Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher
Published 20 May 2015
From 1991 to 2006 German Michael Schumacher won the Formula 1 drivers’ championship an unprecedented seven times. In the years he did not win Schumacher was always the man to beat, capable of on track feats no other driver would attempt or even imagine. During his return to the sport for three seasons starting in 2010 he remained the impossible to ignore driver, supremely skilful and tactically brilliant. Schumacher dominated F1 the way Mohammed Ali ruled boxing, Pelé soccer and Michael Jordan basketball.
So, all the more unbelievable was the news on 29 December 2013 that a skiing accident caused the retired Schumacher catastrophic head injuries. ‘He is’, said one doctor, ‘fighting for his life’. How could this happen? Schumacher was an experienced skier and at 44 still in perfect physical shape. Then came months long drip of information culminating in the announcement that Schumacher would live might never fully recover.
Audemars Piguet CEO Francois Bennahmais remembers that day as ‘Filled with sadness.’ In early 2010 Schumacher, an AP Ambassador, visited the factory in Le Brassus, Switzerland and issued a challenge. ‘Michael said’ recalls Bennahmais, ‘You say you are the world’s best watchmakers than make me a watch that times laps one after the other’.
Bennahmias answered that AP needed time to determine the feasibility of a mechanical watch capable of measuring consecutive laps. Four months later Bennahmias informed Schumacher; ‘Yes, we can do it’.
During development of the watch Schumacher visit AP ‘Fifteen or twenty times’ says Bennahmias, ‘he loved being involved with the work of watchmaker and the engineers’.
In late October 2013 Bennahmias presented the prototype Royal Oak Concept Laptimer. Schumacher’s long time manager Sabine Kehm was present; ‘Michael put the watch on his wrist, he was fascinated and very proud.’
On the hour long drive back to Geneva says Kehm, ‘Michael talked constantly about the watch, he was really excited about it.’
Bennahmias says, ‘When Michael put on the watch that day he was playing with it like a kid. I thought, this guy has won seven championships and he reacts like my 7 or 8 year old. That was impressive.’
After Schumacher’s accident Bennahmias decided not to consider launching the watch until he conferred with the driver’s family. At a meeting with Bennahmias a few months after the accident the Schumacher family insisted on launching the watch.
Says Kehm, ‘Michael’s challenge to Audemars was met. It would be a shame to stop things. And that is why the family is absolutely behind launching the watch now. Everyone was working very hard for five years and we have now finished the project so we would like to show the world.’