Jochen Rindt: A Champion Not Aware to Be One

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In Formula 1 history, Jochen Rindt hold a record, unfortunately a sad one: he is the only F1 world champion to do not know he has become one of them. He lost his life in Monza during a hot afternoon, the day before the Grand Prix which was won by Clay Regazzoni. Mathematically his championship came just at the beginning of October at Watkins Glen, with great relief of Jacky Ickx, the last one to be defeated in the final list. Rindt has been one of the brighest star in the firmament of car racing, but he did not last too long, around 10 years from coming out driving a Simca to that fatal crash at Parabolica turn, the 5th of September 1970.

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He was born at Mainz, in Germany but he was left orphan pretty soon due to an airstrike on Hamburg city when he was one year old. He grew-up with his grand parents at Graz, luckily he inherited a big property coming from his father business. Once he was eighteen years old, he started to use his friendships and he did not loose any time to move forward, so to make his passion about racing a real job. He became a pilot (a dangerous job along those years) and moved from a Simca to a Giulietta TI, to end on a Formula Junior very fast. His friends of that time, they were Helmut Marko, a man destined to create a beautiful career in motor-sport, who lost one eye while driving a BRM in Grand Prix of France during 1972. Another one of his friends, it was Kurt Bardi-Barry.Today, Marko is one of the advisory of Red Bull while Bardi-Barry lost his life in a car crash after he created a racing team together with Jochen l’ Ecurie Vienne.

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There is still someone remembering Rindt at Montecarlo in 1963, mainly because he went there dressed with a red and pink pilot suit on the start line, as well as towing his Formula Junior driving a Jaguar E. This young pilot became fifth once racing where he gave everything until his Cooper stopped due to a technical problem. Among those competing against him, there was a Finnish with a pretty daughter (to say the least), named Nina. She was an international model… Jochen was not the most handsome ins this world, but he was charming so he conquered her heart very soon and very soon Nina Lincoln became his wife after a couple of months.

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In 1964, backed by Ford Racing Team, Rindt went to Mallory Park and with his Formula 2 got a pole-position while finished third during the race behind Jim Clark and Peter Arundell. Next day, at Crystal Palace, he won the race beating Graham Hill: opening a way to celebrity. His driving style was very unique, his car was always side-way on the road, close to loose grip and get-out of track. He was very brave, in fact Rindt was one of those people loving to surprise his public. In August of that year, he was already in Formula 1 racing in the Grand Prix of Austria, won by Bandini with a Ferrari. Rindt was driving a Brabham owned by Rob Walker but he dropped-out due to a technical failure. That was not a real problem, he created his way in this competition just with that race. Next year, he was hired by Cooper team to compete in the F1 Championship of 1965 as team-mate of Bruce McLaren. The car was pushed by a Climax engine but it was not very competitive, so Rindt finished just forth at Nürburgring and sixth at Watkins Glen. Along the season, he was very far from the front line and he never struggled for a victory. There are still some photos about him driving in Montecarlo with his car sideways on the Loews turn, clearly close to the limit. Finally, he received a call from a F2 team, owned by Winkelmann and he obtained immediately two victories at Reims and Pergusa. The 1965 was also the year when he won a spectacular race at 24 hours of Le Mans together with Masten Gregory on a Ferrari 250 LM owned by Luigi Chinetti, creator of the NART team. Somebody is saying Rindt won even if there was not a very competitive presence like the one of Gregory or thank to the drop-out of the Ferrari and Ford official team.

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In Formula 1, next year there was the come-in of 3 liters engines and Cooper team decided to use a heavy 12 cylinders engine manufactured by Maserati. The bravery and resolution to overcome any defect present on the car, allowed Jochen to get a final third place in the Championship, behind Brabham and Surtees. In 1967, Formula 2 used engines with 1600 horse-power and this new category immediately appeared to be the one for Rindt, so with a Brabham-Cosworth car, he won: Snetterton, Pau, Nürburgring, Reims, Tulln, Brands Hatch and Hameelinna. He could not become an European Formula 2 champion because he was driving in a superior category. He was not allowed to gain points in this lower category. Instead, his championship in Formula 1 (driving a Cooper) was less lucky.

Rindt was always careful to his personal budget, so he grasped an opportunity to compete on 500 Miles of Indianapolis driving a car owned by Eagle team and to make money. He hit the wall during his qualifying, burning his car hence he could not start his race next day. After that experience, he talked about Indianapolis just as a great opportunity to gain quite a lots of money…

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Once he split with Cooper, Rindt found immediately an open door in Brabham where there was the old Jack. The future was shining, especially due to those championships obtained on this car by Brabham and Dennis Hulme. Unluckily, this it was not the case for Rindt because the engine made by Repco were not updated anymore while those ones in Lotus, Matra and McLaren were giving wings to their pilots. Even so, natural driving skills owned by Rindt allowed him to obtain a pole-position at Rouen (France) and at Mont-Tremblant (Canada). This did not save him to get just eight points along the entire season. The only victories he got, it was in Formula 2 where Rindt proved to be the king of that category with a victory in Thruxton, Crystal Palace, Hockenheim; Tulln and Pergusa. In 1969, Rindt selected a person called Mr. Bernie Ecclestone who started his brilliant Formula 1 career managing pilots. Both decided to leave Brabham to move and drive a Lotus, looking for a quick success in Formula 1. Rindt had an open and sincere relationship with Brabham while this was not the same with Colin Chapman. In fact, the owner of Lotus Team never loved all the suggestions given by Rindt to improve his cars. This is one reason Colin forced Rindt to drive a particular car named Lotus 63. These cars were considered unreliable and fragile so Jochen Rindt was pretty scared by this thing, especially after the crash he faced at Montjuich in Barcelona when he was leading the race. His rear wing detached completely from the car forcing FIA to ban this kind of components immediately. The Austrian was severely injured and his face was full of blood but he broke only his nose, a cheekbone and a bit of pain to his legs. He did not compete in the next race at Monte-Carlo and Spa in Belgium. He came back at Zandvoourt where he did a pole-position but he drop-out from the race when he was first.

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During the race he did in Silverstone, it was incredible the battle he started with his friend Stewart. Lotus and Matra were overtaking each others over and over again until a technical problem slowed down Jochen  forcing him to terminate fourth at one lap difference from Jackie, Rindt was beaten in Monza by just eight hundredth second against Stewart. Dennis Jenkinson, the most important British journalist of that time, winner of the “Thousand miles race” in 1955 together with Stirling Moss, bet his beard about the fact Jochen would never win a race in Formula 1. He was forced to shave after GP of U.S.A. In Watkins Glen, when finally on an old Lotus 49, Jochen finished first. Graham Hill broke his leg in a terrible crash leaving his team mate Jochen alone in the race. As usual, in 1969 he won once again in Formula 2.

In 1970, after three consecutive years, Lotus 49 was retired to be changed by a revolutionary Lotus 72. A weapon capable to get bigger results while helping Rindt and his ambitions to win a championship. All tests made on that car were facing some kind of delay, so during the first three races, Jochen was forced to compete with the old Lotus 49. In Monte-Carlo, he was appearing to be uncompetitive obtaining just the eight position. Once race started, his situation became really interesting and suddenly he started an incredible recovery allowing him to reduce his gap of 2 seconds and 7 hundredth placing him in second position behind Brabham. Last laps were really like a thriller, with the old Jack under pressure. At last lap, he did a mistake braking too late in last turn while he was lapping De Tommaso on a Courage. He crashed against the wall and Rindt won by surprise that race, starting an incredible series of successful results which helped him to win the championship.

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After another drop-out with the old Lotus 49, Jochen got finally the brand new Lotus 72 at Zandvoourt in GP of Holland. He destroyed literally his competitors with a car making any other else to look old and unreliable. Lotus 72 had a front part like a wedge-shaped and sides as well as its brakes inside the chassis. His victory in Zandvoourt was covered by the accident of Piers Courage, who was the best friend of Rindt together with Stewart. That was a different time where all pilots were sharing a lots of time together, living the Sunday to party after the race with the winner. Any photo of the podium, show a Jochen like horrified by an intense internal pain and incapable even to greet the public. His relatives said he was seriously thinking to stop racing after that day, because too scared about the weakness of Lotus 72. That season was successful in Formula 1, as well as in Formula 2, so he decided to carry on and the Formula 2 championship was obtained with a Lotus 69.

In the nice circuit of Clermont Ferrand, Rindt did not have any competitors during GP of France. In brands Hatch circuit, he was still first but this time thank to a lucky day since Brabham run-out of fuel in last laps. After the race his front wing was irregular but during second test became suddenly regular. The legend says a couple of mechanics pushed down the wing to place it at the right position for the test. Rindt confessed, in an interview to Heinz Prueller, an Austrian journalist, to feel lucky but he was not going to rely too much on good-luck because this can end soon. It did not happen in Germany when Jochen won against the Ferrari driven by Jacky Ickx after a long battle. That was his fifth victory and the Austrian pilot obtained 45 points in final list. In Zeltweg, at home, he did a nice pole-position but during the race his engine broke-up leaving without a good result.

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In Monza, he raced on the fastest circuit of the season, Jochen asked to race with an old Lotus 49 because he thought he was safer than Lotus 72. Colin Chapman decided to do not follow his advice. During that period of time there were not particular areas where speed was reduced. Average speed was around 245 km/hr: a very fast speed! Not many people knew this little secret, but Rindt was suffering car-sickness. Especially when racing on twisted tracks like Nürburgring and Pau. The champion of security like him , it was funny to see on every track with an open helmet of green color and glasses instead of a crash helmet. In reality, he could not stand the crash helmet. During GP of Monza, many teams raced and performed qualifying without any front and rear wing. Jochen did so during practice time and qualifying. It was 15pm, a 5th of September when Jochen was going at over 280km/hr and he arrived at Parabolica turn to end his lap. Once braking, his Lotus 72 went radically on the opposite side of normal steering and hit its left front tire against a barrier. This tire was suddenly blocked on a hole where there was some wood necessary to hold the barrier. Its car was destroyed by the violent deceleration. Jochen lost his life on the spot, even if the ambulance moved him to the near hospital to give a last try to save his life. Those incredible consequences were provoked by a particular habit to do not fasten the seat-belt on last two points because he was scared to damage his reproduction system. In fact, due to the impact his body moved forward and Jochen suffered some fatal injuries around his neck.

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An investigation proved that the weird reaction of his car after braking, it was done by a malfunction on the front braking system therefore it was a technical problem the cause of that tragedy. Bernie Ecclestone ran in the box to see if his pilot was alive after the crash but he was forced to go back home with only his white helmet. Perhaps, without that horrible crash, Jochen Rindt might be today one of the boss of Formula1 together with Bernie. Natasha, his daughter, worked with Ecclestone to set-up the digital television created around the 1990 to cover the races. Every time someone meet her, they can not stop to remember his father.

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At the end of that year, Jochen won the championship even if he could not race in any other circuit. The amount of advantage gained until that horrible day, allowed him to become a F1 world champion. One who could not realize to have achieved such an amazing result…

Jochen Rindt: the champion without crown

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