August 2022 4 Min Watch

The Art of Timing in Motorsport

By A Collected Man

The bond between motorsport and precise timing is a strong one. For as long as two cars have been pitted against each other, the need to time them precisely has been present. The golden age of motor racing is often looked back on with fondness by fans of the sport – and while the battle between Prost and Senna brought the competition to life, if it wasn’t for the great advances in timing technology, it would have meant nothing.

Just as names such as Senna, Hunt, Lauda, and Schumacher are inextricably linked to the high-octane world of Formula 1, Heuer is linked to their exact timing. To explore this relationship further, we travelled down to Monaco, perhaps the spiritual heart of the sport, to speak with someone who knows more about the role timing has played in F1 than anyone else: Jean Campiche.

Jean Campiche walking the pitlane in Monaco.

He worked for Heuer from the early 1970s and became the official timekeeper of the Ferrari team in 1973. Stationed at every Grand Prix, and at the manufacture’s practice facility, Fiorano, Campiche activated the timing equipment Heuer produced to help develop the new series of Ferrari F1 cars and track each of the competing cars on race days.

The trajectory of these timing devices that Heuer were developing at the time seemed to shadow the progression of the cars competing. As the engines got bigger and the margins of victory got tighter, the ability to accurately determine these margins began to appear at the fingertips of Campiche. Between 1980 and 1990, the largest points margin the championship was won by was 20, while the smallest was just 0.5. Compare that to the 2020 result where Lewis Hamilton won by a margin of 124. The competition at the top was tight, and in order to keep up with these fast-paced racers, a new way of timing them was needed.

A major milestone in this story was the introduction of the Le Mans Centigraph in 1971. Able to time these cars to within 1/1,000th of a second, this was a significant leap forward in not only the timing of the races but in measuring the development of the cars themselves. This allowed Ferrari, the team Heuer were sponsoring, to judge exactly what modifications were doing to the car and how much of an improvement they made.

It is with the introduction of this new technology that Campiche begins his story, of how the importance of timing, accuracy, and information revolutionised the world of motorsport.

We would like to thank TAG Heuer and Jean Campiche for sharing their rich history and insight into the world of motorsport and its timing.