The Ratto Report – FCLV 2017 Biannual Review 2

The Ratto Report
FCLV 2017 Biannual Review 2


Opening Commentary

We open the second half of 2017 in much the same circumstances as we opened the start of the year: What the heck is going on in Washington and will any of it amount to more than a hill of beans. The country, and really the whole world, is awaiting the verdict with bated breath.

With the failure to repeal Obamacare in rear-view mirror, and the strong possibility for tax reform immediately ahead, the verdict on the Trump presidency is far from being determined, especially with allegations still pending regarding Russian meddling in the election. Nevertheless, the stock market is still afire, setting new highs seemingly every other day. Someone or something must be going the right thing. And, given all of the new wealth being created and the general optimism in the business community, it should come as no surprise that the market for both new and used Ferraris remains relatively strong.

With that in mind, here is a recap of what transpired in the second half of 2017. We sincerely hope you can attend at least a few events over the next few months, and don’t forget to visit our NEW! IMPROVED! website at

July 11: Board Meeting at Bravo Italian at the Galleria Mall

More than half of the Board attended, so the turnout had to be considered a success especially since one member is recently deceased. Our financial situation was discussed briefly, with a very slight increase in the bottom line noted. The addition of a new member, Larz McAdoo (wife Diane), was also acknowledged. Please be sure to greet these two warmly when meeting them so they may feel welcome. A memorial for Rocky LaBriola (our deceased Board member) was then discussed without any definite action planned. Other than that, the subject matter was the same as it has been for the previous several meetings: creating and selling merchandise to generate income, future drives and other events, the holiday party, and the progress of the Website, which is mostly complete and ready to be used. The next Board meeting was scheduled for September 19th at the home of Ted and Arlene Schlazer. The terms of several Board members will be expiring soon…we welcome all members to run for these positions.

September 19: Board Meeting at home of Ted and Arlene Schlazer

The usual suspects gathered at the home of Ted and Arlene Schlazer to map out plans for the remainder of the year. It was decided that we would accept the kind offer of Towbin Motorcars (our dealership) to host the Holiday Party on December 2 in their new showroom. Other issues were then discussed, including plans for a Club booth at the upcoming Siena Italian car show on October 8. Finally, a slate of upcoming socials was agreed upon, and a date (11/14) was set for the next Board meeting, allowing the wining and dining to begin. The Board and the Club thank Ted and Arlene for their kind hospitality.

September 28: Social at Siena Italian Trattoria

It was a beautiful Vegas evening, and it brought out a large turnout (both in members, over 20, which required deploying an additional table in the banquet room) and Ferraris (I spotted 6 in the parking lot). We also had the pleasure of welcoming several newcomers (including Burton and Ann Weast, among others) to the fold. The food was very good, as usual, and the conversation was animated, much of it centering on the trips several members recently made to Monterey Car Week. All-in-all, it was a very pleasant evening.

October 1: Mass Shootings on the Strip

This was truly ‘a day that will live in infamy.’ It seems incomprehensible that one crazy person could cause such carnage in less than 15 minutes. We all mourn the victims and pray for their families, and hope that such insanity will never happen again.

October 8: Italian Sports Car and Motorcycle Day at Siena Trattoria

Well, this was the 8th annual (my, time does fly by) and it was perhaps the best ever…even though injury forced me to leave my car at home. We again thank Antonio and his crew, led by Kumiko, for making it happen so smoothly. Of note was that our Ferrari Club of America Chapter had its own little booth with logo polo shirts for sale (nice ones!), all for the first time. Thanks to Chuck and Kerrie for making that all happen.

October 26: Social at Bravo Italian at the Galleria Mall

Despite its proximity to Halloween, we had an excellent turnout for this get-together at a venue that most of our members had never been to. It was a simply outstanding fall Las Vegas evening, so we started out with libations on the restaurant’s welcoming covered patio. After moving inside for the main course, the restaurant proved to be very hospitable, assigning our group a nice section of the premises, and the food was praised by all. During the post dinner conversations, I especially liked hearing about Paul and Shawna Hesselgesser’s trip to Italy for Ferrari’s 70th anniversary party; it sounded like a blast.

November 14: Board Meeting at Dean’s Place

Wow! It is really getting dark early! Despite the seemingly midnight hour, 5 members of your Board rousted themselves to Dean’s Place near the Silverton for a meeting. The usual issues were discussed, including financials, the web site, and branded clothing items for sale. We also went through a short list of members who have not renewed; they will be dealt with appropriately. Finally, we got to the good stuff, including special access to the upcoming Mecum Auction for our members and the Holiday Party scheduled for December 2. And lastly, the next Board meeting was scheduled for January 16 at the home of Elda and Dave Fanucchi.

December 2: Annual Holiday Party at Towbin Motorcars (our dealership)

It was a great night. Nearly 30 members and guests turned out in their evening finery, and Towbin’s new, exclusively Ferrari showroom (have you checked it out yet?) looked spectacular. Oh, did I forget to mention that there were some extremely desirable baubles (I’m asking Santa for the white 599 GTB Fiorano) strewn about to stimulate our saliva glands, perhaps in preparation for the dinner to come. And what a fine dinner it was, with a menu fashioned after the famous Montana Restaurant located in Modena just outside the factory walls, the food was praised be everyone. Did I forget to mention that the cocktails and wine were served graciously at an open bar? All-in-all, it was one of our finest Holiday parties and we thank the dealership and the Towbins for providing the venue and the delicious cibo (that would be Italian for food)…and for making it a special evening. T-was a grand kick-off to the Holidays I would say.


Socials will resume in January, after the hubbub of the holidays has subsided, and everyone’s wallet has somewhat recovered. The new year and warmer weather in March should also mean some drives, including hopefully several to some new locations. The next Board meeting is scheduled for January 16. Meanwhile, be sure to visit our new website for the latest information.


Overview of the F1 season as of July 2017

This is one of the best seasons in recent memory. All of you so called Ferrari aficionados should be watching every race because this really is ‘must see TV.’

We begin July with 8 races (nearly half of the season) completed, and the competition is very, very close. Mercedes leads Ferrari by 250 points to 226 in the constructors’ standings, with Red Bull (137) and Force India (yea for the underdogs – 79) the best of the rest. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari!) leads Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) by 153 points to 139 in the drivers’ championship, with Valtteri Bottas (111 – Mercedes), Daniel Ricciardo (92 – Red Bull), and Kimi Raikkonen (73 – Ferrari) trailing.

What makes this season special is that the cars are so competitive. The front runners are evenly matched, and they aren’t that much faster than the cars in the middle of the pack. This makes for exciting racing. When the leaders pit and return in the mid-field, they find it difficult to pass the cars ahead which leads to drama, uncertainty, and hard fought battles. Yes, the races have all been won by either Red Bulls, Mercedes Benzes, or Ferraris, but that is certainly better than previous years when M-B dominated by winning virtually every race. This year, races start with the possibility of 5 teams (the top three plus Force India and Williams) winning, or at least being on the podium.

As far as the young drivers go, my opinion of Esteban Ocon (Force India) remains the same – this is a future star. He is quick and poised, and seldom makes errors. One of the top teams will snatch him quickly once his contract has been fulfilled. Meanwhile, Lance Stroll (Williams) has proved a surprise. He seemed lost the first 5-6 races, and headed for an early termination of his career in the big time. Then, he turned things around in Canada and is suddenly a new man, and driving expertly. Congratulations, your future looks good. Max Verstappen, last year’s top youngster, has been somewhat of a disappointment this year, mainly because his bar has been set so high. Last year everything went well for him. When he tried an audacious pass, he squeezed by and the move was a success. The car seemed unbreakable. This year, things are different. When Max tries those crazy passes, he comes into contact with the other car. His own car has shown a propensity to fail him. How will he handle adversity? At the other end of the spectrum, Palmer, Vandoorne, Wehrlein, and Ericsson haven’t shown much, meaning that there may be a slew of empty seats for next season.

As of July, it looked as if it would be a real battle to the end. Finally, a truly exciting and competitive season, with Ferrari smack dab in the middle of the fray. So, let’s see how it played out.

July through November: F1 Viewing at Siena and other venues

July 9: GP of Austria (9)

The hot subject during Practice was the continued and obvious bad blood between Vettel and Hamilton over the safety car period shenanigans that transpired two weeks earlier at Azerbaijan. In the end, Vettel (under duress) apologized to all, and Hamilton managed to look like the total innocent. Yeah, right. The good news was that no further penalties were assessed. The even better news is that this sets up a contentious battle between the top two drivers throughout the remainder of the season.

At 2.7 miles, this is a short, quick circuit, with fast laps at just over 1 minute. Pirelli supplied the ultra-soft, super-soft, and soft tires for the 71 lap race. Qualifying was uneventful until the last few minutes, when Grosjean’s Haas stalled on track and effectively ruined everyone else’s quickest laps. In the end, Bottas and Vettel were quickest, and Hamilton (4th quickest on the super-soft tires while everyone else was on the faster ultra-softs) was assessed a 5 grid spot penalty for changing out his transmission. After Qualifying, the commentator asked for a camera-opportunity moment Hamilton-Vettel handshake to show everything was ‘cool’ between the two championship leaders; Hamilton refused. Ouch. Given Hamilton’s penalty, the grid was Bottas, Vettel (about 5 hundreds of a second behind), Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Grosjean (a surprisingly good result from the Haas driver), Perez (Force India), Hamilton, and Ocon (force India).

Verstappen made a terrible start (clutch failure) leading to several minor collisions as the other cars tried to pass him before entering the first turn. While Sainz and Kvyat suffered some damage, Verstappen and Alonso were forced to retire. At the end of an eventful lap one, the leaders were Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo, Grosjean, and Raikkonen, who quickly dispatched the Hass ahead and began to run down Ricciardo. Meanwhile, Hamilton was doing his thing and by lap 10 the order was Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, and Hamilton. This running order then went unchanged for many laps. The weatherman was calling for rain before the end of the race, so everyone was doing their best to get as many laps out of their original tires as possible. No one wanted to pit for fresh rubber and then be forced to pit again a few laps later for rain tires. This resulted in a relatively boring stretch of racing. Around lap 35, when the rain failed to materialize, the drivers (except Bottas and Raikkonen, who soldiered on) began to stop for fresh rubber. Bottas finally changed tires on lap 41, while Raikkonen (for team strategy reasons) pushed on to lap 46. On lap 48, when the dust had settled, the running order remained relatively unchanged: Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo, Hamilton, and Raikkonen.

With the rain out of the picture, everyone got down to the business of serious racing. Vettel, who was about 4 seconds behind the leader, began to slowly reel in Bottas. Hamilton was doing the same to Ricciardo. And, everyone was complaining of tire degradation. What had been a dull race was suddenly looking very interesting. By lap 68, Vettel was on Bottas’ tail, and Hamilton was immediately behind Ricciardo. This led to several attempted and failed passes, and some exciting action. But, in the end, not much changed. The final result was Bottas, Vettel (less than a half second behind), Ricciardo, Hamilton, Raikkonen (who had to slow down due to car problems), Grosjean (an excellent result for Haas), Perez, and Ocon.

July 16: GP of England (10)

Is this England? Must be! It was cloudy, cool, and damp all weekend. Pirelli supplied the super-soft, soft, and medium tires for the 52 lap race on the ultra-fast Silverstone circuit, where the top guys were AVERAGING over 150 mph and experiencing up to 6 lateral Gs on some of the corners (this is astronaut stuff people). Qualifying started in wet conditions, with most on the intermediate-wet tires. As the session progressed, though, the sun came out and the track dried; by Q3 everyone was running on race rubber and near the max. When it was over, the sharp end of the grid was Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel, Verstappen, Hulkenberg (Renault). Bottas was relegated to 9th after a penalty for changing his transmission while Ricciardo suffered car problems and was forced to start at the very rear of the field. These two started on the soft tires, while the other top cars opted for the super-softs.

Verstappen made an exceptional start, jumping past Vettel for 3rd in the first hundred yards. Meanwhile, back in the field the inevitable first corner collision damaged or eliminated a slew of the mid-field and brought out the safety car, which exited on lap 5 with the running order Hamilton, Raikkonen, Verstappen, and Vettel. Bottas, who had started 9th, was up to 5th by lap 8. Vettel was the first to pit for new tires (lap 18) followed immediately by Verstappen. Hamilton, however, delayed his first stop to lap 26, while Bottas, who had started on the on the soft (harder) tires managed to go until lap 33; he reentered in 4th place and on the preferred super-soft tires and looked to be in the cat-bird seat for an excellent result. The running order was Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, and Ricciardo who had worked his way through the field from last. By lap 44 Bottas had passed Vettel for 3rd, but seemed too far behind second place Raikkonen to mount any serious threat in the few laps remaining.

Then, disaster struck Ferrari. Raikkonen’s left front tire disintegrated and he was forced to pit for new rubber on the second to last lap while Bottas sailed by into second place. Then, disaster struck again. Vettel also experienced a tire failure (last lap) which forced him to also pit for new rubber. So, in the end, when all was said and done, the finishing order was Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, and Vettel.

You had to shed a tear for Ferrari. A race that had started well and had then progressed nicely was suddenly turned into a catastrophe…for both cars. Better luck in Hungary; it can’t get much worse than this.

July 30: GP of Hungary (11)

This short, twisty track should favor the Ferraris, and it did as the Qualifying order was Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, and Ricciardo. The track also proved to the liking of the McLarens; both were in the top 10. Pirelli supplied the super-soft (everyone qualified and started on these), soft, and medium tires for the 70 lap race.

Race day was clear and warm, but the inevitable crashes on the first lap happened anyway. Red Bull teammates Riccardo and Verstappen came together in the first corner (it looked to be Verstappen’s fault and he was ultimately given a 10 second penalty); Verstappen was able to continue while Ricciardo was out after less than 20 seconds of racing. Hulkenberg bumped Grosjean as well, and the safety car was deployed until lap 6, when racing resumed with the order Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Verstappen, and Hamilton. On lap 28, with Vettel and Raikkonen circling comfortably in the lead, Vettel began to experience steering/suspension problems; his lap times slowed down a bit and suddenly the outcome was in doubt. Most of the leaders stopped for tires (all switched to the softs) between laps 30 and 33. During his stop, the Ferrari mechanics quickly determined that Vettel’s car could not be repaired and would need to continue in its current condition.

By lap 35, Verstappen (the sole driver near the front who had not stopped) was comfortably ahead, while Raikkonen, Bottas, and Hamilton were jammed up behind Vettel in second place, who was struggling with his car but still setting competitive lap times. Verstappen finally stopped for new rubber on lap 44, when he also served his 10 second penalty. By this time, all of the leaders were frustrated with following Vettel at a slightly reduced speed: Raikkonen was complaining on his radio, while Hamilton clearly wanted to get by Bottas so he could have a shot at passing the two Ferraris. On lap 46, Bottas, who was also having some mechanical issues, stepped aside and let his teammate by to try his luck. Ferrari command, on the other hand, instructed Raikkonen to stay where he was, hinting he should block any attempt by Hamilton to pass. This led to a series of laps with Hamilton trying to get by Raikkonen for second place, and being unable to do so. It was very tense until Hamilton began to experience brake issues, probably caused by following Raikkonen too closely, and was forced to drop back a bit. So it went to the end, when, in a sporting gesture, Hamilton handed 3rd place back to Bottas in recompense for having allowed him to pass earlier. The final finishing order was Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Hamilton, and Verstappen.

So, the racing Gods give, and they take away. After experiencing rotten luck in England, Ferrari was lucky in Hungary. Also of note, both McLarens finished in the top 10, and Fernando Alonso did the fastest lap of the Hungarian GP. Is it possible that the comatose monster has awakened? We’ll have to wait until late August, after the summer break, to see, and to learn how this most interesting season plays out. It is VERY close.

August 27: GP of Belgium at SPA (12)

With the summer break in the rear view mirror, the teams headed to Belgium and the famous SPA-Francorchamps circuit, home of the majestic and daunting corner known as Eau Rouge, where the drivers were experiencing 5 Gs of lateral loading and 3 Gs of vertical loading…simultaneously! Not only is SPA challenging, but is also long at 4.5 miles. Hence, only 44 laps would be run. Pirelli supplied the ultra-soft, super-soft, and soft tires.

Practice and Qualifying saw huge crowds under overcast skies; but only a stray drop of rain fell the entire weekend, a huge surprise. The big news pertaining to Ferrari was that both Vettel (3 years) and Raikkonen (1 year) had extended their contracts with the Scuderia. Once again, the cars were averaging nearly 150 mph. With everyone starting on the ultra-soft tires, the grid order after Qualifying was quite familiar: Hamilton (who tied Michael Schumacher for most pole positions ever), Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen, and Ricciardo.

Vettel and Hamilton both made good starts and barreled up the eau rouge hill side-by-side, with Hamilton managing to hold the lead. This seemed to be the order of the day, as there were many challenges, but few passes were made. When things settled down on lap 8, Verstappen suffered engine problems and came to a halt on the track. Raikkonen apparently ignored the resulting yellow flag, and was given a 10 second stop-and-go penalty, which essentially dashed his hopes of a podium finish. Pit stops began on lap 12, with many of the drivers (including Vettel and Hamilton) going to the soft (hardest available) tires, indicating that they planned no more stops. These stops let Raikkonen, who had not stopped, move to the lead, until Hamilton passed him on lap 17 with an absolutely stunning and daring move that had to be seen to be believed. Raikkonen then stopped for tires and to serve his penalty, and the race settled into a period of relative calm, except for the two Force Indias duking it out lap after lap. The bad blood between these teammates ultimately spilled over and they collided (lap 30), scattering debris over the track and bringing out the safety car for a long period. Naturally, everyone stopped for fresh tires, but the choices were surprising: Hamilton opted for a fresh set of softs, while Vettel chose ultra-softs. This set up a most interesting sprint to the finish, when racing resumed on lap 33. Vettel challenged Hamilton on the re-start, but just failed to make the pass stick and Hamilton managed to hold the lead. Meanwhile, further back, all the drivers were giving it their all to move toward the front, with Raikkonen and Ricciardo going three wide to both pass Bottas simultaneously in another particularly daring move. At the front, Vettel closed up on Hamilton several times as the laps dwindled away, but was never able to mount a serious threat for the lead, giving a final finishing order of Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, and Bottas.

September 3: GP on Italy at Monza (13)

During Practice, it was made known that both Red Bulls had been assessed a 5 place grid penalty for changing their engines. Monza is another high speed, low downforce circuit that would likely favor the Mercedes cars, but in Practice the Ferraris were close on their heels. Pirelli supplied the super-soft, soft, and medium tires (along with the wets) for the 53 lap race. Everyone of note, except Red Bull’s Ricciardo (who was mired at 17th on grid), qualified on the super-softs; Ricciardo instead opted for the softs.

Qualifying was greeted with heavy rains that severely delayed proceedings. Once it resumed and ended, the results were startling: Hamilton, Stroll (Williams), Ocon (Force India), Bottas, Raikkonen, Vettel, Massa (Williams), and Kvyat (Toro Rosso).

After lots of dicing and some passing in the first few laps, the running order was Hamilton, Ocon, Stroll, Bottas, Raikkonen, and Vettel. Soon thereafter, both Bottas and Vettel passed both Stroll and Ocon, and the M-Bs were running out front with a Ferrari on their tails. A few laps later, Verstappen (with his streak of bad luck continuing) collided with Massa and suffered a puncture that forced him to the back of the pack. Meanwhile, Ricciardo (Verstappen’s teammate) was working his way up the field while Hamilton was slowly pulling away from those chasing him. While Raikkonen and Stroll opted for early pit stops (between laps 15 and 20), most of the leaders delayed their stops until after lap 30 (and Ricciardo, who had started on the more durable soft tires, to lap 38); this was a period of many passes and jockeying for position in the mid-field, and it made for some exciting racing. After that, the leaders maintained order to the end, with the final tally showing Hamilton (who takes the points lead), Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Ocon, and Stroll. This was a disappointing finish for Ferrari in front of the enthusiastic home fans.

September 17: GP of Singapore

This curvy, twisty track should favor the Ferraris and the Red Bulls, and be unfavorable to the M-Bs. But, during practice, the Ferraris were off the pace and did not look competitive; meanwhile the Red Bulls were at the top of the charts. Pirelli supplied the ultra-soft, super-soft, and soft tires for the 61 lap race to be run at night to avoid the sweltering weather of the day. In other news, McLaren announced it would shift to the Renault engines (from Honda) for the 2018 season. During Qualifying, the Ferraris suddenly found pace and challenged for the best times. Vettel said, “The car simply came alive.” Perhaps they had been sandbagging a bit in Practice? In any case, the starting order was Vettel, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hamilton, and Bottas – a nice change of pace.

The skies threw a monkey wrench into things when it began to rain a few minutes before race time. Vettel and a few of the other front runners opted to start on the intermediate tires rather than the slicks, and the race began on schedule and as planned. That lasted for about 100 feet: Raikkonen made an amazing start from 4th, and was immediately beside (and outside) and then a bit ahead of Verstappen, while Vettel, who started poorly, cut across the track to block Verstappen into the first turn. So you had Raikkonen on the far outside, Verstappen right next to him, and Vettel moving towards them – 3 cars fighting for space on less than half the track. Collision…all three were out. Meanwhile, Hamilton calmly motored by on the deserted other half of the track to take the lead with Ricciardo close behind. All the carnage brought out the safety car and by lap 7 the running order had settled down to a rather strange Hamilton, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Perez, Palmer, and Bottas; all on wet tires. But the rain was slowly abating, and by lap 20 the boldest were switching to dry tires. By lap 30 all had done so, and on lap 35 the running order was Hamilton, Ricciardo, Bottas, Hulkenberg, and Sainz. Not much happened from then until the end, with Hamilton taking the victory.

This result is a disaster for Ferrari. Both Vettel and the team scored zero points in a race they should have won. It may be the end of Ferrari’s and Vettel’s dreams for a championship in 2017.

October 1: GP of Malaysia

This track features many tight turns and two long straights. As such, the general opinion was that it really did not favor any of the cars. The Red Bulls and the Ferraris were quickest in Practice, so there was hope in the red garage. Pirelli supplied the super-soft, soft, and medium tires for 56 lap race.

Vettel changed his engine after Friday Practice, and experienced problems when he attempted to qualify. When the problems persisted, he failed to set a time in Q3 and was relegated to starting the race from last place…one more arrow in the quiver of Ferrari bad luck. With nearly everyone (except notably Vettel on the softs) qualifying (and therefore starting) on the super-soft rubber, the order was Hamilton, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Ricciardo, and Bottas.

To add insult to injury, Raikkonen experienced engine problems on the installation lap and did not participate in the race. This left Hamilton and Verstappen to battle for the lead, with Hamilton taking it through the first laps. Bottas made the best start of all and was quickly up to third. Meanwhile, Vettel had the bit between his teeth and was up to 12th (from 20th) by the end of lap 2. Then, something unusual happened. On lap 4 Verstappen simply motored by Hamilton to take the lead. And, just behind the leaders, Ricciardo was pressing Bottas very hard for third. So, with all this action at the front, this was really good racing. By lap 10, Ricciardo had passed Bottas for third, and Vettel had made his way into the top 10. He was 7th on lap 13, when the first tire stops were made, and Vettel was 5th by lap 25, and on Bottas’ rear bumper. But Vettel simply could not pass the more powerful Mercedes, which seemed to be deliberately holding up the Ferrari’s progress, to the benefit of Hamilton and Ricciardo who were not much farther up the road. This led to all of the leaders stopping for tires in the next few laps. Vettel naturally switched to the super-soft tires, and looked to have the advantage in the remaining laps because everyone else of note was forced to take on the soft rubber. So, at lap 30 the order was Verstappen, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Vettel (who had finally found a way past the Mercedes), and Bottas; an exciting sprint to the finish seemed to be in the offing. Unfortunately, despite much effort exerted, neither Ricciardo nor Vettel was able to pass the Mercedes ahead of them and that order prevailed to the end.

This was another major lost opportunity for Ferrari. The way Vettel ran during the race suggested the very real possibility of a Ferrari one-two if the gods of fate had been smiling on the red team.

October 8: GP of Japan

Pirelli supplied the super-soft, soft, and medium tires for the 53 lap race. Heavy rains seriously affected the practice sessions, leaving all the teams scrambling to find the right settings for their cars. Some teams were more busy rebuilding cars that had crashed in the heavy weather. All of this combined with grid spot penalties galore meant that the starting order was a bit different than the actual qualifying times might have produced: Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Verstappen, and Ocon. Bottas’ rebuilt car was penalized to 6th, Raikkonen’s to 10th: both would start on the soft tires while everyone else of note was on the super-soft rubber.

By race time, the weather had turned sunny and quite warm, calling into question whatever vehicle setup had been performed previously. The start was uneventful, but less than a lap into the race it became obvious that Vettel was having engine problems; he retired shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Raikkonen, trying valiantly to move up, went off road and lost several spots instead. He was running 14th on lap 5. However, by lap 20, the running order was Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Bottas, Raikkonen, and Ocon. On lap 21 Ocon was the first to stop for fresh tires, followed closely thereafter by Hamilton, Verstappen, and most of the others. They all switched to the mandatory soft rubber. Raikkonen and Bottas, who had started on the soft tires, delayed their stops to laps 29 and 32 respectively, and switched to the super-softs. The closing laps were exciting, with Verstappen challenging Hamilton for the lead, and Bottas challenging Ricciardo for third. But, in the end no one was able to make a pass stick and the finishing order was the same as that indicated at lap 20.

So, it was another disaster for the boys Marenello. Hopes for a championship in 2017 are gone. Wait until next year.

October 22: GP of the United States

The weather for Free Practice 1 on Friday was cool and misty, leading to a damp track and a lot of slipping and sliding, even on the intermediate wet tires. The big news in the pits was that Verstappen had extended his contract with Red Bull, and that Alonso had done the same with McLaren. The weather improved as the day progressed, but Vettel still managed to spin in FP2, and thereby lose a lot off valuable laps for car set-up. During FP3 on Saturday morning, heavy winds combined with undulations in the track had the cars searching for grip and good lap times. After all of that, Qualifying seemed almost boring: Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Ricciardo, and Raikkonen. Verstappen was penalized to 17th for an engine swap.

Pirelli supplied the ultra-soft, super-soft, and soft tires for the 56 lap race; everyone chose the ultra-softs except Verstappen, who, starting 17th, opted for the softs.

Boxing announcer Michael Buffer was brought on to introduce the drivers and generally put a Texas-sized level of bombast to the proceedings. No one confused this with Monaco, that’s for sure. But all looked rosy when Vettel jumped Hamilton at the start and managed to hold the race lead at the end of lap 1. The first 5 or so laps were ultra-exciting, with Bottas and Ricciardo fighting side-by-side for long stretches for third place, Raikkonen dueling with Ocon, and Verstappen coming up fast through the field thanks to some audacious passes of slower traffic. But, then the inevitable happened, Hamilton, with the advantage of DRS, squeezed by Vettel on lap 6 for the lead, and slowly began to pull away from the Ferrari. Nonetheless, the exciting racing continued with a tight duel between Raikkonen and Ricciardo, who eventually dropped out with engine issues. Most of the leaders made their first tire stops between laps 17 (Vettel) and 27, when the running order was Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, and Verstappen. Second stops were made between laps 34 and 46. During this period, more exciting racing was the order of the day, as Sainz (Renault) and Perez (Force India) went wheel-to-wheel repeatedly while fighting for position, and Raikkonen managed to snatch third from Bottas (who pitted for tires shortly thereafter). Then, on lap 51, after his second stop, Vettel made a simply astonishing pass on Bottas to regain second. On the last lap Verstappen made an audacious pass of Raikkonen that the stewards deemed a bit too audacious; they awarded Verstappen a 5 second penalty which made the finishing order Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, and Verstappen. This was an excellent race and a very good result for Ferrari, especially after the disappointments of the previous three contests. But, in the end, Hamilton managed to win again.

October 29: GP of Mexico

The little used track was dusty during the practice sessions, providing little grip and eliciting many spins and slides. Moreover, the cars were clearly a bit down on both power and downforce due to the elevation (7,000 + feet) and resulting thin air. The cool, cloudy weather only exacerbated these issues, which continued into Qualifying on Saturday, when the crowds (in support of local here Sergio Perez) were huge. During Qualifying, fast lap jumped from driver to driver, with many temporarily at the top of the timing chart. But, in the end it was Vettel who reigned supreme with a picture perfect lap. The starting order was Vettel, Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, and Ocon. Ricciardo was penalized to 16th for an engine change.

Pirelli supplied the ultra-soft, super-soft, and soft tires for the 71 lap race. Everyone at the front started on the ultra-soft rubber.

After a poignant moment of silence for the victims of the recent Mexican earthquake, the cars rolled off. Both Verstappen and Hamilton pushed the issue a bit too far at turn one…and the requisite collisions ensued. After the three top qualifiers bumped one another a few times, Hamilton had a punctured tire, Vettel had a damaged nose, and Verstappen, relatively unscathed, had the lead. He then proceeded to run off into the distance, and remain there for essentially the entire race. Meanwhile, Ricciardo dropped out and Hamilton and Vettel were in the pits, and then at the back of the pack. As the race played out, Vettel was on a charge to the front (in part, with a brutal pass of Massa on lap 13 for 15th place) while Hamilton made little such headway. The first stops were made on lap 20, and second stops were generally made on lap 33 when the safety car slowed the field. After the dust had settled, the running order was Verstappen, Bottas, Raikkonen, and Ocon; Vettel was 8th and Hamilton 16th. By lap 52, Vettel, with a series of fast laps, had clawed his way to 6th, and then to 5th by lap 55, and 4th by lap 58. But that was the extent of it; the final finishing order was Verstappen (the only Renault powered car – of 6 – that finished), Bottas, Raikkonen, Vettel, Ocon, Stroll, and Perez.

With this result, poor Vettel is once again cheated of a potential win, and Hamilton captures his 4th world championship. The first race of 2018 is in March…set your clocks.

November 12: GP of Brazil

Meanwhile, before March 2018, there are two more races to be run in 2017, and the first was at Interlagos in Sao Paulo, Brazil (population about 21 million). Pirelli supplied the super-soft, soft, and medium (no one liked these) tires for the 71 lap race. The Practice sessions saw the top 10 cars posting very competitive times, but cool, damp, misty conditions scrambled things up in Qualifying, when Hamilton spun in Q1, damaged his car, and was relegated to starting the race from pit lane. Ricciardo, who suffered an engine change penalty, was moved back to 14th. Both of them would start on the soft tires, while everyone else was on the super-soft rubber. As the weather got worse, times got slower and the final starting order was Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Perez, and Alonso.

Race day was sunny and hot, quite different than the Qualifying conditions, a distinct advantage to Hamilton whose pit crew was free to change the settings on his car overnight as he was starting in pit lane. Bottas made a good start, but Vettel made a better one and pushed past the Finn to take the lead at turn 1. He managed to make it stick without any contact, but there was plenty of that in the field behind the leaders. By lap 10, when the dust had settled and the safety car was back in the pits, the running order was Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen and Massa. Hamilton was moving up fast (he was 10th, and then 7th by lap 15, and 5th by lap 22) while Ricciardo was still mired in 14th. Tire stops began on lap 28, with all the leaders switching to the soft rubber. There was a close moment when Vettel reentered side-by-side with Bottas, but the Ferrari took control and then managed to slowly eke out a lead over the Mercedes. Hamilton and Ricciardo, who had both started on the soft tires, delayed their pit stops to lap 44, with both switching to the super-soft rubber. So, on lap 45 the running order was Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen, and Hamilton (who, on the fresher and stickier rubber, was catching everyone ahead). He passed Verstappen on lap 60, and then mounted an assault against Raikkonen, who fought him tooth-and-nail for the final spot on the podium. In the end, Raikkonen prevailed and the final finish was Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Verstappen, and Ricciardo.

This was an excellent result for Ferrari, but it was too little and too late.

November 26: GP of Abu Dhabi

A night race at a spectacular venue located in an exotic locale…what more could you ask for? How about some action? Qualifying went to script except that Bottas claimed pole over Hamilton, with Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, and Verstappen following. In other words, the big 6 were in lock-step. Pirelli supplied the ultra-soft, super-soft, and soft tires for the 55 lapper, and all of the top qualifiers opted for the ultras; no surprise there.

It was a clean charge to the first corners with the leaders holding positions and, despite some challenges in the mid-field, nary a collision to spice things up in the opening lap. And so it went through lap16 when the pit stops began, with everyone switching to the mandatory super-soft rubber. Raikkonen was the first of the lead group to pit; Hamilton was last, on lap 24. Meanwhile, Ricciardo suffered yet another mechanical failure and dropped out of the fray on lap 21. And so they circulated for the next 30 some-odd laps. Hamilton made a half-hearted challenge to his teammate for the lead, but nothing came of it. Vettel seemed to be running alone the entire time. Only Verstappen made a credible effort to move up, but he was rebuffed by Raikkonen and nothing came of it. The final finishing order was much the same as that at the start: Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Verstappen, and Hulkenberg (Renault). The Force India duo finished 7th and 8th.

Well, they saved the worst race of the season for last, and it was a turkey of a weekend.

Recap of the 2017 Season

When all was said and done, Mercedes still had the best car (and the best driver) and therefore was able to win both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Ferrari was a very competitive second, with Red Bull third. Haas, our American team, improved, but still only managed to finish in 8th spot (of 10). The results:

Top Constructors Top Drivers

Mercedes 668 Hamilton (M-B) 363
Ferrari 522 Vettel (F) 317
Red Bull 368 Bottas (M-B) 305
Force India 187 Raikkonen (F) 205

Both Ferrari and Red Bull significantly closed the gap to the leader, and Force India and McLaren both look to be strong next season. The Red Bulls, piloted by Ricciardo and Verstappen, were right on Ferrari’s tail, despite less than stellar reliability, and to be honest luck. Given all of this, next year looks to be a barn burner.

Looking at the drivers, Hamilton has now won his 4th championship (along with most poles and a slew of other ‘bests’) and must be considered among the all- time greats. Bottas did well in his first year at Mercedes, and looks to be a future contender. Vettel is still excellent, but no longer can be considered at the top of the heap. Raikkonen is past his prime; he is still very good but no longer a real contender. Then, there is Fernando Alonso. He is still one of the best, but needs a competitive car to demonstrate his prowess. Hopefully, McLaren will provide one for him next year. Among the younger guys, Ricciardo seems to have taken a step back; he was clearly not quite as quick as Verstappen, his younger teammate. That puts Verstappen at the top of the heap in the ‘future contenders’ bracket. Baring mishap, he is a future champion. Of the other youngsters, Ocon looks to be the best.

The 2018 season begins in March. Applications for Personal Seat Licenses for the best spots at Siena are now being accepted.

Last Words

So, another F1 season is over and another year has passed by. We hope that 2017 was a good one for you and your loved ones, and that your holiday season has been wonderful. See you in 2018!

John Ratto