Taking Red Bull by the horns
It is 30 years since Casio entered motor racing - and the firm now finds itself at the sport's cutting edge
Many of Motor Sport's readers will remember the 1983 European Formula 2 title fight between Mike Thackwell and Jonathan Palmer. Both were equipped with Ralt-Honda RH6s and their rear wings sported a 'Casio' motif. It was the watch company's first foray into motor sport, and its last until five years ago, when it sponsored Jason Plato and SEAT in the British Touring Car Championship.
It has stayed with the BTCC and three years ago announced Tom Onslow-Cole as a brand ambassador. Since then it has launched itself onto the world stage via Red Bull and Formula 1.
"We like Red Bull because it is quite a new team," says Casio marketing chief Tim Gould. "There are older teams on the grid, like Ferrari and McLaren, with traditional values, but we appreciate Red Bull's fresh approach.
"They come at everything with a very technological approach, especially when it comes to car development. It is pretty useful that the Red Bulls have been at the sharp end of the grid, I have to admit! I'd like to say we foresaw that, but couldn't lay claim to it..."
The traditional view of sponsorship is that money changes hands for logos and exposure, but Casio's Red Bull involvement extends beyond that. Various manufacturers roll out a line saying that a certain product has been built 'using Formula 1 technology', in Casio's case there's actually a lot more truth in it than you might think.
"We work very closely with the Red Bull engineers," says Gould. "We bring our R&D guys over from Japan on a regular basis and speak to all the guys who work for Red Bull and wear our products. We will listen to what they say and try to improve things. For example, some of the guys in the factory wore our watches while carrying out pitstop practice. They complained that after a while the hands on the watch would work loose, because of the force that was put through their wrists via the wheelgun.
"We went back to the drawing board and started to produce the hands in carbon fibre. We then fixed them to the spindle in a way that ensured they couldn't come off. They were then racing-resistant. It's this sort of feedback that you'd be hard pressed to replicate elsewhere."
Casio's all-male Edifice range is closely linked to Red Bull — there is a Sebastian Vettel limited-edition model, for instance — and a degree of technology transfer exists. "We can't disclose too much," Gould says, "but we do go to the Red Bull factory and they have some fantastically advanced facilities. Their cutting equipment and carbon fibre technology have been very useful in helping us to understand how we can add more functions to our watches and how we can improve the design.
"Motor sport is a bedrock for us and with it comes this demographic of men who love cars, teenagers who want their first hot hatch and even guys who want to buy classic cars. Many of them have an interest in the engineering side of their cars and we want to remain close to that. We want to be associated with people who have that interest in engineering. We're a double-edged sword because we develop all sorts of products, from projectors through to musical instruments and on to watches. We've been moving away from our well-known digital watches and into the analogue market, though. We want them to incorporate as much technology as possible and our association with motor sport helps hugely."