If you have just turned 18 and are about to receive your inheritance, what would you do? One man decided that the best thing to was to buy himself a Simca Montlhery and go racing with it!
Formula One has come a long way to become a sport where a lot of research is done and care is taken about the safety of the driver. But back in the days, the focus was more on the racing part rather than safety. As a result, when you were a successful and daring driver in those times, you earned the respect of all the other racers. One such person, that all the racers of the time had immense respect for, was Jochen Rindt.
Rindt, born in Mainz, Germany, was always destined to be in the dangerous sport of F1. Since he was a kid, he was always getting into extreme sports. Even before he got out of his teens, he had already tried his hand in competitions that involved skiing, moped racing and even motocross. There were only two results when it came to Jochen Rindt – he either won the competition or he would have crashed in his attempt to win.
Exasperated with his shenanigans, Rindt’s family sent him to England in the hope that he would learn some discipline. But that was not to be, as he found himself suspended more often than not. But more importantly, he struck up a friendship with Helmut Marko, who would introduce him to the world of fast cars and racing with them. Together, they made their way into the world of F1, with their mutual love for racing fast cars.
It would not be an understatement to say that racing was the only thing that Rindt knew. While most racers would take time off when there were no races in the calendar, Rindt would go off to compete in the endurance races. He was also doing really well in the Formula 2 races, and signed for Cooper in 1965. His high point at Cooper was a 3rd place finish in the standings in 1966, a season when Jack Brabham was dominating the scene. After suffering a very disappointing 1967 season, where he had to retire from 8 out of the 10 races because of reliability issues, he decided to switch teams. The genius of Rindt is evident in the fact that in the 2 races that the car did last, he managed a 4th place finish in both of them.
He moved to Team Brabham, but his luck did not change there either as his machine did not finish a majority of the races. Frustrated, he changed his team and joined Lotus, a move which was to turn ill-fated.
At Lotus, he teamed up with Graham Hill. Ironically, before joining Lotus, he was worried whether the car was safe to drive. But, upon advice from Bernie Ecclestone, who was a very close friend, he agreed to join with the conviction that it was the only car that would allow him to win the title.
Even though Hill had already won the title the previous year, Rindt proved that he was the faster and better of the two by consistently outpacing his team mate. In the year 1970, Chapman, the team principal, came up with the Lotus 72 to replace the very successful but ageing Lotus 49. But the machine had quite a few problems as well as reliability issues. While it was still being worked on, Rindt took the Lotus 49 at the Monaco GP to register one of his most famous victories, beating Brabham on the way.
1970 turned out to be disastrous for motorsports as some iconic names lost their lives that year. In the days leading up to the Italian GP, Bruce McLaren and Pierce Courage were involved in accidents on the track that cost them their lives. In spite of the loss of his close friends, Rindt was able to win the Dutch GP as well as the German GP, which gave him a comfortable lead in the standings. But what happened at Monza, would shock the world and deprive the sport of one of its best and most charismatic drivers.
Since the Ferraris were going about 10 mph faster than his Lotus, Rindt had taken the decision of going to the race without any wings so that he could get some extra pace. But that only created further problems as the car became more unstable. As he approached the final corner of the Monza circuit, he braked to slow down the car. But the Lotus swerved violently, taking him into the barriers where it hit the guard rails at top speed. The force of the crash was so hard that the car was thrown back on to the circuit. But by the time anyone could reach the horribly disintegrated car, Rindt was already dead with his seat belts slashing his throat.
While safety was not something that was given much focus during those times, it was unfortunate that Rindt did not make use of what little protection that was on offer. Back then, there were clutch straps that could be worn by the drivers to prevent them from falling from the car in case of a crash. But Rindt was not fond of them and refused to put them on, resulting in an unnecessary death.
The tragic thing about this accident was the fact that Rindt had already decided that this would be the last season he would be competing in motorsports, as deaths of his close friends as well the birth of his daughter convinced him that it was too dangerous to continue. Unfortunately, it was not to be and he was to be a victim of the times. One of the sights of the tragic day was a visibly distraught Ecclestone carrying the helmet and a torn shoe of his beloved friend.
The lead that he had built in the previous races of the season was so much that his rivals weren’t able to overcome it in the remaining races of the season. As a result, he became F1’s first, and thankfully, the only posthumous champion.
10 reason why I think he is one of the top 20 greatest racers in F1 history:
- He had the racer’s instinct that was prevalent in his time. But more importantly, he had the courage and the conviction to pull off moves that others couldn’t even think of.
- He had the respect of the other racers and they acknowledged that he was the quickest of them all.
- He had the ability to do well even with a bad car as was evident with his 4th place finishes with a terrible Cooper.
- It was always thrilling to watch him drive. He had a childlike enthusiasm about racing that was with him till the very end.
- He had a personality that was refreshing for those times. He was arrogant and abrasive, but was never dismissive or insulting. He knew he was one of the best, but he also acknowledge the talents of other racers as well.
- A passion for racing was evident from the fact that he sponsored his own cars when he first entered the formula series.
- The fact that he went over the limit with most of the cars which he drove with, was testament to his abilities as a driver and his talent to bring out the best from even a very bad car.
- Even with the knowledge that he would retire after that season, it did not stop him from giving it his all as he won 4 consecutive races, showing his commitment.
- The fact that he decided to retire so that he could be with his family showed that he was a wonderful person who was willing to sacrifice his passion for others.
- And finally, as tragic as it is, he remains the only posthumous champion in the history of F1.
Jochen Rindt: A tribute