Well here’s something you don’t find every day: a 55-year-old watch with its original boxes and papers! But that’s the case with this classic gold-capped vintage 1961 Omega Constellation that I’m offering this month. Not only is it in truly Excellent and unmolested vintage condition with no signs of polish, an all-original non-luminous crosshair dial and its original plated Beads of Rice bracelet but it’s also accompanied by its original double box-set and matching guarantee papers. And that turns an already cool vintage watch into collector grade just like that.
Under the hood is the fantastic Omega automatic caliber 561, arguably part of the best family of mass-produced movements in the history of horology. It features 24-jewels, a semi-quickset date function and has 5 positional adjustments and one for temperature. This fine tuning enabled the 561 to pass its time-keeping tests with flying colors and that’s why it was such a successful movement for Omega’s flagship line, the always Chronometer-rated Constellation.
Take affordability, elegance and mechanical precision along with classic early-60s Gerald Genta-designed vintage style and add then hard to find pieces of original provenance and you’ve got a special package for the discerning collector. That this Connie has survived for so long in such great original condition and still is paired with its factory packaging and paperwork is nothing short of magical. At least that’s the way I look at these sort of wonderful vintage watch finds. And if you’re reading this I bet you do, too.
Rosberg edges out Ricciardo for victory in Singapore, reclaims Championship lead; Hamilton only good for enough P3
Nico Rosberg continued his run of fine form and drove a flawless race from pole to claim victory at the beautifully lit Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore on Sunday evening, holding off the surging Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo by just half a second as the checkered flag flew. While the Mercedes driver dominated for most of the day the pace of Riccardo in the closing stages of the race forced Rosberg to forego a final pit stop and nurse his older tires to the end, which accounted for much of Ricciardo’s late-race gains. Regardless, Rosberg has now won three races in a row after the summer break, regaining his previously stalled momentum and recapturing the Championship points lead. With his victory, Rosberg vaulted past his teammate and archrival Lewis Hamilton and now leads the chase for the title by 8 points with only 6 Grand Prix remaining.
Rosberg’s win capped a frustrating weekend for Hamilton. Not only did he see his points lead evaporate but he could never really overcome his disappointing qualifying effort after technical issues in Friday practice. In the end Hamilton couldn’t make any real headway against Ricciardo but held off the competitive Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and finished where he started, P3, flummoxed by his inability to wring any more speed from his usually nonpareil WO7 chassis, as well as persistent brake overheating issues. After winning 6 of 7 contests before the break, Hamilton has now lost that superb momentum through a combination of technical issues, misfortune and his own mistakes, particularly his poor start at Monza two weeks ago. Now that fortune seems to have returned its favor to his teammate in this back-and-forth season, it is now up to Hamilton to somehow try to wrestle back the lead from Rosberg. With Hamilton seeking his fourth title and Rosberg still hunting his first both drivers will be amply motivated for the closing contests. Whoever takes the crown will certainly have earned it and so evenly matched are the Silver Arrows teammates in their supreme cars that it may come down to a simple stroke of luck for one or the other.
For Ricciardo and Red Bull it was very good race that saw their always aero-efficient chassis excel on the tight and twisty Marina Bay street circuit. Riccardo drove beautifully and even made Mercedes nervous with his closing pace. His eventual P2 helped the team stay 15 points clear of Ferrari in the all-important Constructor’s standings. His teammate Max Verstappen was not as successful, once again struggling to get away from the line, where he started from P4, and getting somewhat caught up in a big shunt by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg as the race got underway. The wunderkind had to battle back all race long with the likes of Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and eventually finished a decent but somewhat underwhelming P6. The Dutch phenom has now struggled to some degree in the last three races as the reality of just how difficult attaining consistent success in F1 sinks in. But to his credit he kept it out of the wall and raced cleanly despite his frustrations so that bodes well for his maturity going forward.
The two Ferrari’s split the Red Bulls with Raikkonen driving well to take P4 just a little over 2 seconds behind Hamilton, although he might have been even closer to a podium if the Scuderia hadn’t opted for a late tire change, and Sebastian Vettel making a brilliant run from all the way in the back of the field to capture P5. It was an astonishing drive for Vettel on a track where passing is notoriously difficult, as he used smart tire strategy, patience and opportunistic overtaking to overcome mechanical problems that doomed his qualifying and show once again how good the 4-time world champ can be when he has the bit between his teeth. Fernando Alonso also drove extremely well bringing his McLaren home an impressive P7, while Sergio Perez carried the flag for Force India after his teammate Hulkenberg’s first lap crash out to take a valuable P8. Daniil Kvyat rediscovered some of his 2015 form at his favorite venue and drove an excellent race, coming home with much needed points for Toro Rosso in P9, the team’s first score in 4 races. It was a pivotal confidence boost for the much-maligned Russian whose F1 future appears very much up in the air. Kevin Magnusson got the last points-paying position with P10 despite starting from P15 in his Renault. With decisions about next years drivers’ line up also hanging over the Dane that was also a key result and an exemplary drive in the usually pokey Renault.
Rosberg takes pole in Singapore, Hamilton only good enough for P3; Red Bull’s Ricciardo splits the Mercedes with impressive P2
If there was a blot on Mighty Mercedes’ record during their dominant 2015 campaign it was their underwhelming performance in the Singapore Grand Prix. But this year it appears that the Silver Arrows have eliminated even that small spot of weakness, as Nico Rosberg took pole in Saturday qualifying under the dazzling lights at the Marina Bay Circuit. He set his fast time early in Q3 but his teammate and archrival, Lewis Hamilton, could never catch him. In fact, it was the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo who came closest, beating Hamilton to P2 on the grid by just under a tenth of second. With Lewis starting on Row 2 now and his newly relevant clutch-bite starting issues it could be that Rosberg may well keep his recent momentum up and recapture the championship points lead. But the tight street circuit can bite at any time and Hamilton is always a determined opponent so expect nothing less than the two Mercedes teammates duking it out for the victory in Round 15 with only 6 races left in the season after tomorrow.
Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen struggled somewhat with his tires but was still quick enough for P4. In truth this tight and windy course suits the very well balance RB12 chassis so if anyone is going to pull an upset and beat Mercedes it could well be one of the Red Bulls. My money would be on Riccardo, as Verstappen will likely struggle to keep his car out of the walls just as he seems to always do at Monaco. Kimi Raikkonen took P5 for Ferrari with a decent run but his teammate Sebastian Vettel will have to start from the back after he experienced some sort of breakage to his rear suspension in Q1. It will be extremely difficult for the German former 4-time World Champion to fight his way to the front on this sort of track and Ferrari seem doomed to have another poor points haul in the Constructors’ Championship compared to their nearest competitor, Team Red Bull, no matter how high Raikkonen places.
The two Toro Rosso’s were quite impressive and gave the team a well-needed lift after several weeks of poor results, with Carlos Sainz fast enough for P6 and Daniil Kvyat showing shades of his 2015 form in P7. Force India also did well, with Nico Hulkenberg fast enough for P8 and Sergio Perez P10 [Perez was later slapped with an 8-spot grid penalty for failing to slow sufficiently under a double-yellow brought out by a shunt by Haas’ Romain Grosjean’s in Q2] , while McLaren’s Fernando Alonso split them with a P9 after teammate Jenson Button clipped the wall in Q2 and failed to advance.
Hamilton stumbles at start, Rosberg pounces; Vettel soothes Ferrari pride with P3 at Monza
As closely matched as the two Mercedes teammates and archrivals are this year, it only takes a small error for one to emerge victorious over the other. So it was on Sunday in Italy when Lewis Hamilton fumbled his Monza pole start in a style reminiscent of his early season clutch-bite problems, allowing himself to be swallowed up by the front part of the field. In an instant the championship points leader had fallen back to P6, a nightmare for the Englishman but a dream come true for Mercedes’ teammate Nico Rosberg. Unlike Hamilton, Rosberg made the perfect getaway and was able to fight off the two pursuing Ferraris on the opening lap, immediately pulling out a gap on the Prancing Horses and the rest of the field that he would never truly relinquish. In the end, Rosberg drove a perfect race and sailed to victory by a whopping 15 seconds, his first-ever victory at historic Autodromo Nazionale Monza, on a day when everything broke his way. That made it his second victory in a row after last week’s promenade at Spa and gave the German contender renewed momentum is his desperate quest for his first F1 title. After ceding the points lead during Hamilton’s remarkable July onslaught, Rosberg has won the first two tilts after the summer break to cut the deficit to a mere 2 points with 7 Grand Prix remaining. In this back-and-forth season, the pendulum of luck appears to have swung back his way yet again.
After his remarkable back-of the-pack to P3 finish last week at Spa, Hamilton could have been forgiven for thinking that he had all the luck firmly on his side, as well as perhaps fatally damaging Rosberg’s confidence with that miracle run in Belgium. But with one pivotal moment of wheel spin as the lights went out, he conceded all that momentum back to his closest competitor in a season when, once again, Mercedes are the class of the field by far. Despite Hamilton’s bobble the team stuck with their 1-stop tire strategy for him, enabling Hamilton to jump the Ferraris and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and come home a well-deserved P2, at least minimizing the self-inflicted damage. Still, Hamilton had to have been rueing what might have been and the missed opportunity to keep Rosberg down. Instead it looks to be game on between these two rivals until the bitter end and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it all come down to the final contest in Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari had a classic damage-limitation day in front of their rabid home fans, the always enthusiastic tifosi. Faced with the inescapable fact that they are nowhere near as fast as the Silver Arrows especially on a high-speed circuit like Monza, the storied team from Maranello deployed a somewhat risky 2-stop tire strategy. But their drivers were able to execute it perfectly to at least keep Red Bull in their place and reestablish themselves in the battle for second place Constructors’ points. Team leader Sebastian Vettel took the last podium spot with a decent P3 while Kimi Raikkonen set a number of fast laps on his way to P4. All in all, it was realistically about as well as the Scuderia could have expected to do when faced by the outright pace of the Mercedes while competing at their notoriously speedy home track.
For Red Bull the day was a bit of a reality check, as they too saw the limits of their power plant on this brutally fast circuit. Daniel Ricciardo drove an excellent race within those limitations to take P5, while wunderkind Max Verstappen made a poor getaway and had to fight his way back into the points. In the end he was able to recover somewhat to come home P7 in a rather subdued race for the Dutch teenager a week after he received loads of criticism for his borderline reckless driving at Spa. But look for Red Bull to bounce back next week on the very tight and twisty street circuit in Singapore where their RB12 chassis should shine… if Verstappen can keep it out of the walls. Valtteri Bottas scored valuable points for Williams with a hard-fought P6 while his teammate Felipe Massa, who announced this week that he is retiring at the end of the season, came home further back in P9. The two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg finished P8 and P10 respectively, a valuable haul for the little team on a day when they made the most of what they had and kept the McLarens and Haas duo behind them and out of the points.
Italy marked the last of the European races this year. The next race is at the always exciting and visually stunning Singapore Grand Prix in two weeks time. Hope to see you then under the dazzling lights of the Marina Bay Street Circuit!
Mercedes lockout front row at Monza as Hamilton scores dominant pole, Rosberg P2; Vettel saves Ferrari’s honor with P3 in front of home crowd
The Mercedes Silver Arrows showed their true from at the ultra-fast Monza Autodromo in Italy during Saturday qualifying, with Lewis Hamilton laying down a scorching lap for pole, besting his teammate Nico Rosberg, who qualified P2, by half a second. It was Hamilton’s record-tying fifth pole at Monza, leveling him with F1 legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna. After Hamilton’s miracle P3 finish last week at Spa when he carved his way through the field after starting at the back of the pack his pole once again laid down a marker for excellence and sent a clear message of dominance to his teammate and archival. Rosberg is going to have to take the belt from the champ and Hamilton, still leading in the points, ain’t giving it up without a serious fight.
Ferrari was the best of the rest of the teams, with Sebastian Vettel grabbing P3 and bettering his hot teammate Kimi Raikkonen’s P4. The pressure is really on at Ferrari in front of their home fans and in the midst of a disappointing season but it seems unlikely that the Prancing Horses have anything for Mercedes unless the two Silver Arrows teammates once again come to blows.
Williams’ Valtteri Bottas put his Mercedes power to good use to take an impressive P5 on the grid, while the Red Bulls showed their Achilles’ heel, the lack of pure pace at a speedy track like this one, with Daniel Ricciardo only good enough for P6 and Max Verstappen at P7. No doubt, though, the always well-prepared Red Bull team will have some strategic tricks up their sleeves to try to move their men up come race day. Force India continued their recent excellent form with Sergio Perez good enough for P8 and Nico Hulkenberg taking P9. Esteban Gutierrez had an terrific P10 fast lap for first year American Team Hass on the debut of their new rear wing, a very impressive result that saw him out-qualify not only his more experienced teammate Romain Grosjean but also both McLarens and the Williams of Felipe Massa.
And speaking of those latter two teams, both Massa and McLaren’s Jenson Button announced that they would retire from F1 at the end of the 2016 season. The two veteran stalwarts will be sorely missed but a new generation will be racing to take their spots. So it goes in Formula 1 just as in life!
When the great comic actor Gene Wilder passed away on August 29th at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s it felt just as though a favorite eccentric uncle had died. (The New York Times obituary is here.) For those of us who grew up in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s Wilder left an indelible impression. If you enjoyed funny movies in the least (and really, who doesn’t?), Wilder was one of the joys of the cinema during that period, all the more so because there was nobody before or since who quite possessed his unique blend of neurotic mania and soulful mensch-ness. Even when Wilder was portraying a character a little bit naughty, like Leo Bloom in the original The Producers, the unpredictable Willy Wonka of chocolate factory fame, a descendent of Victor Frankenstein compelled to pursue the same macabre obsessions as his infamous grandfather or a wrongly convicted con alongside his great comedy partner Richard Prior in Stir Crazy, Wilder always seemed to juxtapose a sweetness with his delightfully manic outbursts.
After studying acting at the Old Vic in England and the HB Studio in New York, the Milwaukee-born Wilder first came to wide attention with a small but impactful role in Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn’s seminal Bonnie and Clyde (1967), interrupting the film’s otherwise grim narrative with a burst of humor as a rather eager and happy hostage. But his major breakthrough came a year later in Mel Brooks’ all-time classic, the hysterically funny The Producers. As the nebbishy and neurotic Leo Bloom, Wilder was perfectly matched with the bigger-than-life, morally bankrupt has-been theater producer Max Bialystock, played to the hilt by the peerless Zero Mostel. Amidst the side-splitting opening sequence, as Bloom is abruptly initiated into Bialytsock’s crazy world when he comes to do the producer’s accounting books, it is Bloom who conceives of the idea of raising much more money than needed for a production so bad that it is doomed to close on opening night, thereby allowing the surplus cash to be kept. Bialystock runs with it, coercing Bloom to be his accomplice. They then find a fantastically wretched play called “Springtime for Hitler” and the rest is cinematic comedy history.
His next major role was as the title character in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Though not a major hit at the time it became a cult classic with some likening it to a latter day Wizard of Oz, a film that works as both a kids’ movie and something more profound, and Wilder’s influence can be seen throughout in his unique bits of improvisation and inspiration. Johnny Depp was good in the remake but it’s hard to think of anyone other than Gene Wilder as the definitive Willy Wonka, especially when delivering his unexpectedly poignant song, “Pure Imagination.”
He was drafted again by Brooks, as a last minute replacement no less, for 1974’s screamingly funny Western satire, Blazing Saddles. Against type, Wilder played a laconic gunman with a drinking problem given renewed purpose by his fast friendship with the town’s besieged new black sheriff, played by Clevon Little. As if that wasn’t enough comedy gold, that same year Brooks and Wilder collaborated on the brilliant Young Frankenstein, a masterpiece that was Wilder’s concept and that he co-wrote. Filmed in beautiful black and white as an elaborate sendup of 1930s Universal-style horror, Young Frankenstein became a classic in its own right with an unparalleled ensemble cast — including Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars and newcomers Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle — and pitch perfect direction and screenplay. It stands as one of the great collaborative movies of all time and is arguably both Brooks and Wilder’s best work.
1976 saw a magical bit of good casting as Wilder was paired with Richard Pryor for the first time in Silver Streak. Alongside the wonderful Jill Clayburgh in this very good, very funny comedy-thriller about murder and mayhem aboard an LA-to-Chicago train, the two men made cinema history as the first bi-racial comedy duo and audiences loved their unlikely, yin-yang chemistry. As a result, Wilder and Pryor would make three more films together, 1980’s excellent prison comedy Stir Crazy(directed by Sidney Poitier!), the underrated See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and finally Another You in 1991 when Pryor was already greatly diminished by multiple sclerosis.
Wilder found another impactful partnership when he met Gilda Radner on the set of 1981’s Hanky Panky. The two became comedy royalty when they married in 1984. But the relationship ended tragically when Radner passed away in 1989, a victim of ovarian cancer. This loss inspired Wilder to establish an early detection center in Los Angeles, as well as co-founding Gilda’s Club in New York City, a non-profit support group for cancer patients and their families that now has branches throughout the United States (where it is now known as the Cancer Support Community) and Canada. Wilder found love again when he met Karen Webb while working on See No Evil and they married in 1991. They remained together until his death, a much longer if less romanticized relationship than his union with Gilda Radner, so spare a thought for Ms. Webb at this sad time as well.
Though Gene Wilder had largely retired from acting since the early 1990s, instead concentrating on writing, the importance of his best work grew over the years as his special films became part of the greater pop cultural and comedy firmament. That makes it extra difficult to lose such an original actor who got the laughs because he played his characters so truthfully, one who was always so audaciously alive and vibrant on screen. For those of us who grew up with his movies it feels as if we’ve lost a very funny older friend, one we could turn to for a guaranteed laugh no matter how the world was treating us. But we must also remember that Gene Wilder lived a wonderfully full life, was a truly good man and left a massively joyful contribution to the world that survives him via his films. And if we’re being just a little sentimental, it’s not hard to imagine Gene reunited with Richard and Gilda and Marty and Peter and Kenny and Madeline someplace special, cutting up with them all again, his explosive, utterly contagious laugh ringing out through the ether in the company of fine old friends.
The first race back from the summer break was marked by clashes, shunts and remarkable performances in Belgium. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg had a flawless drive from pole, making a speedy getaway, getting the most out of his tires for long stints and leaving the drama in the rest of the field far behind. In the end it led to a dominant victory at the historic Spa-Francorchamps track on Sunday. But while Rosberg was untouchable in the win he still must have been slightly unnerved seeing his teammate and archival Lewis Hamilton charge through the field and astonishingly come home P3. Hamilton started from the back of the grid after the team made multiple strategic engine changes and somehow willed his way to the podium, limiting Rosberg’s gains on the day. If there was a thought bubble above Rosberg’s head as he looked at Hamilton during the podium ceremonies it probably read: “What the hell are you doing up here?” For surely in his heart of hearts the German contender was expecting — and hoping — that Hamilton would finish out of the points completely and that he, Rosberg, would re-take the championship lead. Instead, despite his perfect day in the Ardennes, Hamilton’s scrappy effort insured that Rosberg remained behind him by 9 points as the two head into next weekend’s tussle at Monza, where they will once again be fighting on even terms. As has been said more than once before, if you want some serious passing done in Formula 1 better call Lewis Hamilton. And if you want to beat Hamilton in the championship you better keep him out of the points on those rare days when all the cards seem to be stacked against him.
All due credit to the English defending champion but Hamilton was also helped by a lengthy Red Flag period that bunched up the field and neutralized a lot of potential tire strategy with free changes available in the pits (as an aside, it is truly a ridiculous rule that tires can be changed in the pits during Red Flag periods in F1 — absolutely incomprehensible for race that has been “frozen”). The stoppage came when Ranault’s Kevin Magnussen suffered a prototypical Spa crash on Lap 7 when he lost control at high speed coming to the top of the big uphill sweeping left-hander Eau Rouge and smashed into the tire barriers. Though it looked nasty, Magnusson suffered only a minor ankle injury and was able to limp away with help from the medical crew. But the tire wall he speared into was badly damaged by the fierce impact and required 17 minutes worth of significant repairs. It capped a hectic opening stanza to the race featuring multiple collisions and retirements but after the Red Flag period the contest would settle down somewhat.
The Grand Prix got off to that contentious start when Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s wunderkind Max Verstappen all came together trying to squeeze through Turn 1, damaging all of their cars to some degree in the process. But the Red Flag period also wound up helping that combative trio when they were able to recover valuable track position after time-consuming repairs to front wings and under trays that should have destroyed all their races. While the two Ferraris got quickly back up to speed, Verstappen could never seem to recover his poise after that early incident where he felt hard done by. And while he diced and made life difficult for both Prancing Horses to the point of dangerous blocking maneuvers, they were able to overtake him eventually and score at least some points to salvage what had looked to be a dismal day in Belgium for the Scuderia. In the end, Vettel finished P6 and Raikkonen came home P9, which is something but maybe not enough to forestall major shakeups at Maranello. Verstappen, meanwhile, finished out of the points in P11 and with his erratic performance in front of huge crowd boosted by many of his enthusiastic Dutch countrymen (he also claims Belgian heritage) it seemed like the sheer moment of the occasion got to him. On days like yesterday it’s worth remembering that while Verstappen shows all the signs of being a super talented prodigy he is still just 18-years-old. At the intense Spa circuit and under the weight of so much expectation that lack of maturity seemed to cost him.
But all was not lost for resurgent Red Bull, as their senior driver Daniel Ricciardo drove a beautiful race, keeping his nose clean and maximizing his car’s greatly improved pace to come home P2 after starting from 5th on the grid. The Aussie was all smiles after the race and his ebullient spirit seems to have reemerged in full after a bit of a down period post-Monaco, where his team fumbled away what appeared to be a certain victory. The fact that Red Bull are now 22 points up on Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ standings and that it was also his third podium in a row couldn’t be hurting Ricciardo’s mood either. Also all smiles were the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, who came home P4 and P5 respectively. While Hulkenberg may have been slightly disappointed that he couldn’t score his first career podium in F1, The Little Team That Could saw their drivers’ excellent efforts vault them ahead of mighty Williams for 4th in the incredibly lucrative Constructors’ standings.
And speaking of bettering Team Williams, Fernando Alonso did just that in his at long last improving McLaren, besting a game Valtteri Bottas P7 to P8. It was fine finish for the Spaniard, who also started at the back of the pack due to penalties, and the McLaren team as a whole. One has to wonder what might have been had Jenson Button, starting from P9 on the grid, not been punted out of the race early on by Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein. Bottas’ teammate Felipe Massa took the last points paying position with P10 but all in all it was forgettable weekend for Williams, where their chassis’ continued lack of downforce proved too big a challenge to overcome at this long, fast but also twisty all-time great circuit.
The next race is but a week away and it’s at yet another historical European track — the very fast, very storied Monza Autodromo in Italy. It’s Ferrari’s home circuit but the fight for victory should end up being between the evenly matched Silver Arrows of Hamilton and Rosberg. With only eight more contests to go each race becomes more and more important in determining 2016’s champion and every little twist and turn takes on added significance — hope to see you then!
Rosberg starts second half action with pole at Spa; Red Bull’s Verstappen P2 & Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen P3; Hamilton faces raft of engine penalties, will start last
The summer break is over and the F1 circus is back in action at the historic Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium. And with unseasonably warm temperatures and no signs of the infamous Ardennes rains to be found in Saturday’s qualifying session, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg made the most of the unusually good conditions — as well as his teammate and archival Lewis Hamilton’s absence — to score the pole for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix. It was just the psychological lift that Rosberg needed upon returning from the hiatus after having been overhauled for the points lead by Hamilton. In truth, Hamilton earned his top position by winning 6 of the last 7 contests prior to the break while Rosberg had a string of self-inflicted misfortunes that cost him valuable points and positions during that time. He despartaely needs to make the most of Hamilton’s penalties this weekend, go out and win this race and perhaps regain the overall lead if Hamilton cannot recover from his back-of-the-pack start to score meaningful points.
Hamilton finds himself in that predicament because he elected to take multiple engine-change penalties for this race and so he didn’t run at all in qualifying, as he was guaranteed to be starting from either the back for the grid or the pit lane after all those penalty points were racked up no matter what he might have done on the track. So Mercedes were in essence writing off the Belgian GP for Hamilton while insuring that he would likely not face any penalties for the rest of the season, having run multiple engines in the 3 Practice sessions to inoculate them from the dreaded “new” label going forward. It should be interesting to see if the pugnacious Englishman is able to fight his way through the field and grab at least some points out of the contest or if he is sanguine enough to simply concede this race and the attendant points to Rosberg, save his car and come back strong next week at Monza. My money’s on Hamilton charging his way through and at least getting into the Top 10. I don’t think he knows how to do anything else but compete even when the odds are stacked against him and in the end he is the fastest guy driving the fastest car out there.
With Hamilton not participating that opened up grid spots for other drivers. Red Bull’s wunderkind Max Verstappen, who seems to have been responsible for a major uptick in ticket sales due to his Dutch-Belgian heritage, capitalized to grab P2 for the race tomorrow, besting his teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s P5. Likewise, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen continued his solid form since being re-signed by the Scuderia, qualifying P3 to teammate Sebastian Vettel’s P4. Sergio Perez had a lap good enough for P6 and his teammate Nico Hulkenberg qualified P7. The Williams of Vatteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were P8 and P10 respectively and Jenson Button will start P9 for McLaren, a much needed lift for the team after Fernando Alonso could not finish a lap in Q1 when his engine died early in the session.
Tomorrow’s race airs live beginning at 7:30 Eastern on NBC Sports here in the States. Can we really have three warm, dry days in the Ardennes? I wouldn’t bet on it and wouldn’t that put the cat amongst the pigeons with everyone married to a dry set up…
In the 1960s, AM pop radio was king. FM wasn’t wide spread or heavily commercialized yet — most car and portable radios didn’t even have Frequency Modulation — and the majority of FM’s content was talk and Jazz, with some avant garde college stations breaking new ground by playing true alternative music like the Velvet Undergorund. But if you wanted to hear the hits you’d hear them on AM. While it’s easy to think that only heavyweights like Cream, Hendrix, The Doors and The Byrds were getting all the airplay two of the biggest AM chart toppers of that pop friendly-era were The Grass Roots and The Rascals.
I’d Wait a Million Years – The Grass Roots
The Grass Roots were a prototypical LA band: a good looking and interchangeable bunch of non-threatening white guys who could write a little, play a little but mostly sing very well while letting professional session musicians handle the recording dates and a master producer and songwriting team create their “sound.” On vinyl they were often backed up by that famous group of anonymous studio aces, The Wrecking Crew. But unlike other truly ersatz acts like The Association and The Monkees, The Grass Roots could really Rock when called upon with the commitment that makes for great Blue-Eyed Soul and pop rock. Sure, their music was heavily produced and the band members wound up coming and going at a dizzying pace — their only real mainstay was bassist/singer Rob Grill who wound up owning the band’s name and kept the Grass Roots going until his death in 2011. But under their nod-and-a-wink hippy moniker and backed by the remarkable West Coast songwriting team of PF Sloan and Steve Barri (of “Secret Agent Man” fame) and that great ultra-pop producer/Svengali Lou Adler (Mammas & the Papas, Carole King) and his Dunhill Records label, the Grass Roots cranked out some the seminal hits of the 60s.
Foremost among them is the great “Let’s Live For Today”. Released in 1967 at the height of the Summer of Love, “Live for Today” seemed to capture the youth explosion at its most optimistic, literally proclaiming carpe diem in 2:47 of dramatically arranged, beautifully constructed near-perfection. If it wasn’t “A Day In the Life” or “Good Vibrations”, well, not much else was either and “Let’s Live For Today”s yearning, passionate optimism and chiming but slightly wobbly, almost Eastern guitar notes — not to mention that great shouted “1-2-3-4!” bridge — signaled generational change and renunciation of establishment expectations in the guise of a plaintive love song. It brought the band major success, charting at #8 and selling over a million copies, and it’s simply a great pop record redolent of 60s zeitgeist that still holds up very well.
Midnight Confessions – The Grass Roots
Though not an album band due to their somewhat manufactured, ad hoc structure the Grass Roots had another smash with the beautifully produced and well-arranged “Midnight Confessions,” a typical hopeless love song elevated to super-hooky greatness by a swirling Hammond organ, a walking bass line and some innovative time shifts by the percussion. It deservedly reached #5 on the pop charts late in 1968.
Temptation Eyes – The Grass Roots
1969 saw them score another big hit standing out from a lot of middling material with the intense “Wait a Million Years” and its through-line of insistent electronic beep, dramatic horns and propulsive rhythms. Amidst much band reshuffling the ‘Roots had one more really good song in them, 1970’s “Temptation Eyes”, a solid straight-ahead rocker that was definitely consistent with their overall sound and contribution to the Rock canon. While they’d have even more success with 1971’s “Sooner or Later” and “Two Divided By Love”, those songs are pretty weak sauce with an inescapably cloying Wonder Bread mushiness that does the band no credit. It’s no wonder that they soon petered out and onto the oldies circuit. But their best songs still hold up really well and are a pleasure to listen to. By definition a 60s band, The Grass Roots nevertheless seem prescient in predicting the pop direction of similar acts like The Raspberries, Three Dog Night and Atlanta Rhythm Section.
The Rascals might be viewed as the mirror image of a band like the Grass Roots. Although they charted just as frequently on AM radio during the 60s and their music was also an integral part of the pop soundscape of the era, the Rascals (originally the Young Rascals) were not a West Coast studio creation at all, despite the excellent production and sophisticated arrangements of their best singles. The Rascals hailed from back east in New Jersey and were a real band with four longstanding members who wrote and performed their own material: Felix Caviellieri on keyboard and vocals, the band’s linchpin, Eddie Bregati on vocals and percussion, Gene Cornish on guitar and Dino Danelli on drums. With three of their members having already honed their chops in the band Joey Dee and the Starlighters, The Young Rascals came out of the shoot ready to rock with two reasonably successful hits, the pleasingly raw “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” (1965) and the propulsive, all-time great party anthem “Good Lovin'” (1966).
Good Lovin’ – The Young Rascals
Already the authenticity of the vocals and more rough-hewn, organic excellence of the musicianship declare that the Rascals are not going to be just another sweet sounding pop band with only one or two hits. With an attack owing more to garage bands like the Standells and The Outsiders than to the highly polished sheen of LA’s “West Coast Sound,” but also with more than a casual nod to the British Invasion, the Rascals made the case that East Coast Rock ‘n Roll would not go gently into that good, super-sweet AM radio night.
Which is not to say that the Rascals were radical or confrontational in any overt way. They weren’t musical revolutinaries like Love or social rabble rousers like Jefferson Airplane. But neither were they bubblegum pop. The Rascals were grittier Blue-Eyed Soul with an authentic, intuitive feel for a non-condescending, non-homogenized version of that sub-genre that so many other white acts just couldn’t match. They kept up the good work in 1967 with the Bacharach-like “How Can I be Sure” (covered to even better effect by Dusty Springfield for my money), the surprisingly soulful ode to love and good times, “Groovin'”, a #1 chart-topper, and its fraternal twin single, 1968’s “A Beautiful Morning.”
A Beautiful Morning – The Rascals
Those last two lush and ostensibly happy singles cleverly utilize hints of Latin percussion and feature Cavaliere’s wonderfully evocative, emotionally complex vocals, turning what could easily be pop tripe into something lasting, universal and great. The Rascals were also dedicated participants in their tumultuous times, taking a stand on racial segregation by not accepting bookings on segregated, all-white bills. And when Martin Kuther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in 1968 it seemed only fitting that they’d be releasing a single that made the case for peace, tolerance and brotherhood, “People Got To Be Free.”
The Rascals peaked early and wouldn’t last much into the 70s, failing to find chart success when they tried to be more ambitious than the 3-minute single and ventured into longer-form tracks incorporating psychedelia, Eastern philosophy and jazz fusion (though for true aficionados the later recordings are still worth a listen, as the musicianship is always excellent). Nonetheless, as a band that wrote & performed almost all of their own material, they were undoubtedly a more serious, substantial Rock band than The Grass Roots despite sharing a similar timeline of success, no argument. As if to prove the point, The Rascals were inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. But for pure listening pleasure, both The Rascals and The Grass Roots still deliver the thrills and hooks of a beautifully fresh pop sound that resonates all the way from the late 1960s to today, whether you’re listening via AM, FM or WiFi.
It’s been a while since I’ve chimed in at MFL. Work obligations got the better of me, but now I’m back and I’d finally like to put forth the first installment on a series of underrated cars – magnificent machines that won’t (necessarily) break the bank, and hold their own with the best in terms of style, performance, or at least my opinion. The idea with this series is to put forward vehicles that are often overlooked for any variety of reasons, be it ubiquity, long held prejudice, or just generally passed over for one reason or another, but are actually some truly great cars. It’s called Cars You Need To Love. For the first installment I’ve chosen my personal favourite in the category of wrongly maligned and ignored autos. So without further ado, allow me to (re)present….
The Ferrari Mondial
The Ferrari Mondial was introduced as a coupe in 1980, replacing the “Dino” 308GT/4 as the new 2+2 GT car in the line-up. The GT/4, a truly great car in it’s own right, was a bit of an odd bird for Ferrari. It was one of two Ferrari’s, along with the 206/246 GT series, that didn’t technically start out as Ferrari’s. They were built under the Dino marquee as more affordable, user friendly machines to broaden Ferrari’s consumer base throughout the late 60’s and 70’s. When the 246 series ceased production in 1974, the 4 seater 308 GT/4 was the sole “Dino” left on the market. But that didn’t last long. By 1976, the 308GT/4 had been re-branded as a Ferrari. Turns out that consumers all knew they were buying a Ferrari, and that was part of the issue. The cars were made by Ferrari and the engines said Ferrari, so it seems consumers felt the badges on the car should say Ferrari as well, and that anything less was a bit of a disappointment. Sales reflected that thinking, at least in the USA. I know Dino owners who’ve spent many hours over the years explaining to everyone from first dates to fellow car nuts that their Dino’s were in fact Ferrari’s (now an accepted fact). Additionally, the 308 GT/4 was a blip in Ferrari’s more or less strict allegiance to design house Pininfarina, with the job of the GT/4 having been given to competing house Bertone. Bertone delivered a wedge shaped car totally devoid of the rolling elegant curves that typified Pininfarina’s designs, and that also had Ferrari fans squawking at the time. When the time came for a successor to the 308 GT/4, the job went to Pininfarina.
A young man checking out a Dino 308 GT/4 in the 70’s ^
So it was that the Mondial appeared in 1980. The reaction was, to say the least, mixed. Pininfarina delivered a car that had some of the curves restored, but not all. The car lacked the arched roof and fenders of other Ferrari’s of the time. It also integrated the “cheese grater” air intake scoops on the side of the car, which were very 80’s to say the least. Additionally, being a mid-engined 4 seater, the car was elongated on the rear end, or perhaps shorter on the front end, creating an odd sense of proportional aesthetics that divided opinion. But in truth, all Ferrari’s with 4 seats have an uphill battle to climb. It seems to be the general consensus that Ferrari’s are NOT meant to be family friendly cars, but rather lean and mean 2 seaters that look sexy and go fast. At the time, Ferrari was offering the 308 GTB or GTS and the Berlinetta Boxer, two cars that certainly felt like they fell into that camp, as well as the stately 400i, a powerful but decidedly plush gentleman’s V12 2+2 touring car. The Mondial sort of fell in between the two camps, and people weren’t sure how to respond to it. Do we treat it as a really sporty GT or a sports car with a backseat? To further muddy the waters, some of the magazines got “not quite ready for prime time” cars to test drive. This resulted in some unflattering reviews that have stuck with the Mondial to this day. That’s a fair amount of baggage, so let’s unpack it…