A$AP Rocky Wants to “Press the Reset Button” for PUMA and Formula 1

PUMA have an abundance of sporting ties, but Formula 1 takes pole position in the eyes of the Big Cat. Their first taste of the pinnacle of motorsport was back in the halcyonic yet dangerous days of 1984. This period in the 80s was a far cry from F1 in 2023, as there was no glitz and glamour, no Vegas Grand Prix, and no celebrities scattered around the grid. Williams and McLaren were the top dogs battling for championships, and the now-legendary commentator, Martin Brundle, was just beginning his Formula 1 career. While during this time other brands were focusing on sports like basketball and football, PUMA dived head first into motorsport, with the first driver to rep the Big Cat in F1 being Stefan Bellof of Tyrrell Racing.

PUMA’s official leap into the highest level of Motorsport was in 2001, and over two-decades later have forged a relationship that’s synonymous with F1 around the globe. Beginning with Big Cat-branded gear for Jordan Grand Prix, the partnership now spans a massive annual offering of merch and plenty of iconic sneakers, like the Speedcat. An ultra-slimmed down driving shoe, PUMA’s Speedcat has become an icon beyond the grid, and according to the brand’s archivist Helmut Fischer, it is ‘to this day the most sold PUMA sneaker ever’. Since 2004, PUMA have crafted their own race suits in Italy and gone on to create iconic racing sneakers like the Race Cat and Vinticore. Over the years, there’s been a plethora of epic race sneakers that have donned the feet of World Champions. One of the standouts was Michael Schumacher’s PUMA Vinticore and Future Cat he wore in the mid-naughts. There’s also been plenty of juice injected into the PUMA Formula 1 line off-track this year, with the likes of a Joshua Vides collaboration and wild news surrounding A$AP Rocky being employed as the creative director.

The Beginning

The PUMA x Formula 1 partnership didn’t see quick success, and instead experienced a slow-burn journey to the top that led to major signings with the largest teams. PUMA Archivist Helmut Fischer remembers ‘the first PUMA shoes for Motorsport were high-cut leather shoes for Stefan Bellof in 1984’. Boasting the moniker ‘King of the Ring’, you best believe Bellof proved to be talented behind the wheel. During his career, Bellof made an impression on the world of motorsport, competing in Sportscar Racing, Formula 2 and the FIA World Endurance Championship, where he won the Driver’s Championship in 1984. He was also an apparent idol of one of the greatest to grace the grid, Michael Schumacher. Bellof only had a short career in Formula 1, competing with Tyrrell Racing. During his peak period in motorsport, Bellof always repped PUMA sneakers, and was introduced through PUMA founder, Rudolph Dassler’s son, Armin, who was ‘very keen to work with Stefan’, according to Helmut Fischer. Bellof’s now-iconic ultra-high-top race shoes (pictured above) were the first to be worn in the paddock. They were blue, extra-high-top and weighed four-times more than today’s racing shoes!

Unfortunately, the young talent passed away in a tragic accident during the World Sportscar Championship at the 1000 km of Spa in Belgium. He never had the chance to reach his potential, and it’s been said that Bellof was even offered a contract by Enzo Ferrari himself. Despite his tragic passing, Bellof’s legacy lives on, especially at PUMA, where he’s touted as the first driver to wear PUMA Shoes in Formula 1. Embodying Bellof’s daring spirit, PUMA leaped head first into the high-speed world of F1, making their official foray in 2001 by employing the Jordan Grand Prix team. A long-term licensing deal was agreed where the PUMA name was carried on the racewear and team uniforms. It wasn’t long after that PUMA let their Race Cat and Speedcat loose into the world, leading top teams in F1 to sign with them. Sauber was the next up, signing in 2003 with BMW Williams and Renault following in 2004.

Championship Winners

Receiving contracts with the major teams was an integral first step for the brand to cement themselves within Formula 1, so the only natural next stage was winning a championship. Fischer remembers the big breakthrough for PUMA was ‘the winning of the Drivers Championship with Fernando Alonso and the Constructors Championship with Renault F1’. During Alonso’s first stint at Renault (now known as Alpine) between 2003 and 2006, he won the driver’s and constructors’ world championships twice. The Big Cat celebrated their wins back-to-back, with the historic victories breaking Michael Schumacher’s winning streak. Ironically, also in 2006, PUMA announced a multi-year deal with Scuderia Ferrari, which was at the time led by Schumacher, the seven-time world champion. In 2007, two years after signing with Ferrari, PUMA made the Tifosi proud, finally winning a championship with Finnish sensation Kimi Raikkonen. Since their initial triumphs with Ferrari and Renault, PUMA have gone on to partner with most major teams on the grid, including Mercedes and Red Bull, the mortal enemies who’ve dominated the standings for over a decade.

All About the Speed (Cat)

There’s more than just racewear under the umbrella of the Formula 1 x PUMA partnership, with sneakers like the Speedcat transcending motorsport. It was in 2001 when the PUMA Speedcat debuted, and it was ‘a monumental sneaker for the time’, according to Fischer. Originally beginning as a race sneaker, the name is quite fitting, because this cat is all about Speed! On the track, Chinese Alpha Romeo driver Zhou Guanyu told us ‘as a driver, obviously we are chasing for milliseconds’ so the driver’s sneakers need to boast all the latest modernised technical aspects. Part of achieving this in Formula 1 is having your driver and car pairing to be as light as possible, and every gram counts. This year in testing was where we saw teams take it to the next level, shedding their painted liveries and instead opting for exposed carbon fibre. That’s why Fischer has said that for race footwear in general, ‘the overall shape is slimmer than your regular sneaker’. That’s been the defining characteristic of the Speed Cat and other PUMA racing sneakers – as light as a feather. Lewis Hamilton, seven-time World Champion, said when looking back at his PUMA race shoes from his first championship in 2014, ‘it weighs nothing. It’s like a sock’. For Hamilton, when he joined Mercedes and signed with PUMA, it was important to him to have the ‘lightest boots out of every brand’. On-top of weightlessness, ‘Motorsport sneakers are very low-profile with little to no midsole’, says Fischer, which makes PUMA’s Speedcat an almost-perfect sneaker for the general public. If you went outside right now, you could probably spot a pair on the feet of a non-F1 fan. They are after all ‘to this day the most sold PUMA sneaker ever’, according to Fischer.

Looks Like a Driver

While it’s been stepped up a notch in recent years, custom celebratory colourways and collaborations have been a historic part of PUMA’s long standing partnership with Formula 1. Fischer states ‘special edition suits and shoes are being made for the teams for special occasions, like the Red Bull Cowboy suit for the United States GP in Austin or the Ferrari 75th anniversary suit for the Italian GP in Monza’. The flamboyance was perfectly on show during this year’s monumental Las Vegas Grand Prix. Arguably the most anticipated (and controversial) race on the calendar, almost every team descended on Sin City with special liveries, race suits and sneakers. Red Bull and championship leader Verstappen took this as a major opportunity, dressing in full Elvis-themed race attire and building an epic special livery for the race. Scuderia Ferrari has been another front runner, strutting their stuff with the legendary all-red Speedcats, completed with a prancing horse logo. Through the years-long partnership, the Scuderia, alongside PUMA, have continued to push their drivers to craft their own iterations of popular silhouettes. Sebastian Vettel, former championship winner with Red Bull, crafted a number of his own sneakers during his six-season tenure at Ferrari. Vettel’s 2017 Evo Knit Pro and 2020 Speedcat Pro donned the Scuderia’s scarlet tones, and remain some of the sneaker highlights of his career. For Verstappen’s first championship, PUMA created a custom pair of Speedcat pros, doused in gold. This represented somewhat of a ‘changing of hands’, and a new era of Formula 1. Donning the Number 1 on your car isn’t the only statement drivers have made with their race gear. In 2020, Lewis Hamilton, alongside PUMA and Mercedes, was able to come up with the ‘Black Race Gear’ concept.

The Modern Era

The Pinnacle of Motorsport has become more popular than ever before through celebrity endorsement and Netflix’s Drive to Survive. Because of this, PUMA have doubled down in partnerships with teams and extended their relationships with top dogs like Ferrari and Mercedes. Both brands consistently release collaborative footwear and apparel under the PUMA banner. Further off-track partnerships have helped bolster the Formula 1 relationship even more. A collaboration with artist Joshua Vides showed the partnership in a new light that merged street fashion with motorsport. Quickly following that collaboration was the big announcement that A$AP Rocky was the new creative director of the PUMA F1 line, debuting the first collection at Vegas. Since their beginning in 1984 with Stefan Bellof, PUMA have transformed their F1 partnership into a pop-cultural mainstay.

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