We are surely ending the month of June with a bang because have I got something special for you haute horology buffs. Up for sale on consignment is this absolutely stunning Patek Philippe reference 2552, aka the true “Disco Volante”. A marvel of mid-century engineering inside and out, the Disco Volante gets its name from its large, round 36mm diameter and tall, double-stepped bezel, making it look a bit like a flying saucer. Though that said, it’s definitely more suited to black tie than Area 51.
Of course this heavy yellow gold classic 1950s men’s dress watch is beautiful on the outside, as you’d obviously expect, with a stunning original eggshell dial that has acquired a gorgeous ivory patina through the years. But it might get even better under the hood where you’ll find Patek’s first-ever automatic movement, the legendary caliber 12-600 AT, ticking away. Far ahead of its time when it was introduced, the 12-600 AT features 30 jewels, the Geneva seal reserved only for exceptional calibers, a solid 18k rotor with stunning engine turned engraving that winds in both directions for maximum efficiency, 5 positional adjustments, as well as further adjustments for heat, cold and isochromism, and Patek’s patented Gyromax balance and a top flight Breguet hairspring all beating at a rapid 19,800 bph. And did I mention it is drop dead gorgeous to behold?
This fantastic machine has just been fully serviced for years’ more faithful service to its new owner and this wonderful Disco Volante also comes with a genuine Patek croc strap. Better yet, it has its period correct 18k Patek buckle, too, a valuable accessory in its own right. Continue reading →
Rosberg back on track with victory in Baku, Hamilton struggles for P5; Vettel a distant 2nd for Ferrari & Perez scores another podium for Force India with impressive P3
After three disappointing finishes in a row that renewed questions about Nico Rosberg’s mental fortitude, the German Mercedes pilot and Driver’s Championship points leader rallied in the European Grand Prix, storming to victory in the first-ever race at the challenging Baku, Azerbaijan street circuit. After a beautifully clean getaway from pole, Rosberg ran away and hid, dominating the race in clean air and leaving others behind him to scramble for points and positions. It marked a return to form for Rosberg, who won his first four Grand Prix of the 2016 season but then scored a scant 16 points in the next three contests, all the while seeing his teammate and archival Lewis Hamilton creep ever closer to him.
But Hamilton, who had won the last two races in Monaco and Canada, had a poor weekend at this virgin and technically demanding track. After the reigning two-time champion binned his Silver Arrow into the wall in Q3 on Saturday, relegating the fiery Englishman to 10th on the grid, Hamilton was unable to overcome his poor starting position in the race. Bedeviled by brake and ERS issues, as well as by the current regulations banning driver coaching from the pit wall, Hamilton struggled all race long, only finding the true pace of the car late on and coming home for a hardly satisfactory P5 finish. Combined with Rosberg’s win, Hamilton saw his points deficit balloon back out to a daunting but not insurmountable 24 after eight rounds of the championship. Knowing Hamilton, it will only serve to motivate him all the more in the upcoming races but this was indisputably a very good weekend for Rosberg.
Ferrari also had a good if not great weekend, with their top driver Sebastian Vettel taking P2 after a flawless 51-lap run, albeit over 16.5 in arrears of Rosberg’s blistering Mercedes. Continue reading →
Rosberg & Mercedes grab pole at inaugural Baku run; Perez an impressive P2 for Force India; Ricciardo P3 for Red Bull
Just a week after a very eventful and impactful Canadian GP the Formula 1 circus arrived at a brand new street circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan for the European Grand Prix. On a track reminiscent of Monaco in its ultra-tight sections through the old town but one that also features long, wide straights suitable for drag racing with speeds up to 345kph/214mph, the teams and drivers had their work cut out for them to come to grips with the green surface and strange geometry of the borderline dangerous Baku layout. And the pilot who showed the fastest learning curve and stiffest nerves was Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, with the German points leader rebounding from his disappointment in Montreal to grab an emphatic pole on Saturday.
Better yet for Rosberg, his teammate and archival Louis Hamilton failed to carry the momentum of his last two victories over and clipped the wall, breaking his right front suspension in Q3 and causing a Red Flag ( and a mad scramble for the other drivers when Quali resumed with a scant 2:30 remaining). Continue reading →
Hamilton roars back into contention with win in Canada, Rosberg struggles; Vettel a game P2 for Ferrari; Bottas brilliant for Williams in P3
Lewis Hamilton notched a superb win in the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday and it’s now well and truly game on in the Drivers’ Championship. Despite being jumped at the start by the flashing Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, the Mercedes pole-sitter was able to recover from a scuffle with his teammate Nico Rosberg to methodically hunt down Vettel’s blood-red car. And when the Scuderia made the questionable call to pit under a virtual safety car early in the race on Lap 13 and change to the non-mandatory Super Soft tires, Hamilton stayed out and nursed his Ultra-Softs in the cool conditions at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, just as he had babied his Intermediate wet tires in Monte Carlo until the weather cleared. This enabled Hamilton to make it a 1-stop race when he eventually came in for the mandatory Soft Perreli tires and to gain the critical advantage over Vettel on pit strategy. Hamilton then took the race lead on Lap 37 when Vettel made his second stop for the mandatory Softs. And it was a lead that Hamilton would never relinquish no matter how hard Vettel pushed him and let many wondering whether Ferrari had made the right call in pitting from the lead for a 2-stopper. For Mercedes there was no doubt that they had played it perfectly, resulting in Hamilton’s remarkable fifth career victory in Canada. The win also set the Englishman up for another championship run, as he pulled within 9 points of his Mercedes teammate and current points leader, Nico Rosberg.
For Rosberg the race was another challenge to his sometimes fragile confidence. He came off a decided second best when Hamilton bashed him off the track as they both pursued Vettel into turn one on the opening lap. Not only did he lose a passel of positions trying to rejoin the race but Rosberg’s Silver Arrow seemed to be down on pace after that incident. It wasn’t until late in the race when he was relentlessly harassing Red Bull’s precocious Max Verstappen that he seemed to find the fire again. But when he overcooked it on the final lap while attempting to pass on aging tires and spun, Rosberg’s fate was sealed with a P5. After winning the first four races of the year in dominant fashion, Rosberg has now scored a grand total of 16 points in the last three contests while his archival Hamilton has scored 50 with two consecutive wins. Of course, the Mercedes drivers took each other out in Spain and one wonders if Rosberg has been effected by that contretemps when many observers pointed the finger of blame at him for that double DNF. One thing is for certain: if the German contender wants to break through for his first F1 Championship and overcome his Mercedes teammate’s supreme confidence and form he is going to need to be mentally tougher when things go poorly for him. Otherwise it looks a lot like he is a very good driver who is prone to wilting when the pressure really ramps up, the kind of pilot who wins races but is never consistent enough to claim the Drivers’ title.
Williams had its best finish of the year when Valtteri Bottas was able to convert his seventh-place start on the grid into a P3 podium finish, also benefitting from running a 1-stop tire strategy. The fast park circuit on Ile Notre-Dame suited the Mercedes-powered Williams much more than the tight confines of Monaco, as did the cooler temps, and Bottas was able to drive both hard and smartly to take his first podium since Mexico last year. But the news wasn’t all good for Williams, as Felipe Massa was forced to retire on Lap 37, the first time this season the little Brazilian has not scored points. Verstappen was able to hold on to P4 after his titanic tilt with Rosberg, making his Red Bull very wide to keep the Mercedes man behind. But teammate Daniel Ricciardo was once again bedeviled by poor pit work, even if it wan’t quite as egregious as the tire-less stop in Monaco that cost him the race. After a overlong stop on Lap 39, Ricciardo was shuffled back and could only manage a P7. In truth, it seemed like Red Bull had lost a step to Ferrari, which showed greater straight line speed all weekend long, so they will probably have to wait for twistier tracks to take advantage of the superior downforce of their RB12 chassis and compete for podiums again.
Kimi Raikkonen never seemed to find the pace his Ferrari teammate unlocked in the SF16-H and finished a desultory P6, though one wonders if he might have fared better had Ferrari split their tire strategy rather than running duplicate 2-stoppers for both drivers. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg made it two good points finishes in a row with a solid P8, while his teammate Sergio Perez took 10th for the game little team. And Carlos Sainz recovered from a big crash in qualifying to put in a tremendous drive and take P9 in his Toro Rosso after starting from way back in 20th, an impressive effort for the young Spaniard.
Revived Hamilton grabs blistering Pole in Canada, Mercedes teammate Rosberg a whisker behind for P2; Vettel gives max effort for P3 for Ferrari
When the story of the 2016 Formula 1 season is written it could well be that Monaco is the race we point to as the one that changed the momentum inexorably. Coming off of their double DNF in Spain when Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took each other out, Hamilton dominated in rainy Monte Carlo two weeks ago to take the victory and plant the first real seeds of doubt in Rosberg’s previously supreme confidence. Hamilton carried that momentum over into Saturday qualifying in Montreal, Canada with a blistering lap to take pole for Sunday’s Grand Prix. With the Mercedes engine really getting a chance to stretch its legs on the long straights of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Hamilton’s laid down an eye-popping 1:12.812 lap time. Still, it was only faster than Rosberg by a scant .062. With Mercedes back to their front row-lockout ways, it sets up for another potentially contetious start to the race, with Hamilton determined to press his new found advantage over his main competitor and Rosberg just as desperate to regain the momentum that seemed so effortless when he won the first four races to start the season.
Making a valiant attempt to keep up with Silver Arrows, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel also broke into the 1:12’s with a stout effort in Q3. Vettel will start P3 and is therefore in a fine position to capitalize if the two Mercedes cannot control their competitive instincts when the lights go out. Ferrari really needs a good result after a string of mediocre races and one-car finishes lately. And Red Bull is definitely nipping at the Prancing Horse’s heels. They showed excellent pace again in qualifying, with the unlucky Daniel Ricciardo rebounding from his Monaco heartbreak to take P4 and his upstart teammate Max Verstappen, who crashed out in the principality, grabbing P5. The Red Bulls are probably even better in race trim so Vettel had better watch his mirrors.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was P6 and the two Mercedes-powered Williams also looked strong, with Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa P7 & P8 respectively. Rounding out the Top 10, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg had a strong run for P9 on the grid and Fernando Alonso was P10 for improving McLaren.
The Greatest has left us. Muhammad Ali passed away late Friday evening, succumbing to a severe respiratory infection after years of struggling with boxing-induced Parkinson’s. The great fighter and one of the most iconic and polarizing figures of the 20th Century was 74. The New York Times obit is here.
It’s easy to forget that, as Ali gradually transformed in his years after the ring into a sweet natured shadow of his former fiery self, what a wonderfully brash and divisive figure he was in the prime of his remarkable boxing career. Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali spent his formative years in that racially divided Southern city, becoming a champion amateur fighter and winning gold as a light heavyweight in the 1960 Rome Olympics. You’d be hard pressed to find a more suitable symbiosis between personality and decade, as Ali became one of the most compelling and archetypal figures of the tumultuous 1960s, joining luminaries like the Beatles, the Kennedys and the NASA astronauts among the towering figures of that time. After his gold medal triumph, Ali returned home to open racism in his hometown but also a consortium of white businessmen dedicated to promoting his career. He discovered a bastardized version of Islam, patented his trademark rhyming patter and eventually earned a title shot against the heavily-favored Sonny Liston. In what would go down as one of the great upsets in boxing history, the lightning fast Cassius Clay floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, driving the hulking Sonny Liston to quit in the 7th round, having punched himself out trying to keep up with the precocious youngster. As he roared to a bemused Howard Cossell, Ali truly had “shook up the world!”
The iconic first-round knockout from the second Ali-Liston fight.
He would continue to shake it up. The very next day he announced his intention to rid himself of his “slave name” thanks to the advice of his new friend and mentor Malcom X and a few weeks later he was forevermore Muhammad Ali. Already alienated by his brashness, for much of white America this bewildering and unsettling transformation was a bridge too far and Ali would come to be loathed by many as a malcontent, an “uppity Negro” with a big mouth. Even more defining and defiant, in 1966 Ali was made eligible for the draft for the escalating war in Vietnam but was clear in his reluctance to fight, saying “I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong.” When drafted in 1967, he refused to serve. He was subsequently denied conscientious-objector status and convicted of draft evasion, lost his boxing titles and was banned from the sport. Ali lost more than 3 prime years in the ring and probably millions of dollars for standing up for his principles and not to fight in what he saw as an unjust war against poor people in a poor far away country. Again, this made him a hero to many in the emerging counterculture and anti-war movement and a pariah to more conservative Americans who steadfastly believed in “my country right or wrong.” But whatever one thought of Ali’s stance on the war, one had to give it to the Champ that he had the courage not only to talk the talk but also walk the walk.
After seeing his case go all the way to the Supreme Court in 1971 and having his conviction overturned there due to the draft board’s arbitrary refusal to consider his conscientious-objector status, Ali pivoted from that moral victory and returned to his violent and lucrative vocation. He resumed his career with a series of tune-up fights in anticipation of a title shot against the fearsome Philadelphian southpaw, George Frazier. The eventual trio of Ali-Frazier fights would become some of the most compelling in boxing history, a worldwide obsession and a racial psychodrama between the handsome, light-skinned and eloquent Ali and the darker, more rugged and plain spoken Frazier. Ironically, Ali became the hero to Black America even as he taunted Frazier for looking like a “gorilla,” while Frazier drew the support of working class whites who wanted the uppity, draft dodging Ali put in his proper place.
Ali lost an epic and punishing 15-rounder to Frazier in March of 1971, suffering a broken jaw but hanging on to the end in what was called simply “The Fight.” Despite the loss The Champ was clearly back. He fought brilliantly in more than a dozen more contests, including beating Frazier in a rematch in 1974. That set him up for the legendary “Rumble In The Jungle” in Zaire to try to regain his title against the imposing knockout specialist George Foreman, who had pummeled Frasier to grab the championship belt. We may think of Foreman as a smiling, grandfatherly presence now hawking his grill on TV but in 1974 he was as serious as a heart attack. Many feared that Ali would be injured against the overpowering Foreman. But as he had done against Liston all those years ago, only taking it to an even more highly polished level, Ali “rope-a-doped” his way through 7 rounds, staying just at the outside of Foreman’s punches by dancing and using the springy ropes to duck, dodge and evade the worst of the bigger man’s punishing blows, often absorbing them with his elbows and shoulders. By the 8th round Foreman was gassed and Ali used an ultra-fast combination to chop Foreman down like a mighty oak. Ali was once again The Champ and the way that he had seduced most of the African continent and turned them against the sullen Foreman with his charisma, coaxing them into giving him the psychological boost of their unbridled affection — “Ali bomaye!” — was arguably one of the most brilliant acts of gamesmanship ever seen in sports. Not only was Ali one of the most gifted athletes of his time but he was clearly also one of the wiliest.
But no boxer can last forever no matter how blessed or brilliant. Ali fought Frazier for a third and final time in 1975, the oppressively hot “Thrilla in Manila,” with the fighters doling out punishment to each other. Ali won on a TKO in the 4th round when Frazier’s eye closed but it’s safe to say that both men would carry the effects of their legendary trilogy of no quarter asked hand-to-hand-combat for the rest of their lives. In ’78 he lost and then regained his title to Leon Spinks but then in 1980 his old sparring partner Larry Holmes battered the noticeably slowing Ali into submission to take his title away for the last time. Ali closed out his career, already with signs of slurred speech and some tremor, with an ignominious defeat to journeyman Trevor Berbick in 1981. For most of Ali’s millions of admirers and even many of his detractors, the end of Ali’s boxing career, belated as it was, came as a welcome relief. It was simply too painful to watch the once-great warrior fight any more.
Of course it was already too late and the damage to Ali’s brain had been done. But for the remainder of his life, Ali became one of the great retired athletes of his time, right up there in terms of activism and charity with Jackie Robinson. Remaining a devout but now-mainstream Muslim, Ali did Herculean work for charity and traveled the world working for good causes. As his physical capacities diminished, one still had the sense of that agile mind floating like a butterfly slyly behind the slow-blinking eyes and the trembling hands. His rough edges were smoothed off, the controversies largely forgotten and he became something like an American legend, a beneficent but remote presence, there always around us but somehow elusive and receding. In our mind’s eye we saw one of the most vibrant athletes ever to grace the ring with personality as magnetic as any movie or rock star, nicknamed “The Lip” for his upstart self-promotional pronouncements. But in his long, last chapter Ali was a slow-moving man of peace and few words making impactful but dwindling appearances like that of his touching torch lighting at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. It was as if his prodigious energies had been well and truly spent, leaving him running on dwindling reserve power inside his prison of a body until this last, final moment of release.
But too often we obsess over a person’s sad last days and those tend to take on disproportionate significance compared to the entirety of their lives. In the two decades of his prime and the time of his greatest impact on sports, on the nation and on the world, Muhammad Ali was both pretty and a baaad man, a beautiful, graceful athlete and proud black man, a speaker of hard truths and always of his own mind, a genius inside the ring and out. He was one of the greatest boxers of all time in the latter part of a century where boxing was one of the marquee sports. At a time when we’re often unable to name the current world champion amongst all the different belts and mediocre pugilists, it’s hard to recall just how big a deal being Heavyweight Champion of the World was back then, every bit as big as being the College Football Champion, the Super Bowl winner or the victor in the World Series. People lived and breathed boxing and Ali was the successor to other legendary heavyweights like Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. But he was so much more than just a boxer. Ali dovetailed so beautifully with the emerging zeitgeist of Black Power, Sports as Entertainment and Sports as Symbolism that if you wrote him as a character you’d never get away with it — he would’ve been too outrageous, too perfectly well-spoken, poised and self-assured, too victorious. But Muhammad Ali was just that perfect a fit for his tumultuous times even with his flaws taken into account. Love him or hate him, you could never ignore him. He was a titan of sport, pop culture and, in fact, social change. His message, implied or stated bluntly, was Yes We Can to African-Americans and religious minorities, to the poor, the Third World and the downtrodden. When James Brown wrote “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” he might’ve written it with Ali in mind. Ali gave hope, light and heat to the world. As the Spanish say, he was simply muy hombre and to conceive of anyone being quite like him again in an age where athletes rarely go out on a limb for fear of alienating their sponsors seems impossible. His echo lives on in a million boasts and taunts on the court and in the field and in the ring. But everyone else is imitating him and their predictions and preening seems more like ritualized kabuki than those of true conviction and zest for the battle. Ali nearly always delivered on what he promised and by doing so he was able to make pronouncements about issues far beyond a simple sporting event. With his mouth and his mind, his brains and his guts, his speed and his strength and his unwavering sense of self, Muhammad Ali really did shake up the world. And the world’s been vibrating from the aftershocks of his impact ever since.