Today marks the 44th anniversary of Jochen Rindt’s death at Monza, whilst he was leading the World Championship for Lotus. He would go on to claim the World Championship, despite his death. His crash took place at a spot that has been much spoken about in the lead up to the 2014 race, as the Parabolica has been paved over in the name of safety advancements.
The popular Austrian became the first F1 posthumous champion in a difficult year that also saw the deaths of Bruce McLaren and Piers Courage.
For Jochen, the tragedy happened in the Monza practice session – he crashed after what was deemed a mechanical failure and died at the age of 28 years old. The race went ahead, but without Lotus. Clay Regazzoni won the race in only his fifth F1 race start.
Although his posthumous championship has ensured his place in the record books, the style of his driving and character ensures that he lives on in the hearts of many for far more than this. Again, with so many of those drivers who lost their lives so early in this sport, one can only speculate on how big a career he could have had and how many more championships his talent could have brought home.
Karl Jochen Rindt was born on April 18th 1942 in Germany, but orphaned in a bombing raid, so was adopted and brought up by his grandparents in Austria. He showed early flare for sports, speed and courage. He switched to motorised sport having broken limbs in school ski-ing competitions. His early forages into racing were on mopeds and motocross bikes in which he appeared to demonstrate a ‘do or die’ attitude. He either won races or crashed out. He showed a rebellious streak and was often in trouble with the police for motoring offences and was expelled from private schools.
Although rumours state that his flat nose was due to boxing, he was in fact born that way – but it all added to his image as a flamboyant, fearless and determined character. He showed quirks of his non conformist style e.g. tying his shoe laces with battered pieces of string – he also had a ‘to the point, no nonsense’ style of speaking which intimidated some and caused others to believe he was arrogant.
In his teens he started racing touring cars and then single seaters. Jochen did crash frequently which must have terrified his conservative, traditional grandparents. However, like many drivers of the era he was under no illusion of the danger of the sport he was entering – his hero and early mentor, Count Wolfgang von Trips was killed at Monza (ironically) in 1961.
Jochen personally financed some of his drives – in 1964 he bought a Formula Two Brabham for £4000. He raced this at Crystal Palace in his second race with the British Press reporting that an ‘unknown Austrian driver has beaten the famous Graham Hill’. An account of the time probably describes best the trademark aggressive style that Rindt would make his own, ‘His car was sideways throughout the race. It went round the corners at unbelievable angles and always looked as if it was about to go off the road.’
His career up the formula continued, where his fearless style made him a fan favourite and a photographers’ dream. This was demonstrated off track when he married glamorous Finnish Supermodel, Nina Lincoln in 1967 in what the press headlined ‘Beauty and the Beast.’
Lotus Owner, Colin Chapman partnered Rindt with Graham Hill for the 1969 season. Jochen quickly showed his credentials in out performing his experienced and rated team mate – the Lotus 49 however was a fragile car and in the Spanish race a collision caused the Austrian concussion and a broken jaw. Chapman and Rindt had a difficult relationship, with the Austrian replacing Jim Clark, with whom Chapman had been close.
1970 was an excellent year for Rindt in terms of professional success – he wept as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace presented him the Monaco winner’s trophy. Yet he was later weeping tears of despair as he lost two racing friends. The loss of Bruce McLaren combined with the arrival of a baby daughter had started him considering retiring from the sport for family reasons. However, he continued to drive and won four consecutive races, during which Piers Courage was killed.
On September 5th 1970, Rindt’s Lotus ploughed into a guardrail at Monza during practice close to where his mentor, Wolfgang von Trips had lost his life. One of the first onto the scene was Bernie Ecclestone who was Jochen’s business manager and good friend. It was as a result of this accident that it was said that Bernie became reluctant to become close to any drivers within the sport, due to the very real threat that they would be killed on track.
There are an awful lot of questions about the ‘mechanical failure’ that the accident was attributed to. Chapman and Rindt had disagreed about the car to be used in the practice session and the race that weekend. Rindt had wanted to race the Lotus 49, believing it better suited to the fast track. However, Chapman had bought three Lotus 72’s and Rindt was effectively told to race what he was given.
The matter was further complicated when, in an attempt to improve straight line speed, Chapman ordered the removal of the car’s wings. Lotus third driver, John Miles was certainly not happy with the car’s handling after their removal. In the fatal crash, Rindt’s car inexplicably veered left whilst approaching the Parabolica – one of the fastest parts of the track.
With the seat belts used in that era, and with Rindt not wearing a crotch strap, he submarined in the cockpit and the seat buckle went into his throat causing unsurvivable injuries. Did removal of the wing cause the final crash? Probably something that will never definitively be known as rear suspension failure was the official cause, but Colin Chapman was deeply affected by Jochen Rindt’s death.
Having been so dominant that he maintained the championship title posthumously was testament to his performance that season. What fans will always wonder is how much more he had to offer the sport if he had continued. Would he have joined forces with his manager Bernie Ecclestone to set up a team?
Many fans will be looking at the Parabolica corner this weekend, now with changes in place, wondering what if?