When Richard Mille wakes up in his 18th century Breton château fancying a croissant, it’s not unknown for him to head off to find one behind the wheel of an ex-Björn Waldegård Lancia Stratos.
This car was the foundation of a collection of classics that Mille began buying more than 15 years ago. It includes another Stratos that took part in several French regional events and, most notably, a jaw-dropping fleet of historic F1 cars ranging from a Matra MS11 to a BRM P160 via a Lotus 78 – all of which are largely unrestored and original.
The cars of which he is probably most fond, however, are the seven McLaren F1 and Can-Am models that include the M7A driven by Denny Hulme, although he also has a special affection for a Lola T70 he drives in historic endurance events at Spa and Le Mans.
But Mille’s connection with the latter runs considerably deeper than that of competitor, because his eponymous watch brand has been the main sponsor of the biennial Le Mans Classic since its inception in 2002. As one member of our party observed after seeing the wall-to-wall RM branding: “They say the British own Le Mans – but Richard Mille seems to own the Le Mans Classic.”
The long-standing connection has led to regular Le Mans Classic limited-edition watches, with this year’s being the RM11-03. It differs considerably from 2016’s titanium offering by virtue of having a case made from dazzling white ceramic combined with Graph TPT – a carbon-based material said to be 200 times stronger than steel and six times lighter.
The use of such high-tech ingredients is typical of Mille watches, which he often calls “racing machines for the wrist”. The ‘engine’ in the RM11-03 LMC is the skeletonised, self-winding RMAC3 featuring a ‘flyback’ chronograph mechanism that can be stopped, reset and restarted with a single button press.
Dial detailing in British Racing Green and yellow lends an undeniable classic racing feel to what is otherwise an almost futuristic-looking watch, just 150 examples of which will be made – and all at a price that only those on F1 driver salaries are likely to be able to afford.
RM11-03 LMC £164,500. www.richardmille.com
If you got your name down for a new Renault Alpine, how about a complementary watch? Tissot has rekindled its historic partnership with Alpine, which began in 1973 when it sponsored the original A110 rally cars, with the introduction of the PRS516 Alpine On-board, a 45mm chronograph that can be unclipped from its perforated, steering-wheel inspired strap and attached to a special support designed to fit beside the Renault Alpine’s multimedia screen. Just 516 examples of the watch will be available.
One of the early sports chronographs from the old Heuer brand was the 1933 Autavia, named because it was designed with AUTomobilists and AVIAtors in mind. The model was brought back in a redesigned form in 1962 and became synonymous with F1 drivers of the era. After disappearing from the TAG Heuer catalogue, the Autavia was revived last year – and now Harrods has launched this 150-piece limited edition. Supplied in a special box, it costs £250 more than a standard Autavia.