograph

In 1988/89, a TAG Heuer Formula 1 was released with a traditional 3-dial chronograph and a fascinating movement construction: a quartz movement below as well as a mechanical layer. It was difficult to produce and didn’t last very long on the market, but it did survive long enough to show the world that the TAG Heuer Formula 1 was more than an entry level watch.

A revised chronograph model, with an improved quartz movement, was released in 1990, with an unconventional 2-6-10 layout and two sub-dials.



Pause and reintroduction

The Formula 1 collection went on hiatus from 2000 – 2004 and came back looking familiar, but slightly more polished. Special functions and features, like an alarm, were added, and a Ladies range was developed in 2007.  In 2015, the watch was released in the style of the Autavia, with a C-shaped case, further cementing its upscale trajectory.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Red Bull Racing Special Edition (CAZ101AK.BA0842)

Limited edition collaborations

Over time, the TAG Heuer Formula 1 has been an excellent canvas for play and experimentation. Consider the watch’s limited edition collaborations over the years. Take the 2018 TAG Heuer Formula 1 Chronograph Max Verstappen Special Edition, for example. Limited to 1,300 pieces and designed by Verstappen himself, the watch features his racing number (#33) and a striking red and black colour scheme that salutes the world of motorsports. The right side of the dial features a nod to the Dutch flag.

There’s also the TAG Heuer Formula 1 Red Bull Racing Special Edition, which is still available, in a limited quantity. Inspired by the Red Bull Racing car RB16B’s colour (midnight blue), it was created in collaboration with the team and it sports their signature red and yellow accents.

Another notable collab: the 2020 TAG Heuer Formula 1 Fragment by Fujiwara. Designed by Japanese streetwear guru Hiroshi Fujiwara, this limited edition watch, released in a limited edition, represents the audacious extreme of the Formula 1 vision, redesigning a vintage-inspired sportswatch in a contemporary way. Fujiwara added bracelet links and a red sapphire case back as well as a rotating bezel and Calibre 02 movement. This was the TAG Heuer Formula 1 on a whole new elevated level, connecting to street culture and a younger, fashion-forward audience.

Colour stories

The first-ever TAG Heuer Formula 1 was released in an array of six striking, distinctive hues including black, yellow, green and grey. The coloured stainless steel and fiberglass cases came in several colour combinations for a watch that was solid in its construction and fun in its approach. A set of pastel colours was introduced along with the Formula 1’s range of ladies watches, with smaller cases and thinner straps.

It goes almost without saying that orange is a signature colour of the TAG Heuer Formula 1. Already a part of the TAG Heuer palette from its use in the 1000 Series diver’s range, orange is a popular accent in diving. Even on dry land, it’s a colour that pops, and it’s been used in the Formula 1 range since 1980.  


The latest TAG Heuer Formula 1, released in early 2021, has a completely orange dial (in tribute to the models of the 80s and 90s) and is still available in its limited edition.

In terms of its connection to motorsport, orange was the original colour of the McLaren Formula One team, before Marlboro took over with its recognisable red. It also happens to correspond with Formula One driver Max Verstappen’s national colours. (He drives for the Netherlands.)

Blue is another natural fit for the TAG Heuer Formula 1. From navy to a brighter blue, the hue makes a nice contrast with the watch’s bezel and steel case. It made its first appearance in the range alongside the range’s distinctive yellow, red and green.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 (WAZ101A.FC8305)

Bold campaigns

Over the years, TAG Heuer has nurtured partnerships with major motorsport events and drivers, often accompanied by fun, splashy campaigns. 

TAG Heuer effectively painted the town red in the late 80s with one of the first posters introducing its Formula 1 watch. The campaign was bright, featuring a kaleidoscopic image of a Formula 1 racer decked out in Marlboro red and an audacious promise: “The Heuer Formula 1. Guaranteed not to break down during high speed knocks and scrapes.”

The “What are you made of campaign?” of the 2000s took a Formula 1 turn featuring world-famous McLaren Formula One drivers like Kimi Raikkonen, Juan-Pablo Montoya, David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Since the very beginning, the TAG Heuer Formula 1 campaigns have been of the moment, in tune with the pulse of its current and future wearers. It’s always been an iconic coming-of-age timepiece: a gift upon graduation or a first job. With its range of available colours and its playful design, it appeals to a younger audience. Rather than imposing its character on the wearer, it allows you to amplify your own personality.