Monthly Archives: March 2017

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Australia — Results & aftermath

GAME ON: Ferrari & Vettel surge to stunning season opening win in Oz, Hamilton & Bottas 2nd & 3rd for Mercedes

After suffering three years of Mercedes’ dominance to start this new turbo era of F1, Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari fired a warning shot on Sunday that 2017 could well be different. At the season’s opening round in Melbourne, Australia, Vettel showed that the redesigned Prancing Horse’s blistering pace during the pre-season Spanish tests was no fluke. Vettel charged his blood red mount to a dominant win at the Albert Park circuit, coming home nearly 10 seconds ahead of Hamilton’s previously nonpariel Silver Arrow. Despite a good getaway by Lewis from pole, Vettel had a dominant race once he overtook Hamilton on tire strategy and was barely challenged thereafter. With Hamilton’s super soft Pirelli’s going off after Lap 17, the Englishman was forced to pit for fresh rubber. But Vettel’s sleek new SF70H chassis was able to continue to run effectively until Lap 23 on its fat super softs. Hamilton was further hampered by getting stuck behind the competetive Red Bull of Max Verstappen so that by the time Vettel emerged from a well-executed Ferrari service Hamilton was two places behind the German former 4-time World Champ. While Hamilton would eventually overtake Verstappen the damage was done & Vettel sailed away to the surprisingly easy victory. Obviously it’s only one race but the prospect of a real season-long fight between a newly ascendant Ferrari and the previously imperious Mercedes has got to whet the appetite of every true F1 fan.

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Hamilton’s new teammate Valtteri Bottas made up for a poor start on the super softs by charging hard on his soft tires after his pit stop, where his F1 WO8 seemed to instantly perform better on the relatively harder rubber. Bottas, who has looked nearly a match for Hamilton despite his brand new equipment, even harrased his senior teammate as the laps ran down. In the end Bottas was able to join Lewis on the podium in P3, salvaging a very good points haul for the somewhat stunned Mercedes team. It’s possible that the Merc braintrust will have to re-evaluate both their race strategy in light of Sunday’s dissapointment, as well as just how much downforce they can afford to put on the car in order to get their tires to last longer and perform better.

Vettel’s Ferrari stablemate, Kimi Raikkonen, also had issues with his tires and had nothing to really challenge the top 3. The veteran Finn finished P4. After losing out on his dice with Hamilton, Red Bull’s Verstappen slipped back with brake issues and finished P5. Still the result was much better than his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian hero had a disastrous weekend at his home Grand Prix, first wiping out in Q3 on Saturday and then suffering an sensor issue where his car was stuck in 6th gear on the formation lap. This required Ricciardo to start from the pits after his team had frantically repaired the issue and by the time he came out he was already 2 laps down. As if to emphasize the futility of the entire weekend’s effort, his RB13  gave up the ghost on Lap 26. The talented and charismatic Aussie will be hoping for better things when the competition moves to China in a fortnight.

Felipe Massa fared much better in his return to F1 racing after an incredibly quick retirement at the end of the 2016 season. The savvy old Brazilian proved he still has what it takes, shepharding his Williams home to a P6 finish. Force India had a nice recovery after poor qulaifying saw both cars staring outside the top 10 on the grid. The ever improving Sergio Perez nabbed a solid P7 and his young wingman Estaban Ocon grabbed a valuable point by coming home P10. The Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10, finishing P8 and P9 respectively.

McLaren nearly looked competetive with Fernando Alonso driving superbly and dicing with Ocon and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg for the ever-important 10th spot before suspension damage forced his retirement. Alonso’s new teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, taking over from longtime McLaren stalwart Jenson Button, struggled mightily and finished back in P13. Another notable disappointment was Romain Grosjean who qualified his Haas an impressive P7 and looked strong in the early going only to see engine failure end his day prematurely on Lap 13.

Top 10 finishers in Australia:

POS. DRIVER TEAM TIME POINTS
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL FERRARI 1:24:11.672 25
2 LEWIS HAMILTON MERCEDES +9.975s 18
3 VALTTERI BOTTAS MERCEDES +11.250s 15
4 KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN FERRARI +22.393s 12
5 MAX VERSTAPPEN RED BULL RACING +28.827s 10
6 FELIPE MASSA WILLIAMS +83.386s 8
7 SERGIO PEREZ FORCE INDIA +1 lap 6
8 CARLOS SAINZ TORO ROSSO +1 lap 4
9 DANIIL KVYAT TORO ROSSO +1 lap 2
10 ESTEBAN OCON FORCE INDIA

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next round of the World Championship will be contested from Shanghai, China in two weeks time. Will Ferrari’s first strike prove to be a harbinger of great things to come or an early season fluke? Only one way to find out — hope to see you then!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Australia — Qualifying results

It’s the start of another Formula 1 season and it kicks off in earnest with Saturday Qualifying from Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. After last season’s shocking end, where Nico Rosberg won his hard fought, long sought after first World Championship over his arch-nemesis Lewis Hamilton and then promptly retired, the driver dominos have all fallen and new chassis & tires specs are unveiled in their first action in anger. Will Ferrari’s test pace in Spain really be enough to take on mighty Mercedes and a hungry Hamilton for the Prancing Horse’s first title since 2008? Or will the Silver Arrows reign supreme again as they have done since the start of this new turbo era? There’s only one way to find out when the teams & drivers put it all on the line to start 2017 Down Under!

Hamilton grabs firs pole of the year for Mercedes, new stablemate Bottas P3; Ferrari’s Vettel splits the Silver Arrows with P3; hometown hero Ricciardo crashes in Q3

After finishing runner up to his now-retired teammate Nico Rosberg to end the tumultuous and ultra-competetive 2016 season, Lewis Hamilton looked determined to lay down a marker in Melbourne in his redesigned Mercedes, grabbing pole position late in Q3 to cap off the first race qualifying of the 2017 campaign. Desperate to nab another Driver’s Championship and no longer dogged by his nemesis Rosberg, Hamilton set a fast lap of 1:22.18, besting his new teammate, former Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, by .3 seconds after they had been neck and neck throughout Q3. Ferrari’s Sebatian Vettel was able to split the Silver Arrows on his final quali lap, showing the strides that the Scuderia has made in the offseason with the much more aerodynamic body work of the new chassis forumla, as well as the signifcantly fatter tires. Kimi Raikkonen was again the loyal wingman to Vettel, setting a time good enough for P4. With Mercedes and Ferrari mixing it up in the first two rows, as well as yet another tricky new clutch system, Sunday’s start should be exciting and nerve racking. Also look for possible issues with these new extra-wide front wings possibly taking early race damage and complicating matters for the contenders.

Rounding out the top 10, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen could do no better than P5, while his teammate and Aussie hero Daniel Ricciardo crashed out when he lost the back end midway through Q3. Ricciardo will have to fight his way back from P10 if he’s to make a good showing at his home Grand Prix in front of his countrymen. Romain Grosjean was a very impressive P6 for second year American team Haas, while Felipe Massa, who might have set a record for world’s quickest retirement when Bottas jumped ship and he was pressed back into action for team Williams, took P7. Toro Rosso looked solid, with their two retunring drivers Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat fast enough for P8 and P9 respectively.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Australian GP:

POS. DRIVER TEAM TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MERCEDES 1:22.188
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL FERRARI 1:22.456
3 VALTTERI BOTTAS MERCEDES 1:22.481
4 KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN FERRARI 1:23.033
5 MAX VERSTAPPEN RED BULL RACING 1:23.485
6 ROMAIN GROSJEAN HAAS 1:24.074
7 FELIPE MASSA WILLIAMS 1:24.443
8 CARLOS SAINZ TORO ROSSO 1:24.487
9 DANIIL KVYAT TORO ROSSO 1:24.512
10 DANIEL RICCIARDO RED BULL RACING DNF

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix airs live at 1 AM on NBC Sports Network  here in the States. With a classic Mercedes-Ferrari duel shaping up as the first story line of the new season you don’t want to miss a thing when the lights go out and the four frontrunners head into Turn 1. Hope to see you then!

RIP John Surtees, 1934 – 2017

John Surtees, the racing legend from Formula 1’s greatest era, passed away last weekend at the age of 83. Surtees earned the 1964 F1 World Championship and was also an extraordinarily accomplished motorcycle rider. He remains the only man to win world championships in both F1 and Moto GP. In fact Surtees was arguably a better motorcyclist than auto driver, with 7 overall championships on 2 wheels between 1956-1960 for the great Italian MV Augusta factory team in both the 350cc & 500cc classifications. When Surtees decided to make the jump to four wheels in 1960 he spent three years apprenticing in up-and-coming British makes like Lotus, Cooper and Lola, learning technique to go along with his fierce competitiveness and borderline brutal driving style. By 1963 the diamond in the rough had been polished enough for him to be offered a factory drive for Scuderia Ferrari and the Englishman responded with his first Grand Prix win at the Nurburgring in Germany, beating out Jim Clark’s Louts on that legendarily daunting circuit. Though he would not get any more points that season Surtees still finished fourth in the F1 Championship. Come 1964, car and driver were to be even better.

john-surtees-agusta-mv

In the new V-8 powered Ferrari 158 Surtees was dominant when the car was reliable, taking podiums in all 6 races he finished with victories at the Nurburgring again, as well as in Italy at Monza. It all added up to 40 points and the 1964 World Championships in both the Constructors and Drivers competitions and the Surtees-Ferrari partnership looked like promising even greater things to come. But problems lay just around the corner in 1965 for the man affectionately dubbed “Il Grande John” by the tifosi. First, the Ferrari 158 and its successor, the flat 12-cylinder powered 1512, were not as good as the rapidly improving British marques. The season saw Lotus and Jim Clark prevail, followed by BRM and Brabham-Climax, with Ferrari stuck back in 4th. Worse still, Surtees suffered a severe accident while driving a Lola sports car at Mosport Park, Canada in September when a wheel failed and sent him catapulting through a barrier and down an embankment. The shunt left Surtees with a broken back and pelvis, as well as internal bleeding from ruptured kidneys. Though Surtees miraculously pulled through the initial accident and subsequent surgeries, he faced months of agonizing rehabilitation to his misaligned lower torso and to regain strength enough to return to racing.

Surtees-Enzo

Even after overcoming those awesome physical challenges to return to the cockpit, Surtees’ relationship with Maranello remained damaged. An outspoken and hard-nosed man, Surtees had always clashed with team boss Eugenio Dragoni and chafed at what he saw as the ridiculous political machinations and infighting inherent in driving for Ferrari. It all came to a head before the start of the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour race. Despite a strong good results in his return to the Scuderia after his devastating injuries, with a win at treacherously wet Spa-Francorchamps in the second F1 GP of the 1966 season, Surtees was passed over for the opening stint at Le Mans in favor of an Italian, Ludovico Scarfotti. Scarfotti also happened to be Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli’s nephew and at the time Agnelli and Enzo Ferrari were in negotiations for a formal partnership between the two auto manufacturers. Feeling that it should be he starting the critical opening laps against the fearsome challenge of the ascendent Ford GTs, Surtees let Dragoni have it for what he saw as a weakening of their overall strategy for victory at Le Mans. Dragoni in turn told Surtees he was not fit enough to for a full run at the famed 24-hour race and laid down an ultimatum to follow team orders or get out. In the end, the combative Surtees told Dragon to stuff it and walked out on the team. It was the end of Surtees’ Ferrari career and likley cost both team and driver more F1 Championships and perhaps even a chance for victory at the 1966 Le Mans.

Surtees jumped to Cooper to finish out the ’66 F1 campaign and showed well in an unreliable car, with 3 podiums out of 7 races entered and a victory in the season finale in Mexico. In a massively tumultuous season, Surtees finished second overall in the 1966 Drivers’ standings splitting his drives between two utterly different manufacturers. While Surtees soldiered on for several more seasons until 1972 with solid results throughout, first for Honda and then running his own chassis with Ford Cosworth power, Surtees would never again scale the Olympian heights that he reached during his controversial time with Ferrari. But for his 1964 World Championship, his hard-charging style and his remarkable accomplishments on two wheels as well as four, the legend of Il Grande John will always live on.

Watch Collector’s Notebook: The Keepers — Rolex 6240 Daytona

When you get to a certain level as a wristwatch collector/enthusiast you may find yourself test driving a lot of different watches but keeping relatively few of them long term. This sort of restlessness isn’t uncommon — many of us are looking to replicate the thrill of acquisition that we felt more frequently when we were just starting out in the hobby and all was new to us. But these newer infatuations — and even old ones — can be fleeting as our tastes evolve. And obviously financial circumstances can dictate selling off pieces just as much as falling out of love with a watch. So I wanted to talk about the watches that are in my Keeper category rather than those that simply come and go and how and why they stay there year after year. These are the pieces that I would be most loathe to covert into cash whatever their current or future value. They’re the watches that I enjoy, wear and that have pride of place in my collection. In other words, they’re not going anywhere if I can help it because they’re what I feel makes my collection uniquely mine.

6240-cls

I’ll begin this new series of personal reflections on my keepers pretty much at the top — with my mid-1960s Rolex reference 6240 Cosmograph Daytona. Picking one’s favorite watch is like picking one’s favorite song. There’s never really one top spot just a select few all-time greats that you keep coming back to. For me, this Daytona is one of those evergreen classics that always puts a smile on my face. Typical of what makes Vintage Rolex so seductive as a pursuit, the 6240 has a lot of subtle nuances and details that all add up to make it a special watch. The reference is the first true Oyster chronograph produced by Rolex with not only a bigger screw down crown than its predecessors but also screw down pushers to prevent the wearer from accidentally engaging them when in the water. This latter safety feature marked a sea change in chronograph design and is still found on Rolex’s modern Daytonas, as well as other competitors’ sport chronographs like AP’s non-Offshore Royal Oak and Vacheron’s Overseas.

6240-angl-3

My example has an early serial # for the 6240 reference at 1.2 million, which dates it to circa 1965, the model’s debut year. And it is also delightfully period correct, with the original shorter “stubby” screwed pushers, original Mark I black acrylic UPH bezel and the correct type of sub register hands (note the difference between the thin constant seconds and the thicker hour and minute counter hands). The case shows wear but not any polish, just how I like my watches and a pretty uncommon bonus, as the custom back in the day was regular polishings at service to “refresh” the watch. As you can see the dial does not have the word Oyster on it despite the big water resistant upgrades in the 6240. Very soon screw down pusher models would have Oyster printed on their dials but in true Rolex fashion the early generation 6240s tend not to, as Rolex was keen to get the new improved Daytona out there and simply used pump pusher dials early on. There is also the theory that these non-Oyster 6240s might have started life as Paul Newman-dialed models but were swapped out by dealers anxious to get rid of that then-unpopular style and move their merchandise. Due to the sheer frequency of the non-Oyster dials — both small and large DAYTONA fonts — occurring exclusively in the earlier serial number ranges this seems unlikely to me. Also note that at this early date there are no Sigma symbols surrounding the T SWISS T nomenclature below the “6” counter. This addition, making a bigger deal out of the already extant white gold markers on Rolex dials, would come later in the 60s.

CosmoWrst-2 copy

Dial condition is paramount on the list of criteria that I use to judge a watch and this silver panda dial is essentially perfect with the fragile luminous dots all intact and having a lovely matching patina with the hour and minute hands. This generation of dial with the small Daytona printed in the top quadrant and not in red above the hour counter is also interesting in that there is a lacquer coat on top of the sunburst finish. This dial finishing process was abandoned by Rolex on later production models like the 6263 and 6265, the Oyster successors of the short run 6240, and on this dial it leads to a pearlescent quality with a glowing, subtle rainbow effect at certain angles like mother of pearl or petroleum floating on water that I find very unusual and attractive.

Stock photo from watchonista.com

Stock photo from watchonista.com

Inside the watch is of course a redoubtable Valjoux 72 manual wind column wheel movement. Now, these Rolex Valjoux 72 chronos are sometimes bashed for using such a ubiquitous movement while paradoxically they also have their use by Rolex highlighted to jack up the prices of other Val. 72 chronos (“Sure it’s a Wittnauer but the movement is the same as in the Rolex Daytona!”). But to say that the Valjoux 72 in a Rolex Daytona is the same as those found in so many other chronographs of the 1960s is not really accurate. Rolex by this time was using their own proprietary balance incorporating a Breguet hairspring and microstella screws for finer regulation and greater accuracy and robustness. This is why Rolex Valjoux 72 iterations go through a dizzying array of caliber designations in a relatively short time. From the time Rolex began tinkering with the balance in the early 60s, you’ll find that the stamp changes from simply 72 (or VZ if much earlier) to 72A, 72B, 722, 722-1 and eventually 727 in the early 1970s. Most experts feel that the 6240 could have come with the 72B, 722 or 722-1 and mine has a 72B, which for me fits the early serial number, as it is the oldest variation in that sequence.

6240-angl-cls

So all that backstory accounted for why is this Daytona a keeper for me? Well, for one thing it’s a relatively rare reference as far as Cosmographs go, perhaps the third most uncommon model reference behind the extremely short run ref. 6262 pump pusher model and maybe the pump 6264. It’s certainly the rarest screw pusher model. And since it is also the first screw pusher Rolex chronograph that also makes it a bit special, as it represents a significant technological innovation in chronograph design. Obviously I love the look — it’s very clean and mid-60s with the simple, elegant bar markers and elongated stick hands. The way the black acrylic Tachy insert plays off against the black subdials is magic, not to mention that shimmering quality that the silver sunburst dial has due to the lacquer coat. At 37mm it’s a perfect size in my estimation, fit for any occasion casual or formal, and it’s also in all-original condition. And frankly it’s a premier Rolex Grail-type watch to other collectors, a prestigious reference that is simply difficult to come by in the watch world and a true blue chipper seemingly immune to the whims of fad or fashion. Because let’s be honest — status is not inconsequential to the pieces we choose to keep in our collections, whether we think we’ve found a sleeper or whether we’re buying into an established hierarchy of elite watches. Fair or not, the Rolex Daytona is widely considered the king of vintage chronographs and the 6240 is right up there with anything that isn’t a PN or Killey.

6240-brochure

Lastly, with the honest admission that money is always a part of the equation, when I bought the watch I felt I paid a small fortune because for me it was. But it was right after the bubble had burst post-Revolution in mid-2009 (not to mention post-housing bubble) and actually Daytona prices were a bit soft. Since then they have more than recovered and lately they seem to have gone bananas again, as with so many nice vintage mechanical chronographs. So on the one hand it remains a solid investment and on the other I probably couldn’t afford to buy it again. It was a stretch nine years ago but nothing like the stretch it would be now and I’d have a hard time justifying spending that kind of money on one watch, no matter how fantastic. So I’m happy to have bought it when I did even though it was still a hell of a lot of money at the time.

CosmoWrst-3 copy

All these factors add up to the sum total of why I keep any watch in my permanent collection: beauty and aesthetic appeal first; then desirability and overall importance within the watch world; and then monetary considerations. For me, this 6240 Daytona Cosmograph also marks a milestone in my collecting life where I saw a watch from my ultimate wish list and converted it into something I actually owned and could wear anytime I wanted. It still gives me a thrill every time I see it, wind it up & strap it on and I still feel a sense of accomplishment as a watch collector by having it in my collection. And isn’t that really be the definition of a Keeper?