Stephane Bianchi: TAG Heuer CEO talks motorsport, Formula E, and the all-new TAG Heuer Porsche team

Matt Jones - Editor 19:21 14/12/2019
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  • Stephane Bianchi - CEO of the LVMH watchmaking division at TAG Heuer alongside Carlo Wiggers, Director Team Management & Business Relations Porsche Motorsport

    On the face of it, it’s a match made in heaven. TAG Heuer and Porsche – two of the world’s most iconic brands – coming together to form a dynamic duo.

    This is not familiar ground however, it is the emerging motorsport landscape of the Formula E Championship, and there is no guarantee that TAG Heuer Porsche’s leap into the unknown will result in immediate success.

    For two names steeped in success and significance, debuting in a fledgling motor racing championship for electrically-powered vehicles appears inherently risky.

    It puts them at a disadvantage, especially considering other behemoths of the automotive industry like Audi, BMW, Nissan, Jaguar and Mercedes already have some tread on the track of a series now in its sixth season.

    A challenge, a risk? Yes. But risk is the very essence of motorsport. And it is also intrinsic to both TAG Heuer and Porsche.

    “In sport if you don’t take risks you’re doing nothing. This is the same for TAG Heuer, it’s in our blood, our DNA. We can’t fight it,” Stephane Bianchi – CEO of the LVMH watchmaking division at TAG Heuer – tells Sport360 on the eve of the 2019/20 season in Saudi Arabia.

    “Jack and Edouard Heuer (the former is TAG Heuer’s honorary chairman and grandson of the latter, the Swiss company’s founder), they took risks to develop the company.

    “For us it’s very important to always go further. Sometimes we fail. No worries, it’s okay, we learn and we go further. Maybe today we don’t win but if we don’t we learn and we learn fast.

    “You fail but you learn, and then you win. That’s the purpose. At the end of the day we have to win. We have to do it this way.”
    TAG Heuer were already involved in Formula E in some capacity, but not racing. They are the championship’s founding partners as well as official timekeepers. But M. Bianchi insists they wanted to do more.

    “It’s brand new. It’s very challenging and we like the idea,” he adds.

    “The organisers are doing a fantastic job and we thought we needed to go deeper. Being the timekeeper and founding partner is not enough for us. Let’s do something more risky.

    “When we spoke with Porsche we said this is a big challenge because we are nobody in Formula E right now. We love challenges so let’s do something together from scratch. And maybe we will do something big in Formula E.

    “We have two great drivers and the team comes from LMP (Le Mans Prototype, the type of sports prototype race car used in the 24 Hours of Le Mans), which is a great team. We know we could do something but the risk is something very important to take. The challenge was the biggest trigger.”

    While risk is not exactly a trait or desire you’d associate with being a world renowned corporate giant, TAG Heuer have a long-standing history and relationship with motorsport. They were the first company to forge a partnership with a Formula One team, Ferrari, in 1973, becoming the Scuderia’s official time-keeper.

    They sponsored Williams and gave their name to the Porsche engines used by the McLaren in the 1980s, and are currently the official timekeeper, watch and team performance partner of Red Bull Racing.

    And in current Red Bull driver Max Verstappen – known as a maverick – M. Bianchi’s claims are further enhanced.

    “Max is a throwback, to someone like (Ayrton) Senna,” he says. “He’s a risk taker, this is important. We are always with these kinds of people because it’s in our DNA.”

    The ink on the partnership between TAG Heuer and Porsche may barely have dried, but M. Bianchi says he has been a fan of motorsport for decades, describing Porsche as a “mythic” brand.

    No team has won more titles at motorsport’s most iconic race – Le Mans. Porsche has 19 titles; Audi is second with 13. They are the most successful team in the FIA World Endurance Championship, winning three titles since its inception in 2012, claiming back-to-back successes from 2015-17. And Porsche is currently the world’s largest race car manufacturer.

    Negotiations to enter Formula E – the championship’s inaugural season was staged in 2014/15 – began with Porsche last November. And M. Bianchi insisted the only manufacturer TAG Heuer could tag with was Porsche.

    “We talked about a big partnership and we said it had to be Porsche, because the two brands are a perfect match,” says M. Bianchi.

    “They are a historic brand, and so are we. They are all about competition, challenges, innovation, precision. This is very important for us.”

    And although Formula E is very much a new road down which both brands are heading down, M. Bianchi sees it simply as another route of motorsport they are exploring. After all, as they are able to trace their roots back to F1 in the 1970s, TAG Heuer have since steered into almost every new racing venture.

    They are timekeepers of the FIA World Touring Car Championship, Indy Car Series and many others, and they sponsor the World Endurance Championship.

    “We’re not looking for one season or even two or three, we’re looking for a long-term partnership with them and Formula E. We’re a founding partner and timekeeper and that will last, but the partnership with Porsche will be wider. We could build something big.

    “They love our brand and we love theirs. It’s a real team. It’s not fake and it’s not only business. It’s a very good fit.”

    M. Bianchi was tempering expectations ahead of the new season, speaking of a desire to be ambitious but a need to be realistic – but then German driver Andre Lotterer went and finished runner-up to Britain’s Sam Bird in the very first race of the Diriyah ePrix in Riyadh on Friday.

    Neel Jani finished 17th in the 24-man field and the duo finished a modest 13th and 14th in race two the following day.

    Ultimately though, victory is expected, no matter how new to the championship the team may be.

    “I do expect us to win, this is the goal,” added M. Bianchi.

    “But we have to be realistic. Humility should be the word. You can be the best but you’ve got to learn. You’ve got to suffer to win. This is life.

    “My expectations are that we are not too far from the podium. If we are on there it would be fantastic. We’ve got to learn and to work together – that is the main goal for the weekend. We have ambitions but we’re realistic. The other teams are good.

    “As the season progresses we want more and more podiums. We’ve got to build a real partnership, both on and off the track. We’ve got to know each other.”