Hubert Burda Media

Tuned for Speed

Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa looks back on the last decade as a Richard Mille brand ambassador.

Tuned for Speed

The next time you see Williams driver Felipe Massa on the Formula 1 circuit, take note of his wrist. Without a doubt, the Brazilian will be wearing a Richard Mille timepiece, just as he has done so for every race since 2004.
It all started with a call from Massa's manager, Nicolas Todt, to the watchmaker that year. “He told [brand founder] Richard [Mille] that he liked his watches and that he was managing a Formula 1 driver, and asked if Richard would be interested in a sponsorship,” recalls Massa. While the brand had only been established three years prior, and wasn't looking for a celebrity ambassador, Mille saw the advantages of having his timepieces tested in the field, and offered Massa an RM 006 FM to wear on the track.
“We agreed and since then, I have been racing with a Richard Mille watch on the wrist,” says the 34-year-old, whose initial trials with the RM 006 FM led to the perfection of a carbon nanofibre baseplate used in later models.
Today, the watchmaker has an entire stable of A-list celebrities and sporting figures as brand ambassadors — from tennis superstar Rafael Nadal to Hollywood actress Natalie Portman — but Massa remains one of the manufacture's most cherished personalities. To commemorate his 10th anniversary with the brand, the watchmaker has rolled out two special limited-edition iterations of the RM 011 and RM 056 (in 100 and 10 pieces respectively) in his honour. Why these two pieces in particular? “[Because] the RM 011 is Richard Mille's most successful watch [model], and the RM 056 epitomises the craftsmanship of the brand,” explains Massa, who also has a fondness for the RM 011. “Everybody loves it. I wore it a lot [then] — and I still do [now],” he adds.
How does it feel to have Richard Mille launch two special editions to commemorate its partnership with you?
Time passes so quickly! First of all, working with Richard all these years [has been] a great privilege and much more than a partnership — we have became very close friends. To me, these two editions are a real gift from Richard. I have so many fun memories with him. I remember attending great events with Rafael Nadal and Richard in Japan and Abu Dhabi, and spending time in France at Richard's house two years ago. Richard is a very nice and charismatic person with a great sense of friendship and faithfulness.
What are the characteristics of the RM 011 and RM 056 and how do their 10th Anniversary editions differ from the predecessors?
The RM 011 takes its cues from the high-tech engineering of Formula 1 race cars, delivering total precision, and to me, this model is really iconic in Richard Mille's history. For this special edition, the main difference is the material used for the case. NTPT carbon offers remarkable resistance, a unique appearance and total lightness. As for the RM 056, it is the epitome of the craftsmanship of the brand. What I enjoy the most is the total transparency of the watch — you can see the complex mechanism like in a Formula 1 car. And since the first RM 056 was only produced in five pieces, this is [also] an opportunity for collectors to purchase one. Both watches are also personalised with my signature engraved on the back of the case.
When it comes to creating a watch with Richard Mille, how involved are you in the design process?
Richard and his team are so creative and innovative that I don't have much to say regarding the technology of the watch or the way it should work. My input is focused on weight savings, as comfort and performance are very important to me while I am racing. I also offer my preference in terms of materials to be used, the colours of the elements…things like that.
In your opinion, what unites Formula 1 racing and fine watchmaking?
Technique. The extreme level of technique in a Formula 1 car is as incredible as that in [Richard Mille] watches. When Richard started his business, racing car technology and the methods applied in dealing with the forces at play on the racetrack were an important source of inspiration for him. As a driver, it is important to understand your environment and have a reliable engine to perform. It's exactly the same approach with watchmaking. It's all about performance and accuracy.
Richard Mille has mentioned that all Friends of the Brand have to be able to wear his watches at all times. So which timepiece do you wear for races?
I always choose the lightest watch to race with as weight is very important in Formula 1. So I normally wear the carbon watches such as the RM 011 Black carbon, RM 011 NTPT and RM 035-01. I've also [participated] in many races with my RM 006, RM 009 and RM 011 Ti. I change [them] according to how I feel. Most recently, I wore the RM 011 LMC at the Austrian Grand Prix. When I'm not racing, I can [wear watches made with] heavier materials, such as the RM 011 Rose Gold.