2017 F1 Grand Prix of Japan — Results & aftermath

Hamilton holds off Verstappen for win at Suzuka consolidating championship lead; Ricciardo P3 but Vettel out early with engine problems

Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton had an essentially prefect race weekend in Japan. The English points leader shattered the track record at Suzuka on Saturday en route to his first pole at this fabled track. Then on Sunday he was not only the fastest car and driver on the circuit but his main rival for the Drivers’ Championship was out early and did not finish. Capping off a nightmare three-race run for Scuderia Ferrari, their title aspirant, 4-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, suffered another engine problem apparently due to a faulty spark plug of all things that saw him down on woefully power and forced the retirement of his car on Lap 5. After the team’s crash-induced double DNF in Singapore, persistent engine woes in Malaysia that saw Vettel forced to start from last and Kimi Raikkonen not make the race start at all and then this disaster for Vettel in Japan, Ferrari’s once-promising season appears to have completely unraveled. In the face of this year’s all but bulletproof Mercedes F1 W08 chassis the legendary team from Maranello are now too far behind in the Constructors’ chase to have a realistic shot and Vettel saw his deficit to Hamilton balloon to 59 points after Sunday’s latest non-scoring DNF. That leaves the victorious Hamilton on the brink of his fourth world title and he could conceivably wrap it up as soon as the US Grand Prix two weeks hence in Austin. So all-in-all it was another superb day for Hamilton and the Silver Arrows and another unmitigated disaster for Ferrari.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Red Bull’s wunderkind Max Verstappen tried his best to spoil Hamilton’s party. After being elevated to P4 on the grid due to penalties against Valtteri Bottas, Verstappen was even quicker in race trim, besting his teammate Daniel Ricciardo early and then taking advantage of Vettel’s misfortune to firmly secure second position for the majority of the race. Even though the Red Bull lacks a bit of horsepower when stacked up against Mercedes, Verstappen wrung every ounce of performance he could from his lithe RB13 chassis, almost having enough to close down Hamilton after a late Virtual Safety Car period precipitated by Lance Stroll’s off. But lapped traffic got in the way, particularly an obstinate Fernando Alonso, and the laps ran out on the Dutchman. The Malaysian GP winner had to be content with a very stout P2 podium result just 1.2 seconds behind Hamilton’s winning time. Ricciardo was a little bit further up the road and finished P3 for the second consecutive GP. That also makes it 4 podiums in the last 5 races for the smiling Aussie.

The second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas wasn’t able to keep pace with the frontrunners but played a valuable role for the team by allowing Hamilton by him mid-race and then stacking up the pursuing Verstappen, costing the Red Bull some valuable laps in its quest for a possible victory. Bottas would come home off the podium in P4 but surely earned a lot of credit with the team and Hamilton as a valuable wingman with that unselfish effort. Vettel’s teammate Raikkonen also drove well to fight his way back from a penalty-effected P10 start, as well as getting pushed off track by Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and falling even further back through the order on Lap 1. Raikkonen regrouped to will the lone surviving Ferrari up to a P5 finish. It was a strong drive by the Iceman but in the end small consolation on another terrible day for Ferrari.

The Force Indias ran well yet again, with Esteban Ocon besting his nemesis Sergio Perez, P6 to P7. Despite their mutual loathing and season-long on track skirmishes the Force India duo have nonetheless performed well enough to essentially guarantee the team fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, a massively lucrative result for the little team from Silverstone. Both Haas cars also got good points in Japan with Kevin Magnussen staying ahead of his teammate long enough to make a forceful pass on the Williams of Felipe Massa late in the race for P8 and Romain Grosjean following close behind to finish ninth despite starting from P16 after a big shunt knocked him out of qualifying early on Saturday. Massa was able to hold on against the charging McLaren of Fernando Alonso to take the last points paying position for Williams in P10. After the race Alonso was given a 2-point penalty on his Super License for not obeying blue flags and letting Vertstappen by as the Red Bull man was making his late-race charge.

Top 10 finishers of the Japanese Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 53 1:27:31.194 25
2 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 53 +1.211s 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 53 +9.679s 15
4 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 53 +10.580s 12
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 53 +32.622s 10
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 53 +67.788s 8
7 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 53 +71.424s 6
8 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 53 +88.953s 4
9 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 53 +89.883s 2
10 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 52 +1 lap 1

Complete race results alive via Formula1.com.

In other news, Carlos Sainz, who wiped out his Toro Rosso on Lap 1, will make the switch to Renault for the last remaining races of 2017, bouncing the star-crossed Jolyon Palmer from his seat and presumably from Forumla 1 entirely. The erratic Russian Daniil Kvyat will return to his Toro Rosso ride but his partner for Austin may or may not be Pierre Gasly, as the rookie sensation still has an opportunity to win the Super Formula title that weekend. And whether Toro Rosso keep on Kvyat in 2018 also remains an open question.

The next race is in two weeks time, the United States Grand Prix from the always fun Circuit of the Americas in Austin. Will Hamilton be able to wrap up the title there or can Ferrari get back on the beam and put up a fight? Hope to see you then to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Japan — Qualifying results

Hamilton blisters track record for pole at Suzuka, Bottas back on form in P2; Vettel third quickest as grid shuffled by penalties

Making emphatic amends for never having scored a pole at the legendary Suzuka circuit, Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton shattered Michael Schumacher’s 11-year-old lap record by over 1.6 seconds en route to the 71st pole of the Englishman’s sparkling career. Better yet for the Silver Arrows, Hamilton’s wingman Valtteri Bottas returned to form after a run of mediocre qualifying results and qualified P2. That stout effort by Bottas pipped the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton’s only real competition for the Drivers’ title, but the Mercedes #2 has a gearbox penalty to serve and so was pushed back to P6 with Vettel inheriting the second spot on the grid beside Hamilton. After Vettel’s wonder drive in Malaysia a week ago where he came from last to finish a remarkable fourth the German 4-time World Champion must be salivating at the prospect of starting from P2 and being able to go mano a mano with Hamilton right from then get go.

However, Vettel may have to go it alone, as his Scuderia teammate Kimi Raikkonen had another difficult day a week after his car failed to start the Malaysian GP due to turbo problems. The Finnish vet got it wrong in free practice 3, smashing into the armco at the Degner curves and damaging his suspension and gearbox in the process. His mechanics did yeoman’s work to get the car ready for qualifying but Raikkonen couldn’t find the speed and ended up a lowly P7. With his and others’ penalties factored in Raikkonen got pushed back to P10. He’ll just be hoping that his car can get to race after last week’s disaster at Sepang Circuit. But when you start mid-pack the chances of bad things happening on the opening lap increase exponentially so I think it’s even money whether the sometimes accident prone Raikkonen can make it to the finish.

The two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Vertstappen qualified P4 and P5 respectively but both will move up one spot and line up side by side on the second row. With their strong performance in Malaysia fresh in their minds where Verstappen got the win and Ricciardo was P3 they could once again be better in race trim. So watch out for at least one of the Red Bull duo to perhaps challenge the front runners for victory tomorrow. Esteban Ocon out-qualified his Force India teammate and arch rival Sergio Perez P7 to P8 and Ocon will start P5 come Sunday due to Bottas’ demotion. Williams Felipe Massa set the 9th fastest time and will move up to P8 on the grid, while Fernando Alonso got his McLaren into Q3 at Honda’shome track. But the Spaniard also faces a host of penalties for parts changes on his car that will drop him all the way to last position. That ironically benefitted his slower teammate, Stoffel Vandoorne, who could only muster the 11th fastest time in Q2 but will see himself elevated all the way up to P9 on the grid come race day.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Japanese GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:29.047 1:27.819 1:27.319 18
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:29.332 1:28.543 1:27.651 17
3 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:29.352 1:28.225 1:27.791 19
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:29.475 1:28.935 1:28.306 13
5 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:29.181 1:28.747 1:28.332 12
6 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:29.163 1:29.079 1:28.498 15
7 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:30.115 1:29.199 1:29.111 16
8 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:29.696 1:29.343 1:29.260 17
9 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:30.352 1:29.687 1:29.480 16
10 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:30.525 1:29.749 1:30.687 13

And the adjusted front grid after all penalties are factored in:

POS DRIVER CAR TIME GAP
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m27.319s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m27.791s 0.472s
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m28.306s 0.987s
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m28.332s 1.013s
5 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m29.111s 1.792s
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m27.651s 0.332s
7 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m29.260s 1.941s
8 Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m29.480s 2.161s
9 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Honda 1m29.778s 2.459s
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m28.498s 1.179s

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix airs live on NBC Sports starting at 1AM here in the States. So stay up late singing karaoke and then enjoy the race with a cold glass of sake to see if anyone has anything for Hamilton or if he will simply leave them all in his dust. Hope to see you then to find out!

RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017

We here at Man’s Fine Life are deeply saddened by the untimely passing of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Tom Petty at the age of 66 after a cardiac arrest at his LA home on October 2. The Rolling Stone obituary is here.

Tom Petty was one of the best of the straight-ahead American rock ‘n rollers to come out of the 1970s, arguably forming a triumvirate with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger that spearheaded a rebirth of singer-songwriter rock with a gritty edge characterized by narrative lyrics about the common man and impeccably crafted tunes played by top notch bands. It’s easy to forget just what that meant at a time when it looked like conventional blues-based rock was on the wane due to the onslaught of Disco, Heavy Metal, Wus Rock (Firefall, Dan Fogelberg, Bread, et al) and Punk. But like Springsteen and the E Street Band and Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers recaptured traditional fans of rock and made legions of new ones with whole albums full of catchy singles suffused with the passion of the true believer in the redemptive power of Rock.

Petty and the Heartbreakers started off with a bang way back in 1976 when they had Top 40 hit with the sinuously assertive “Breakdown” and a very influential non-hit with the Byrds-inflected “American Girl” on their eponymous debut album (legend has it that people were calling up Roger McGuinn to see if it was his new single). With Petty’s oddly effecting trademark nasal delivery and 12-string Rickenbacker, Mike Campbell’s stinging lead guitar, Benmont Tench’s pivotal swirling organ adding uncommon depth and the rock solid rhythm section of the late Howie Epstein on bass and Stan Lynch on drums, the original lineup seemed to emerge as a finely tuned outfit from day one and never took their foot off the gas for the next few years. Their consistently excellent efforts culminated in one of the decade’s best albums, Damn the Torpedoesin 1979. With such all-time classic as “Refugee,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Here Comes My Girl” and “Breakdown,” Torpedoes was an artistic and commercial smash, going 3-times platinum with over three million in sales.

The band entered the 80s with two more fine releases — Hard Promises (1981) and Long After Dark (1982)– that, while not as successful as Torpedoes, still solidified their rep as major hit makers and one of the most important acts around. Then came Southern Accents in 1983. A beautiful album with a very troubled recording process — Petty broke his hand badly punching a wall in frustration during the mix of the lead single “Rebels”Southern Accents was originally conceived as something of a concept album by way of an exploration Petty’s “red neck” Florida roots. Other than a general thematic similarity the songs on Accents do not quite add up to a concept album, perhaps because it was trimmed down from a double LP. But it is beautifully produced, significant for its lyrical ambitions and ultimately lovely and artistically satisfying. It hit platinum and so was also successful commercially. But Petty considered it a noble failure and for him the album never quite lived up to the magnum opus that he had in his head when he conceived it.

Southern Accents and the strains of making it marked a true turning point and after that Petty and the band changed subtly but significantly, as if the reach for something grander and more profound had led instead to a sort of artistic burnout. After Petty’s rehab and recuperation from his self-inflicted wound, as well as drug issues which would continue to plague him in the years to come, the music became much simpler and more stripped down if no less radio friendly. On the full band’s Let Me UP (I’ve Had Enough) (1987) and Into the Great Wide Open (1991), as well as Petty’s smash solo album Full Moon Fever (1989), the narratives became more detached, the characters observed from a distance for the most part rather than from within their skins as had been the case on the band’s earlier material. The songs seem more programmatic, more LA and less Gainesville, and frankly, from an artistic standpoint, less interesting. There’s a less nuanced, less bluesy feel overall that sacrificed some complexity for a more universal “rock” sound, which ironically hasn’t aged as well as the earlier hits. If it marked a return to the basic pleasures of the straight-ahead 3-minute single the updated style clearly seemed to abandon much of the passionate involvement of the earlier 1970s music.

His work with the enjoyably light supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, where he teamed up with other legends like Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and ELO mastermind and super producer Jeff Lynne, to create one of the surprise hit albums of the late 1980s seemed to confirm that Petty was done taking things too seriously and suffering for his art. From here on out it would be all rock, no angst, jamming with friends, playing the hits live and just generally enjoying being one of the world’s most successful rock musicians. Petty evolved into a wryly funny wise old hand with hooded eyes and his trademark deadpan drawl, almost a different person from the strangely sharp featured, almost androgynous angry young rocker of the early days.

And who could blame him for that transition from hot blooded rebelliousness to satisfied professionalism? Taken in its entirety the music is still good and highly enjoyable in the later 80s and 90s. But that earlier stuff is where the magic still shines and resonates in a timeless way. Those first 9 years were a remarkable run and stand up with the creative output of pretty much any Rock artist of any era over that kind of sustained period of time. Of course there are probably fans who fall into the other camp and prefer the later, lighter stuff. But for me I’ll take the music up to and including Southern Accents as peak Petty. It’s the music I grew up with and the music I still reach for and play with pleasure.

Personal preferences aside, one thing’s for sure — Tom Petty was a great rocker and well deserving of his Hall of Fame status. He was a music giant who will be sorely missed and the world is poorer for his passing. But the gift of his music lives on as one of the real high water marks in Rock & Roll because Petty was one of the genuine originals in a genre where that’s about as rare as hen’s teeth. Godspeed, Tom, and thanks for the terrific tunes.

RIP Hugh Hefner, 1926 – 2017

When Hugh Hefner, the maverick founder and publisher of Playboy, died last week at the age of 91 it was tempting to say that it marked the end of an era. But in truth that era ended long ago, perhaps as far back as the 1990s and the birth of widespread internet access with all the instant onanistic delights that would bring. It wasn’t hard to see that his death was treated as the passing of a retrograde dinosaur by the gleeful way so many piled on, tamping the dirt down on poor old Hef before the body was cold or the last period was put on his New York Times obituary.

The first Playboy cover in 1953

Hef was called a creep, a pervert, an exploiter of women, a pimp, a lonely old loser. Great claims were made about how he had single-handedly degraded the sexual culture of the United States and done us all irreparable harm. That these claims were primarily made by women on the left of the political spectrum, as well as a few pearl clutching conservative men, made me wonder if Hef wasn’t lying bemused there in his special crypt in Westwood Memorial Park — a final resting place that he purchased so he could spend eternity next to his feminine ideal and also the ticket to his success as a publisher, Marilyn Monroe. It almost seemed as if Hefner’s sexual revolution had turned back on itself and become a new puritanism despite — or perhaps because of — the unlimited, undreamed of access to the multifaceted turn-ons of the cyber universe, a time where most if not all sexual imagery is debated as someone being exploited and all nudity, artfully shot or otherwise, is once again shameful “pornography.”

Hefner’s legacy is an understandably complex one. But of course judgements from the distance of 2017 on men who made their fortunes in the mid-20th Century amidst its highly sexist, highly male-dominated society are rarely going to be favorable. That Hefner made his particular fortune on the naked bodies of nubile young women would make him a polarizing figure no matter when he did it. That very first coup of the Monroe nudes that instantly propelled Playboy to a must-buy men’s publication — photos which mortified Marylin but which she also admitted helped her career — illustrated the dichotomy of Playboy in a nutshell, the opportunism and panache, the exploitation and pitch perfect taste. In future all the other models would be willing participants, paid certainly, but also unashamedly showing their naked bodies at the peak of their sexual attraction — young, fit, and airbrushed to perfection. It’s true that Hefner was selling the idea of “sexual liberation” and revolt against puritanism. But of course it’s also true that he saw it exclusively through the male lens of available sexy college coeds and girls next door to perfectly compliment a swinging bachelor’s lifestyle filled with little black books and a pad decorated with Eames and Saarinen furniture with a premium Hi-Fi system playing Miles Davis and John Coltrane on quarter inch reel-to-reel tape.

But then, this was a men’s magazine back when such notions were not yet vigorously contested. The barbershop, the pool hall, the club and especially the board rooms were almost exclusively men-only (and white men only, at that). In publishing a racy magazine for men in the 1950s how much could we really expect Hefner to cater to an equal-opportunity female perspective? He had no interest in that whatsoever and he never really would. But as time passed and Playboy became an American institution like Coca-Cola and Lucky Strikes, Hefner pushed the intellectual boundaries that could be intertwined with such a publication. If sex was undoubtedly still the main selling point he wanted something that was worth discussing after orgasm filling the pages of his life’s mission. So alongside Miss July one could find minor (and sometimes major) works by literary giants like Ian Fleming, Arthur C. Clarke, Roald Dahl, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury, Alex Haley, Vladimir Nabokov, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even feminist icon Margaret Atwood, among many others. And Hef put his considerable fortune not only into his famously cheesy Playboy clubs with its parade of tightly corseted, cotton-taled Bunnies (blisteringly exposed by a young, undercover Gloria Steinem in “A Bunny’s Tale”) but also groundbreaking television shows, Playboy’s Penthouse and Playboy After Dark, which featured swinging, fantastically hep soirees with entertainment by the leading  black, white and Latino performers of their time, a quietly revolutionary fully-integrated scene in the 1960s.

He was also a staunch advocate for free speech, civil rights and a woman’s right to choose (though obviously feminists will say that last one was completely self-serving, as do, ironically, staunch conservatives). The Playboy Interview series had some of the better in-depth conversations with stars of sport, politics, technology, music and film. The interview conducted with Jimmy Carter while he was running for president where he admitted that he “lusted in his heart” is probably one of the most famous ever given by an American politician, while future Roots author Alex Haley’s chilling interview with American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell in 1966 was another of many important groundbreakers that put a spotlight in American race relations, a long-time Hefner concern.

So yes, it’s a complicated legacy. Like a lot of the greats he peaked after an extraordinarily fertile period and then rode his fame and stereotype to ever-diminishing returns. If he somehow opened the door to the pornographic free-for-all that some perceive around us now it’s also true that he never capitulated to hardcore and gynecological close-ups like his main competitors, Bob Guccione’s Penthouse and Larry Flint’s execrable Hustler (Flynt may be a fee speech hero to some but his magazine is absolute garbage). Although Hef did try to have his cake and eat it with the quiet purchase and publication of the more explicit Oui magazine, over at Playboy even pubic hair was a long time coming. As swinging and revolutionary as it had been in the 50s and 60s, by the late 1970s amidst the tumult of the real sexual revolution that it had arguably uncorked, Playboy was actually reactionary in its “wholesome” approach to the female nude. And by the time of the internet explosion Playboy was more of an American fixture like a Chevrolet or a ranch house than any kind of avant grade trendsetter or integral part of a happening zeitgeist. It’s what respectable people read when they wanted a little titillation and perhaps an interesting article or interview. Sure it was cringe-worthy to see Hef still walking around in pajamas and squiring a rotating harem of identical perfectly proportioned blondes in their 20s preaching the gospel of Viagra. But that was the image Hef had created for himself and he was unable or unwilling to slough it off despite his advancing years. What did we really expect this ultimate adolescent-cum-swinging bachelor to do after all these years, stop living his fantastical dream, settle down and grow up? From a marketing perspective, if Hef and Playboy were essentially the same entity how could this aging Don Juan possibly change himself as the embodiment of the Playboy lifestyle that he so enthusiastically promoted?

In some of the fierce critiques that have emerged in the short time since Hugh Hefner’s passing there has been an effort to tarnish him with the tragic death of Dorothy Stratton in 1980, as if her introduction to and promotion to stardom by Playboy had been responsible for her murder rather than her scheming, scummy, murderous husband. I would only answer that with a question: how many murders have occurred among employees of other “respectable” businesses during all the years Playboy has been published? A hell of a lot more than one, that’s for sure. There is also a concentrated effort to portray Hefner as the ultimate exploiter of women, somehow luring them to bare their flesh for his personal profit and satisfaction. This seems to me to be one of the more ironically antifeminist positions, as if the countless models and centerfolds of Playboy did not have any choice in the matter. True, they did not make the money that Hefner made off of their labors. But what employee makes the same money as the CEO? Many former playmates wound up working for the company and many were happy with their nude photo shoots. I’m sure some were dismayed in retrospect but again, in what employment transaction is satisfaction 100% guaranteed? The idea that these literally thousands of women were exploited against their will seems like utter nonsense. It’s much less condescending to think that they knew what they were doing and perhaps had a plan for what they would do with money they were being paid to better their lives. It’s a distinct possibility that many of the models actually enjoyed the prospect of being desired by millions of men and perhaps look back now when they are older at their youthful images with pride. If that’s a sick proposition to some it may be time to re-examine just where exactly the border lies between exploitation and willing sexual participation, of human desire and fantasy, of lust and admiration, of voyeurism and necessary physical gratification. And to the critique that Playboy presented an unrealistic vision of perfect women that warped the boys and men exposed to it I’d just say this: look at the millions of boys and men who read Playboy at some point in their lives. As one of them I can tell you the boys were certainly ecstatic to finally find out what grown-up women looked like under their clothes and what to look forward to when they grew up to be men. And the vast majority of men understood the idealized nature of the images and simply settled down to perfectly normal marriages and relationships undamaged by such visions of All-American Aphrodites no matter how much they may have enjoyed them and, like President Carter, lusted in their hearts.

Hef’s last laugh on us all may just be how far we’ve regressed as a society where to be successful at what Hugh Hefner and Playboy did 50-60 years ago involves exponentially more debasement and exponentially less aesthetic and intellectual veneer, where pundits knowingly reference PornHub but turn around and excoriate Hefner and Playboy. You can lay the blame at Hefner’s feet for the fact that there’s a strip club in every town and endless porn available on the internet if you like. But better to look at our own human needs and weaknesses to find the real answer to the question of just why that is so. If men didn’t want it and women weren’t willing to participate in it Hugh Hefner and Playboy would’t have been the massive success that they were. He sold an openly sexual dream world at a time when Americans were desperate for it and people bought it in spades for decades afterwards. So tell me how exactly did he corrupt such willing consumers? You can shoot the messenger if you’re uncomfortable with that. But I’m afraid he and his silk pajamas have just left the Mansion.

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia — Results & aftermath

Verstappen victorious for Red Bull in Malyasia, Ricciardo P3; Hamilton extends lead with P2 but Vettel pulls miracle drive to come from last to fourth

Max Verstappen took full advantage of Ferrari’s startling misfortune and mediocrity by Mercedes to take a dominant victory at the Sepang Circuit on Sunday. The young Red Bull driver, who only turned 20 on Saturday and whose 2017 season has been blighted by bad luck, finally had something to cheer about when he overtook the pole-sitting Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton early in the race and never looked back, besting the points leader by a whopping 12.77 seconds at a track that rightly should have suited the Silver Arrows. Verstappen and Red Bull were also aided by more unreliability at Ferrari when their best placed driver, Kimi Raikkonen, was unable to start the race with what appeared to be the same turbo problem that bedeviled Vettel in qualifying, sending him to the back of the grid without setting a time. So instead of the Iceman fighting with Hamilton for victory the stunned Ferrari garage was left praying for their lone surviving Prancing Horse to make a miracle run through the field just two weeks after their catastrophic double-DNF in Singapore .

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

But Maranello’s prayers were nearly answered, as Vettel methodically carved his way through back-markers with a masterful effort to put himself in striking distance of the podium. With the laps winding down the 4-time world champion amazingly found himself duking it out with Verstappen’s veteran teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, for the last step on the podium. But the gritty Aussie managed to hold Vettel off long enough for the latter’s tires to lose their punch and it was Ricciardo who took that valuable P3. That sealed a very good day for Red Bull at a track where they always seem to run well — the current line-up went 1-2 last year after a Hamilton engine failure and Vettel won three out of the four contests during his championship run at Red Bull between 2010 – 2013. The team must be sad to see Malaysia being dropped from the schedule for next year. Still, despite Ferrari’s disappointment it was a good day of damage limitation for Vettel with Hamilton only adding 6 points to his now-34 point lead in the Championship on a day where it looked like the Englishman might outscore the German 25 to nil. And as if the weekend was not bizarre enough for the Scuderia, Vettel and Williams’ Lance Stroll came tohgther on the cool down lap, totaling Vettel’s SF70H. It was the perfect ending to a perfectly ghastly weekend and it’s certain they can’t wait to turn the page at Suzuka and hopefully exploit their new found race pace without anymore technical glitches in the final five Grand Prix.

Further behind the frontrunners, Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas had a bit of a mystifying weekend and found himself well off the truly competitive pace. Bottas finished where he qualified in P5, some 44 seconds behind Hamilton, and struggled to get temperature and balance into the front tires with some new aero tweaks that Hamilton chose not to run. So perhaps the split strategy hurt Mercedes in terms of maximizing points. But it could also be that Bottas has hit a bit of personal slump with his recent run of underwhelming performances. Sergio Perez did rather better in maximizing the perfomance of his Force India coming home a solid P6 despite once again getting together briefly with his junior teammate Esteban Ocon. Ocon, who also had a few other skirmishes throughout the race, could do no better than P10, although it was still a good points haul for overachieving Force India. Stoffel Vandoorne had another strong drive for McLaren for his second consecutive P7 finish (his teammate Fernando Alonso finished outside the points in P11). The two Willaims of Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa also had eventful races but both managed to make it to the end in P8 and P9 respectively with the Stroll-Vettel contretemps mercifully coming after the checkered flag had flown.

Top 10 finishers of the Malaysian GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 56 1:30:01.290 25
2 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 56 +12.770s 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 56 +22.519s 15
4 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 56 +37.362s 12
5 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 56 +56.021s 10
6 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 56 +78.630s 8
7 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 55 +1 lap 6
8 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 4
9 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 2
10 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

With the races dwindling to a handful the next key contest is in but a week’s time from the always challenging Suzuka International Racing Course in Japan. Will Red Bull continue to make life difficult for the frontrunners and perhaps play spoiler? Can Ferrari get back on the beam and get both cars through a full race? And will Hamilton and Mercedes return to their dominating ways before heading to the Americas for the stretch run? Hope to see you then to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia — Qualifying results

Hamilton speeds to pole in Malaysia, Raikkonen P2 for Ferrari; Verstappen P3 as Vettel suffers engine failure in Q1, will start last

After a disastrous Singapore Grand Prix two weeks ago that saw both Ferarris crash out on the opening lap, Maranello showed tremendous speed in practice at the Sepang circuit and were surely hoping to be rewarded in qualifying on Saturday. Instead, the Scuderia’s bad luck continued when their lead driver Sebastian Vettel suffered engine problems in Q1 to his newly installed power plant. Despite frantic efforts by the team it proved unrepairable to be able to get the car out and set a timed lap and Vettel will face the monumental challenge of starting from last on the grid come Sunday. That opened the door to Mercedes and their championship-leading driver Lewis Hamilton. Despite looking like lacking the pace up against Ferrari and even Red Bull in all three practice sessions, Hamilton laid down a flyer good enough for a new all-time track record as well as a dominant pole. After lucking into the win at rainy Singapore despite starting back in P5 Hamilton now finds himself in his more accustomed front row perch where he will be very hard to beat. Vettel and Ferrari have got be hopimg for a typical torrential Malaysian downpour to shake up the contest and give them some extra strategy options to pick up positions.

On the other side of their garage, however, Kimi Raikkonen did well to fly the flag and give Ferrari some hope, lifting his Prancing Horse up to P2 with a very representative lap a mere .05 behind Hamilton’s streaking Silver Arrow. It looks like the Iceman will be Lewis’ key competition when the lights go out so look for Kimi to try and ambush the lead Mercedes early in Lap 1. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who turned 20 on Saturday, was also very quick and pipped his teammate for P3, with Daniel Ricciardo having to settle for P4. If something goes down between the first two competing cars look for the Red Bulls to try and take advantage at a track where they were 1-2 last year. Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was once again off the pace in quali and could do no better than P5. Esteban Ocon was the lead Force India, besting his stablemate and arch-rival Sergio Perez P6 to P9 respectively. And both McLarens were once agin in the top 10 with young Stoffel Vandoorne P7 and veteran Fernando Alonso P10. Nico Hulkenberg was a solid P8 for the improving factory Renault team.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Malysian Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:31.605 1:30.977 1:30.076 18
2 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:32.259 1:30.926 1:30.121 14
3 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:31.920 1:30.931 1:30.541 12
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:32.416 1:31.061 1:30.595 16
5 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:32.254 1:30.803 1:30.758 17
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:32.527 1:31.651 1:31.478 17
7 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 1:32.838 1:31.848 1:31.582 18
8 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:32.586 1:31.778 1:31.607 17
9 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:32.768 1:31.484 1:31.658 18
10 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:33.049 1:32.010 1:31.704 17

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com

In other news it seems this will be the Malaysian Grand Prix’s last time on the F1 calendar for the foreseeable future, ending a 19-year run. And reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly made his Formula 1 debut this weekend, stepping into the Toro Rosso for a few races and relegating the erratic Daniil Kvyat to reserve status. Gasly qualified just behind his teammate Carlos Sainz in P15 and may get a permanent seat with the team when Sainz jumps to Renault next year.

Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC Sports at the ungodly hour of 3AM here in the States. So set the DVR or brew an extra pot of coffee to pull an all-nighter because watching Sebastian Vettel try to carve his way through the field in pursuit of Hamilton should be worth the price of admission. Hope to see you then!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Singapore — Results & aftermath

Hamilton romps to victory after chaotic opening lap in rainy Singapore; Ricciardo survives to come home P2, Bottas P3; Vettel, Raikkonen & Verstappen crash out in Turn 1 melee

Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton spoke of needing a miracle after qualifying a lowly P5 on Saturday in Singapore well behind the Ferraris and Red Bulls. On Sunday the weather and recklessness of his rivals gifted him a pivotal victory in the hunt for his fourth Drivers’ Championship. With a cloudburst hitting the already tricky Marina Bay Stret Circuit right before the start of the race, teams were forced to start on wet weather tires on a very slippery and now quite green track. But instead of feeling out conditions when the lights went out the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen decided to fight it out on the greasy asphalt going into Turn 1. It wound up taking all three contenders out and seriously damaged pole-sitter Vettel’s championship aspirations.

Starting from P4 on the grid, Raikkonen launched well and made a power move to the outside of the P2-placed Verstappen. At the same time Vettel moved his line to the left, squeezing the young Dutchman directly into the path of Raikkonen’s Ferrari. That spun Raikkonen into his teammate Vettel’s side pod and sent the veteran Finn careening across the track. Verstappen likely had a broken front suspension anyway after being the meat in the Ferrari sandwich but ironically Raikkonen’s unsteerably out of control car found him again, smashing into his side and doing unquestionably terminal damage to his Red Bull chassis. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who had made a dynamite start of his own, was collected by the two combatants as an innocent bystander, sending his car vaulting through the air and forcing the Spaniard to retire later in the race. Despite being able to continue past the initial point of contact, Vettel’s car had radiator leakage that caused a hard spin into the wall up the road form the main accident. Just like that the 4-time World Champion was also bounced out of the race before one full lap had been completed.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

That meant that Hamilton, who avoided the carnage skillfully, was now the front runner at a circuit that generally ill-suits the longer wheel base Mercedes. Given such a gift, the English championship contender never relinquished that lucky lead and cruised home to a significant victory that saw him extend his advantage over Vettel to 28 points in the race for the title. Despite a representative drive from Ricciardo in the last remaining Red Bull, which finished P2, Hamilton was untouchable on wet tires and then dry rubber when the surface finally was ready for slicks. As the old saying goes, luck is the residue of design and while everything that could go right for Hamilton certainly did in Singapore he still kept his nose clean and let others make the unforced errors. Hamilton has now won the last three Grand Prix on the trot and must be extra confident claiming victory in a place where a podium would have been considered a very good result before the state of the race.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was also a big beneficiary of the melee up front, vaulting himself from a poor P6 start all the way to the last step of the podium with a P3 finish. That drove home just how disastrous a day it was for Ferrari on a track where they had aspirations of a 1-2 finish and instead got zero points. Because of the Scuderia’s untimely double DNF Mercedes extended their lead in the Constructors battle to a whopping 98 points.

Further back in the field, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz also had good fortune when his future teammate Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault suffered race-ending hydraulic issues. The Spaniard drove a very smart and consistent race to take a terrific P4, showing his future French employers that they made the right choice in hiring him for 2018. Force India’s Sergio Perez also kept it clean and finished a solid P5. The man Sainz is replacing at Renault, Jolyon Palmer, had his best finish of the year with what must have been a bittersweet P6. The lone surviving McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne also ran well with a valuable P7 for the beleaguered team form Woking. And Williams rookie Lance Stroll had a quietly remarkable race battling back from a lowly P18 starting position all the way up to P8. Romain Grosjean was P9 for Haas and Esteban Ocon took the last points-paying position at P10 in his Force India.

Top 10 finishers of the Singapore Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 58 2:03:23.544 25
2 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 58 +4.507s 18
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 58 +8.800s 15
4 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 58 +22.822s 12
5 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 58 +25.359s 10
6 30 Jolyon Palmer RENAULT 58 +27.259s 8
7 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 58 +30.388s 6
8 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 58 +41.696s 4
9 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 58 +43.282s 2
10 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 58 +44.795s 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next race is in two weeks time from Malaysia. Will Vettel and Ferrari overcome their dreadful disappointment at Singapore to get back into the championship hunt? Or will Hamilton’s winning ways continue for a stranglehold on the title? Hope to see you then to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Singapore — Qualifying results

Vettel seizes pole for Ferrari in Singapore; Verstappen P2 & Ricciardo P3 for Red Bull; Mercedes struggle

After showing subpar speed during all three practice sessions, Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari shone brightest under the beautiful lights of the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore when it mattered most. The German 4-time champion earned a dominant pole for tomorrow’s race with a blistering track record quali lap of 1:39.491. Vettel’s heroics came at Red Bull’s expense, as it seemed for a while that their wunderkind Max Verstappen might become the youngest F1 driver to earn a pole position. But Vettel, the man who set that record when he earned his first pole at the age of 21 years, 72 days in 2008 at Monza, spoiled the 19-year-old Vertstappen’s potential party on that count. Nevertheless Red Bull must be well pleased with their slippery chassis’ starting positions with Verstappen on the front row alongside Vettel in P2 and teammate Daniel Ricciardo right behind in P3. Vettel’s Ferrari stablemate Kimi Raikkonen came home fourth fastest so it should make for a very interesting opening lap in anger with the first two rows a combative Ferrari-Red Bull mix.

Further behind were the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who qualified P5 and P6 respectively. Though potentially damaging to Hamilton’s championship pursuit on a track where it is notoriously hard to overtake the subpar result was not altogether a surprise for the Silver Arrows. Mercedes even struggled at Singapore last year when they had no true competition in the Constructors’ fight. It is simply a track where their usual straight line speed advantage is nullified by the Marina Bay’s twisty nature and lack of long flat out sections and the fact that they are just not quite nimble enough without that power edge to make up the difference to their main rivals. Their best hope for tomorrow is to run clean and hope there is a damaging tangle between the Ferraris and Red Bulls up front. As unpredictable as Verstappen and Raikkonen can be that is not that bad a bet.

Nico Hulkenberg qualified a very solid P7 for Renault, while besieged McLaren had a rare bright moment with both of their cars getting into the top 10. Fernando Alonso was P8 while Stoffel Vandoorne was P9. Ironically it came on the same weekend that McLaren announced that they were divorcing their engine supplier Honda and switching to Renault power for 2018. But again horsepower is not the main thing in Singapore so it’s the McLaren chassis that really deserves the credit in this instance. Carlos Sainz had the tenth fastest time for Toro Roso and he also made news when it was announced that he will be loaned out to the Renault factory team for next season to partner Hulkenberg and replace Jolyon Palmer. Bringing the game of musical chairs full circle Toro Roso will switch to Honda power in place of their current Renault engines for 2018.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Singapore GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:43.336 1:40.529 1:39.491 19
2 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:42.010 1:40.332 1:39.814 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:42.063 1:40.385 1:39.840 18
4 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:43.328 1:40.525 1:40.069 18
5 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:42.455 1:40.577 1:40.126 17
6 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:43.137 1:41.409 1:40.810 16
7 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:42.586 1:41.277 1:41.013 18
8 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:42.086 1:41.442 1:41.179 20
9 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 1:42.222 1:41.227 1:41.398 19
10 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 1:42.176 1:41.826 1:42.056 20

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live starting 8AM Eastern on NBC Sports here in the States. Can Mercedes battle back to relevance at their own personal bogey track? Will Ferrari and Vettel rule the day? Or will Red Bull come up aces under the lights? Hope to see you then to find out!

tomvox1’s Watches for Sale — September selection, Pt. II

My second offering in September is nevertheless a premier watch — a classic early 1960s Universal Geneve Polerouter Date with stunning black gilt-gloss dial and trademark Speedmaster-style twisted lug case (both watches shared the same case maker back in the day). Said to be designed by the great Gerald Genta himself in his early days — the legend behind such later icons as the Royal Oak and the Nautilus — these early Polerouters are getting harder to find in good condition and more & more desirable overall.

And with good reason. The Polerouter was made tough with a high quality steel screw back case for water resistance and gained its name keeping good time for Scandinavian pilots flying over the highly magnetic North Pole shortcut in the 1950s. The Polerouter was also made innovative, as Universal quickly came up with a revolutionary micro-rotor system of automatic winding, their own proprietary Microtor, to reduce the thickness of the movement and therefore the watch. This winding system was so clever and ahead of its time that Patek Philippe revisited it in the modern era to legendary — and legendarily expensive! — effect.

Most of all the Polerouter was made super stylish courtesy of Mr. Genta. With its two-part dial composed of gorgeous black gilt-gloss crosshair interior and machined textured calibrated silver outer track, this Polerouter Date is nothing short of a stunner. Most of these dials have deteriorated badly and while this one does show a little of its age it’s still in really fine condition with crisp printing and wonderfully warm vintage charm. Equally well-matched with a suit and tie, an Oxford or a faded T this classic Polerouter is a fine companion for any occasion. But hurry — just as time waits for no one this legendary vintage icon is priced to fly away quickly!

Check out the complete ad with many more pictures and complete condition report over at the always hopping Omega Forums’ Private Sales section.  SOLD

tomvox1’s Watches for Sale — September selection

As we leave summer behind and head into fall it’s a great time to break out vintage dress watches that can compliment the more sophisticated styles that autumn entails. And it doesn’t get much classier than this beautiful early 1950’s Omega Seamaster in classic “Beefy Lug” case. This lovely reference 2576 features a handsome original waffle dial with Breguet numerals at “12,” “3” and “9” that has aged to a very attractive ivory hue. Check out the wonderful patina on the original radium lume.

Also special, this Seamster’s all-steel water resistant 3-piece case doesn’t appear to have ever been polished. It’s rather special to see those handsomely chamfered fat lugs as the manufacturer intended them to be. Under the hood you’ll find Omega’s robust in-house bumper automatic caliber 344 movement, which hammers pleasantly when you move your wrist.

It all adds up to the complete vintage package: nicely proportioned, a super stylish layout and original, untampered-with condition. On the wrist this mega-charming classic mid-century Seamaster has unmistakable and timeless appeal. Whether you’re diving into a leaf pile or layering up with sweater and jacket for a night on the town this classy Omega will have you looking and feeling good.

Check out the complete ad over at the always hopping Omega Forums’ Private Sales section for many more pictures and complete condition report.  SOLD