Podcast Podcast, Season 2, Episode 7: Jean Campiche - Motorsport's Time Lord

Timekeeping legend Jean Campiche tells the tale of how Heuer revolutionized motorsport and the timing system of Formula 1 in the 1970s.

There are moments when time stands still. Moments of near greatness. Moments that stand the test of time. The Edge is a series of conversations where extraordinary personalities share with us an important moment in their lives. A world record, a world championship, a revelation, an important decision… They relive them for us and tell us of how they overcame pressure, fear and pain in order to push themselves to their limits, to push themselves all the way.

Our guest is a legend in the world of Formula 1 and across TAG Heuer’s history. The undisputed king of timekeeping, Jean Campiche was an integral part of racing circuits and the greatest racing teams during the iconic 1970s and 1980s. Innovations, anecdotes, and changes… Jean Campiche tells us everything about his time keeping time.

Presented by Nicholas Biebuyck, Heritage Director at TAG Heuer, Jean Campiche’s fascinating story will take you back to the glory years of Formula 1, where Jack Heuer and his technological innovations revolutionized timekeeping.

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On the other side of the Guard Rail

Heuer trained me for six months on the Ferrari team, with whom he had a technical partnership. Enzo Ferrari was looking for a company that was able to develop devices that could measure the precision of acceleration, breaking and the speed of the cars. And Heuer was a company specialized in extremely innovative chronometers designed using state-of-the-art technology.

The first ever chronometer competition

The first-ever timekeeping competition I went to with Ferrari was in Vallelunga, Italy. I was lucky enough to have a cutting-edge timekeeping device that was developed by Heuer between 1970 and 1972. Just imagine: six hours spent driving in Vallelunga following the fastest cars. You have to be extremely focused. And you can’t drink too much so as to avoid needing the toilet.

The Formula 1 pianist

My device? There was a fairly large printer, with an electronic part inside, connected to two or three keyboards. Each keyboard had five keys. Each of these keys could be programmed with a car number. At the start, my two keyboards allowed me to follow ten cars. My job was to identify them and to give as accurate a timing impulse as possible by pressing on the corresponding key as they passed the box. As I gained experience, I managed to follow up to 15 cars.

A matter of precision and reliability

At that time, timekeeping was of great importance to the teams, not only for timekeeping purposes, but also for counting laps, knowing when to stop the car to refuel and change the tire. Reliability was therefore just as important as precision. The system developed by Heuer printed the car number, the number of laps completed and calculated the lap time using an automatic program that could measure down to the 100th of a second.

  • Jean Campiche from Heuer Timing at the Paul Ricard race in 1974.

When the chronometer makes and breaks champions

In 1974, a pivotal year for Formula 1, two excellent drivers, Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni, competed as part of the Ferrari team. The latter, though more experienced, lost the world championship by three points. The chronometer is ruthless. I felt a great sadness, he was an incredible and tremendously generous Swiss driver.

The most precise of them all

In the 70s, you had to wait half an hour for the official results of the qualifying trials because there was not yet a computer. Calculations were done by hand, which was always a good excuse in case of error. And errors from the 10th of a second to an entire second were not rare. The national federations in charge of timekeeping had difficulty identifying the cars. They thought Regazzoni had crossed the line, but it was Lauda! I went to the official timekeepers several times to dispute their results. I was well known by them as I worked for the only team that had an electronic device to track the timings. So, I arrived with a printed timing sheet in hand and I was often correct.

End of the 70s: the computer is a game-changer

The big breakthrough came with the help of electronics in the late 1970s. Heuer had developed a fully automatic timekeeping system. Each car was equipped with a small transponder – a transmitter that indicated when the car had passed the finish line. The timing was measuring via a timekeeping device linked to a computer that was, at that time, incredibly big and heavy: 1.5 meters long, 1 meter high and 1.5 meters deep.

The official timekeeper of the Formula 1 Grands Prix

I worked so that in 1992, TAG Heuer could once again become the official timekeeper of the Formula 1 Grands Prix, with the first Grand Prix taking place in South Africa. It was extraordinary! I was able to continue writing this incredible story that started with Heuer, by further improving the precision and reliability of the timekeeping systems. Today, we are able to provide precision down to the 1000th of a second.

Experience a more intense race thanks to timekeeping

The display of color-coded times, to distinguish between an improved or absolute time, provided additional insights to understand the race. Communicated to the public, split times, speeds and gaps provide all the information you need to be even more passionate about motorsport!