Power Players

Last year, electric-car racing superstar Jean-Éric Vergne became the fourth man to capture the Formula E championship trophy. Now, he’s added a different kind of hardware to his collection: a new TAG Heuer chronograph.

By Max Prince

FIA Formula E, the world’s foremost electric-car racing championship, is on a roll. There’s the redesigned-for-2019 race car (beautiful) and the talent level of the drivers (exceptional). There’s also the new deal with officials in Seoul, where the series will hold a race starting next season. BMW now has a team. So do Jaguar, Audi, Nissan, and Citroën’s luxury subsidiary DS Automobiles. In 2020, both Porsche and Mercedes will enter the championship. Oh, and TAG Heuer, one of the series’ founding partners and official timekeeper, has also extended its sponsorship. Talk about momentum.

Vergne’s current choice, the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 01 chronograph

At press time, the 2019 Formula E Championship season is almost a wrap, and it’s been a wild one. Each race—or ePrix, in official parlance—has been won by a different driver, and the championship is up for grabs. One of the few certainties is that, after finishing second at the opening race in Saudi Arabia and later notching an overall win at the Sanya ePrix in China, veteran driver Jean-Éric Vergne is sure to be in contention.

Vergne, 29, is no stranger in the winner’s circle. Known as “JEV” to his fans, the Frenchman made a splash when he captured the French Formula Renault 2.0 title at the age of 18. He then took the British Formula 3 title, raced in Formula 1 for Scuderia Toro Rosso, and served as development driver on the Ferrari team. Vergne first joined Formula E in 2014, racing for Techeetah—which started out as a privately owned underdog among larger corporate teams— beginning with the 2016–17 season. Last year, he won four ePrix on his way to taking the Drivers’ Championship, cementing his place in history as one of electric-car racing’s first superstars.

That notoriety has paid dividends. In addition to capturing the 2018 Formula E trophy, Vergne also joined TAG Heuer as a brand ambassador. (His watch of choice? The new 45mm Carrera Heuer 01 Chronograph, contrast black-stainless case on a black rubber strap.) The partnership represents something of a electric-car racing power duo: Formula E’s greatest sponsor and its championship driver.

Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS TECHEETAH, DS E-Tense FE19

Entering the home stretch of the 2019 season, we caught up with Vergne before the Monaco ePrix to talk history, watches, and the bright future of electric-car racing.

Watch Journal: You raced in Formula 1 before joining Formula E. How does driving a battery-powered race car compare to a V-8 or turbo V-6? What changes did you make to your driving style?

Jean-Éric Vergne: It changes a lot. But the main difference is the sound and the vibrations—you don’t get [those] anymore with the electric car. Then you have less power with the electric car, but you have quite a lot of torque. So you still have a very good impression of speed coming from the powertrain. But, with any type of driving, the tracks are so different that it’s very difficult to compare driving Formula 1 and Formula E.

WJ: You’ve been affiliated with some of motorsport’s top factory teams, including Ferrari. How is driving for a smaller team like Techeetah different? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

JEV: The last two years here we were a private team with the smallest budget. And it was quite fantastic for me as a driver—I had a lot of things to say in the team. I played a much, much bigger role than a driver would play on a factory team, because we were basically building this team from scratch. [My input] had a lot of implications in all the decision-making for the team. [A race team is] a little bit like a boat, you know? If you are small, you can steer much quicker in the direction you want. So that was our strength. I will say that was a big advantage. Then the weakness is that we did not have any testing days, because [that] was only allowed for the manufacturers. But, nevertheless, we were able to win in front of all the big manufacturers. That was quite nice.

Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS TECHEETAH, DS E-Tense FE19 during the Mexico City E-prix at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico.

WJ: In recent years, other racing series have been dominated by a single driver. Lewis Hamilton has won four of the last five Formula 1 titles. Sébastien Ogier has won the last six World Rally Championship titles. But Formula E has had a different champion in each of its four seasons. Why is that?

JEV: I think the level is so competitive that it makes it very hard for the driver to win every season, every championship. The other thing is that all the cars are extremely similar. We don’t see a [prominent mechanical] difference between the first and last team in Formula E, at least compared to Formula 1. Our budgets are also a lot lower than Formula 1 or the World Rally Championship. Which helps explain why, for example, a small private team like Techeetah was able to compete against a giant like Audi. I think that’s the main difference. This year, it’s more complicated—it’s been a bit of a weird season. But it’s still very difficult to say who’s going to win.

WJ: Last year, you won the Formula E Paris ePrix and finished first in the 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 class, driving for the G-Force team. [The latter win was later revoked on a technicality —Ed.] As a native Frenchman, which was more exciting?

JEV: Winning in Paris was an absolutely crazy feeling. It was the best win I ever had, but winning Le Mans was so very special. Obviously as a driver, you always want to win the overall classification [which is LMP1, the class above LMP2] because, you know, that’s the first car finishing in 24 hours. So hopefully one day, I will be able to race in the top category of LMP1, or whatever new category they are going to come up with. I will give it all to win, that’s for sure. But this year, I’m already on a very good LMP2 team, and we’re going to try and win it again—and not be disqualified twenty-four hours later!

Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS TECHEETAH, DS E-Tense FE19

WJ: Speaking of Paris, how did growing up near the city inform your taste in music, culture, and fashion?

JEV: I think I started to learn all of that when I started moving away from France, started traveling around the world, and living in other countries. So I guess I’m a multicultural in terms of, you know, fashion, music taste, all of those things.

WJ: So why did you start collecting timepieces? We’ve always noticed the great watches sneaking into your Instagram feed.

JEV: You know, like every man, you love the cars, you love watches, and obviously the other stuff. When I was younger, I obviously didn’t have the money to afford nice cars—the cars that I wanted—but I have a little bit of money to afford the watches I liked. So I always tried to find good watches. To me, this is only jewelry that a man can wear. And watches are an investment as well. It’s a beautiful thing to have and this is something I love. I love to change watches, and that love just keeps increasing year after year.

Smoking during the Sanya E-prix, China.

WJ: What about watches appeals to you? Is it just the mechanical aspect, or something else?

JEV: Well, [the mechanics] obviously are very important to me when I choose to buy a watch. Also the number of watches being made, the rarity. And there is something appealing to me about the story behind the brand, the story behind a specific watch. When the watch is beautiful, but there is no story at all, it kind of bores me. TAG Heuer is an iconic sponsor of my sport, of my world, since I was a kid and TAG was collaborating with [the late Formula 1 champion] Ayrton Senna, and before that, Steve McQueen. When I see the Monaco, it reminds me of all the history, the great people that wore this watch. To me, beside the fact that it’s a beautiful watch, that is what really attracts me, you know? The story behind it, and the history.

WJ: TAG Heuer’s ad campaigns have also featured Michael Schumacher. He crashed into you at the Singapore Grand Prix in 2012, and the television cameras caught a nice moment of you two talking. What was he telling you?

JEV: He said he was sorry. Then he said something else funny—but I can’t really say. [Laughs]

Vergne (FRA), DS TECHEETAH, DS E-Tense FE19 chases Jose Maria Lopez (ARG), GEOX Dragon Racing, Penske EV-3 during the Ad Diriyah E-prix, Riyadh Street Circuit, Saudi Arabia.

WJ: Do you have a philosophy about time?

JEV: Time is everything to me, and you need to be as quick as possible. But everything in life is time, you know, from the moment you are born, until you die. So I guess what really matters is to make the most out of your time.

WJ: Last question: What does the future hold for the Formula E series, and electric-car racing in general?

JEV: That’s a question I cannot really answer. The only thing I know is that the Formula E is going very well. Manufacturers are getting interested, getting into the championship. We are now nine manufacturers, which is massive. I see a bright future for Formula E, and obviously I’m extremely happy to be part of it, to be able to write the history of Formula E. Hopefully I can write it even more—with more wins and more championships!

Summer Camp

“Be Prepared.” The Boy Scouts motto suggests that in order to avoid mishaps, you must be ready for any type of emergency that might arise. Designed for action, this selection of military-inspired watches truly are ready for anything—from the frontlines of Hollywood to a weekend of hunting, camping, and fishing. Never be taken by surprise again, and always remember to bring snacks.

Photographs by Junichi Ito
Styling by Stephen Watson
Prop Styling by Linden Elstran

Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 Curtiss Warhawk, $7,710; breitling.com
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Nightlum, $3,800; bellross.com
Zenith Pilot Type 20 Adventure Bronze with “Matrix” Calfskin Strap, $7,100; zenith-watches.com
TOP: TAG Heuer Aquaracer Quartz, $1,600; tagheuer.com
BOTTOM: Tudor Black Bay Steel 41 MM, $3,525; tudorwatch.com
Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph Bronze Limited Edition, $5,000; montblanc.com
LEFT: Luminox Navy SEAL, $395; luminox-usa.com
RIGHT: G-Shock The Mudmaster Limited Edition, $380; gshock.com
LEFT: IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire, $4,350; iwc.com
RIGHT: Longines Heritage Military, $2,150; longines.com

Shooting the Tube

© Ben Thouard

Photographer Ben Thouard doesn’t just surf the big waves—he takes you inside them.

Photographs by Ben Thouard

Not to be like this, but you’d really rather be Ben Thouard right now.

The ruggedly handsome, well-mustachioed Frenchman isn’t just a seasoned surfer and a vet behind the camera, he’s someone who’s managed to make a profitable, fulfilling life out of combining those passions. Between commercial and purely artistic projects, he’s managed to forge a photographic style that captures the insides, underneaths, tops, sides, and more of the waves he rides and loves. Along with lensing and publishing SURFACE, a collection of his wave photography, and touring the world behind solo exhibitions, he’s also settled down into true domestic bliss on Tahiti, which serves him as both home base and muse.

It’s this mix of the adventurer and artistic spirits that attracted Ulysse Nardin, who recently added him to a growing crew of endorsed explorers that includes sailors Dan Lenard, Sébastien Destremau, and Romain Pilliard, snowboarder and surfer Mathieu Crépel, Kitesurfing champ Alex Caizergues, and freediver and fellow photographer Fred Buyle.

© Ben Thouard

We grabbed Thouard for a moment to talk about the match between him and the watchmaker, how he managed to become an ardent surfer despite growing up in France, his love of the ocean, and more. It’s a colorful set of answers you’ll wish you were the one giving.

Let’s start at the beginning: how did you get into surfing?
I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean and waves, so it didn’t take long for me to focus on surfing. I discovered the sport with my older brothers when I was around 8 and fell in love with it right away.

Why did you fall so hard?
It’s just you and the ocean. It takes your mind away from any troubles you have on land.

And how’s the surfing in France? Not many people think of it as a destination for the sport. I’m from the southeast of France, where there are very few waves. You have to be patient and wait for the right conditions to surf—so that probably grew my passion even more.

© Ben Thouard :

I read that you inherited your love of the sea from your father. What’s the most important lesson you learned from him? Yes, my father had a sailboat and we spent much of our free time onboard. The most important lesson I learned was to never turn your back to the ocean—not that the ocean is bad, but because it’s powerful and unpredictable. You have to be in constant observation and ready to move and adjust. It’s a continuous challenge, and this is what I like about it.

And when did photography come into the mix?I found my father’s old film camera at home, bought a few rolls, and started playing with it. Since a very young age, I’ve always been attracted to art. I’d been painting for years before I started surfing and long before I discovered photography. Then photography took it all over. Then I started mixing it up with surfing. All of a sudden, I imagined photography as my occupation and the world opened up to me. I knew it was going to be challenging, but being able to create, witness, freeze, document, and show people my work with the ocean was something much stronger than anything else.

And that’s when you chose to become a professional photographer. There was no choice to make—this was it! Once I made the link between surfing or the ocean and photography, I knew.

Lens Position: 4745

And that was when you were—what—15? What did your family think?To convince my parents that I wanted to become a photographer was a completely different story, especially since my dad is a surgeon. But they knew I had a strong personality and that if this was what I wanted to do, I was going to do it two-hundred percent, so they followed me and supported me.

What do you consider to be your greatest adventure to this point?When I was 19, I quit school, bought a ticket to Hawaii, and started work as a freelance photographer. Also, when I moved from France to Tahiti, eleven years ago. I realize that all these amazing experiences were related to my wish of adventure and exploration.

And what’s the most remarkable thing you’ve seen underwater?Definitely the images I created for my book SURFACE—you’re able to see the landscape through breaking waves. I imagined these photos in my mind a while ago without really thinking it was possible. Then I realized Tahiti was the place to capture them. I put all the energy I had into this project. It was the most amazing moment I’ve seen out there!

© Ben Thouard :

How is an adventurer different than an average civilian? Is the difference something you’re born with? Something you learn?A bit of both I think! It’s definitely something you’re born with, but also something you wish to develop. It’s easy to stay home on your couch and escape from any challenge. To go on an adventure you have to accept challenges and enjoy it. I think that’s a state of mind and some people just don’t like it. You also have to give yourself the chance to experience these challenges.

Many cultural critics believe that we’ve lost our sense of wonder. Do you agree?
No! I don’t agree at all—not in my case at least. It’s true that some people don’t have that taste of adventure in their life, but I believe that the next generation has a strong desire to go out there and experience life.

Talk about your process. When you’ve got a new project brief and a clean sheet of paper, where do you start? It starts in my imagination, then I go out there and try to shoot it. This always leads me to shoot new and different photos. Then the inspiration comes from the ocean—magic just happens in front of me and I try to capture it.

How did you get involved with working with Ulysse Nardin?I’ve always been intrigued by the relationship between watchmaking, photography, and the ocean. They’re all related by one main factor: time! Ulysse Nardin truly connects these elements as the brand is deeply rooted in the sea. The ocean is a huge part of my life, so the partnership felt very natural. It began with Ulysse Nardin reaching out, as they wanted to build a team of “Ulysses” to tell stories about the sea. I loved the idea of being in a group of explorers who share my passion.

The UN Diver watch you use can travel to depths of 300 meters—what’s the deepest you’ve been? Personally I’ve only experienced a depth of sixty meters or so in scuba diving, but swimming in the heavy waves, you definitely need a timepiece that can endure heavy pressure. Only the best and the strongest can follow you on your journey. My favorite is the Ulysse Nardin Diver Chronometer. It’s comfortable on the wrist and easy to read even when I’m underwater.

Were you involved with the design of the watch? Are you working with Ulysse Nardin in other initiatives?
Not yet but I am of course open to it!

© Ben Thouard :

You’ve lived in the south of France, Hawaii, and Tahiti—what are your favorite aspects of each place and what are the differences? Do you have a favorite? Each place is special in its own way. France will forever be home. It’s where I grew up and where all my family is from. I love going back there every year! But Tahiti is definitely the best place I’ve found on earth. Where I live is very quiet, very remote, but it gives my wife, two daughters, and me a wonderful quality of life. I have the perfect playground as a water photographer, and I was able to create my own style of photography.

What unconquered challenge are you looking forward to facing? Is there a place or person that you’d like to photograph, a place that you haven’t visited, or a dream photo assignment? My own large-scale exhibition in Paris where I can show people the amazing power of the ocean as well as its delicacy and fragility! Over the last few years, I have almost exclusively worked on my personal projects, and less and less for clients. I’ve had the chance to devote most of my time to something I loved, which lead me to create my book SURFACE and to producing a dozen of exhibitions over the last year. I will definitely continue to work in this direction and hopefully make that dream happen!

Q&A: Guillaume Néry (Panerai)

Freediving champion Guillaume Néry has explored the depth of the unknown, and in it found the limits of humanity.

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How did you get into freediving? What attracted you to the sport?

I discovered freediving by chance, doing a challenge with a friend on the bus to school. We were just trying to hold our breath the longest. I was 14 years old, and this was an experiment to [find] the limits of my body. That was fascinating to me. Because I was living in Nice, by the Mediterranean Sea, I decided I should try [doing it] underwater. It was much more interesting than just holding my breath on the bus! I fell in love with this feeling of going down deeper and deeper, like I was discovering an unknown planet. Today, the quest of the unknown, the exploration of human limits—these are still my passions. But lately I’ve [used] freediving for reconnecting with my own body, getting this harmony between the body, the mind, and the water. I don’t need to compete or break a record to experience it. Every time I go underwater, it feels like a moment of peace and happiness, whatever the time or the depth. Of course, as an athlete, I like world record attempts or world championship dives. I have prepared for so many hours, days, weeks, months, and you just have one chance to make it perfect. That’s the most challenging part. Freediving is all about relaxation, letting go, but it’s very hard to relax when you know you are about to attempt the deepest dive ever. In the end, the most enjoyable thing is when you can forget about all that, and just focus on the great feeling of gliding in the water.

What benefits does a good diving watch provide while you are underwater?

The watch is the only thing from my life on land that I bring with me into the deep. The watch becomes a link between my aquatic and outside life. The watch is a kind of symbol of the time passing, and when I am underwater on a single breath of air, life is time! I have to trust my body and the watch that [measures] the time I spend underwater. A good diving watch should be big enough so that you can easily read the time, but also not to heavy so that it feels like a part of your body. On top of that, I try to share the passion of the underwater world with the larger world, so aesthetics plays a huge role when people film me or take pictures of my dive. I try to be very careful in my movement underwater, to be graceful as I truly believe it helps the efficiency, and I want to wear the best outfit. The watch needs to have the best design and look that will combine my quest of aestheticism and performance. Today, I have found the watch that meets my expectations.

Do you ever get frightened before, or during, a deep dive?

Freediving is known to be a dangerous sport, but in reality we are doing a very safe activity. The main rule is: never freedive alone. I am always surrounded by my team when I am training or taking part in a competition. But, of course, sometimes you can experience the unexpected, and you have to be trained to deal with unpredictable situations. In 2015, I was trying to break my fifth world record, attempting a dive at -129 meters. The organization made a mistake on the rope measurement, and I dove at -139. It was of course too deep, and I lost consciousness a few meters from the surface [during the ascent]. It could have been very serious. I recovered after few days, because I was in a very good shape. But the deepest dives are not always the most dangerous. The main danger is overconfidence. It’s very important to stay humble and remember that we, as humans, are very vulnerable and small in this world, especially when we are deep down, like a small drop of water lost in the middle of the ocean.

Q&A: Géraldine Fasnacht (TAG Heuer)

Some get their thrill by climbing mountains.

Snowboarder, BASE jumper, and wingsuit pilot Géraldine Fasnacht gets hers by jumping off of them.

When was your first wingsuit flight?

In 2001. I prepared so much for it. Practicing my way out of the plane, my position to fly, my movement to safely open my parachute. But I could not imagine this magic feeling, to fly like a bird. It was so incredible that I just flew straight away from the airport and forgot completely to fly back. It took me two hours to walk back there, but I was the happiest girl on earth.

You’ve participated in many adventure sports, including BASE jumping, speed riding, and snowboarding. What’s the common thread in all of these?

It is like being a painter in front of a white canvas. I am an artist, I am drawing lines on the mountains, trying to follow the shape of the ridges, the light of the sun, to compose my flight or my [snowboard] ride, to be part of the elements. It is like a dance, a communion.

These sports can be dangerous, and you’ve experienced the tragedy firsthand. [Fasnacht’s husband was killing in a high-speed skiing accident in 2006.] What keeps you coming back? Would you ever retire?

I love being in the mountains. They are my inspirations and my way of life. It is my place and I feel lucky that I have found my passion where I can totally express myself and be part of the evolution of the sports. I will continue so long as my body is feeling good, and I [can maintain] the high level of training [needed] to realize my projects and objectives. If one day I cannot do these things anymore, then I will feel too unsafe, and I will retire, yes.

Can you explain the differences between wingsuit flying from an airplane and wingsuit flying from a mountaintop? Is the sensation different? Is one more exciting than the other?

It is totally different. From a mountain, just the way up makes it already special, climbing or walking to the top, being aware of the weather conditions, the shape of the mountain for the exit and the line I would like to fly, getting geared up at the summit and enjoying the view. Then I am analyzing the conditions again to decide my way down, visualizing and memorizing my line. There is just me at this present moment, composing with the shape of the nature. I know that my movements have to be perfect from the take-off to the landing. No mistakes.

From the plane, you are flying in the middle of the sky, starting from 4,000 meters high. When I am doing my last checks before my flight, like, when I prepare my plane before taking off, I am very focused. Then I walk to the edge of the cliff and I do my countdown—3-2-1 BASE!—and draw my line along the mountain.

In YouTube videos, you sometimes see wingsuit pilots throw a stone off the mountain before taking off. What is this ritual, and where did it come from?

It was our way to calculate how many meters vertical drop we had to jump off the cliff. One second equals five meters. Two seconds equals 20 meters, three seconds equals 45 meters, four seconds equals 80 meters, five seconds equals 122 meters, six seconds equals 176 meters, seven seconds equals 240 meters, and so on. Now I use a laser. It is much more precise and more convenient, as I can also know the exact [grade] of the slope below, to know if it is steep enough to fly over. This is very important for the technical jumps, like the top of Mont Rose, which is 4,634 [high] and [has a] 60-meter vertical drop, as I have a very short drop to take off.

You grew up in Switzerland, near Verbier. What do the mountains symbolize to you? What do you love about them?

I feel lucky that my parents always let me do what made me happy. Being outside in nature, playing with my friends, snowboarding, skateboarding, building huts in the forest. Not so much “girl” activities. The mountains are my inspiration, and growing up here made me imagine more possibilities. Not only the way up, but also enjoying the way down. I was born at the perfect time to live an incredible evolution of snowboard free-riding and wingsuit flying. I could explore and open a lot of different lines that were not possible before. Enjoying the mountains in winter make me imagine lines for summer, and knowing the fields in summer made me able to realize lines with my snowboard in winter. My first flight was from the top [of the Matterhorn] in 2014, which I imagined after snowboarding down the east face in 2009. I just had to wait to have a wingsuit high-performance enough to do it!

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