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Jochen Rindt: the world champion who never knew

Formula 1 has taken the lives of many drivers in its history. Peter Collins, Jim Clark, Ronnie Peterson and Ayrton Senna just to name a few. Rindt became the only posthumous champion in the history of the sport.
Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 29th, 2013 (F1plus/K. Hewitt).- This title has been sat in my drafts for a while now, and every time I come back to it I seem to find myself staring for hours on end at a blinking cursor because I just don’t know where to start.

I get overwhelmed with emotion when I read the name Jochen Rindt, and whilst several of you reading may be unfamiliar with his name, I seem to find myself wanting to read more and more about him. I’ve always said to an extent that he’s the most under-rated world champion, but maybe that’s because most people forget about him, or even because they are unaware of his existence.

Jochen was raised by his grand-parents in Graz, Austria, after his parents lost their lives due to a bombing raid in Hamburg, during the Second World War. Rindt was never a full Austrian citizen, but still continued to race under an Austrian licence. He was renowned for his car control and quick reflexes, and was soon able to promote himself to Formula 1 after proving successful in lower formula’s.

His ability to choose the right car to showcase his talent wasn’t great, and his debut with Rob Walker Racing in 1964 only lasted one race, at the Austrian Grand Prix. From 1965 to 1967 however, he drove for Cooper Car Company alongside the likes of Bruce McLaren, John Surtees and Pedro Rodriguez. 1966 was his best year with Cooper after finishing 3rd in the standings, and appearing on the podium 3 times (two second places and one third) but his first win was overdue, and he was yet to impress.

In 1968 he moved from Cooper to Brabham, but technical problems only left him 12th in the standings. He then moved to Lotus in 1969, and then his talent started to shine. Like his old Brabham car, the Lotus was also extremely unreliable, and despite his 6 retirements he still finished 4th in the overall standings. He attained 5 pole positions, with his lowest grid start being just 6th place (5 poles, 3 thirds, 1 second, 1 sixth), and he also achieved his first career win during the USA Grand Prix. He also finished 4th at the British Grand Prix, 2nd at the Italian Grand Prix and 3rd at the Canadian Grand Prix.

His relationship with Colin Chapman (founder of Lotus) was strong, but the two had different visions. Colin liked to be creative and inventive by trying out new parts, whereas Rindt wanted something more reliable that had already been tested. It was risky, the two would argue and they wanted different things, but when it all came together, the Lotus 72 was looking strong with it’s new torsion bar suspension and high rear-mounted wing.

Rindt and Stewart were rivals on the track but friends out of it. 

Jochen Rindt won the British GP, one of his 5 vitcories that year. (LAT Photo)

Rindt continued with Lotus during the 1970 season with Emerson Fittipaldi as his team-mate, but with the Ferrari’s being Lotus’ main threat all eyes were on Rindt. Unfortunately his season didn’t get off to a good start, a collision with Jack Brabham and then later suffering from engine issues forced him to retire. It didn’t get better at the Spanish Grand Prix either, Rindt became affected by ignition problems and also had to retire from the race.

At the Monaco Grand Prix, Rindt was determined to get his season back on track and with help from other retirements, found himself behind Brabham in 2nd place. He was on a charge and pressured Brabham into an error on the last lap at the last corner and was able to take his first win of the season. He was able to keep his form winning 4 consecutive races at Holland, France, Britain and Germany. During the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort (Holland) however, Rindt lost his good friend and driver Piers Courage (De Tomaso Ford) in a crash during the race, and it had led Rindt to consider retiring.

Rindt was to never take part in the next race in Monza, due to a fatal accident in the last free practice session. The championship was not over, even though Rindt was still leading, Jacky Ickx had a chance of taking the title. To do so, Jacky would have to win the final 3 rounds. He won the races in Canada and Mexico but Emerson Fittipaldi (Rindt’s team mate) took the win during the USA Grand Prix, where Ickx could only finish 4th, thus handing the title to an unaware Jochen Rindt. His wife Nina collected his trophy, and Jochen became the first and only champion to ever win it posthumously.

Jochen Rindt and wife Nina after his fortuitous win at Brands Hatch. 20/7/70

Rindt’s achievements :

  • Races: 60 starts
  • Teams: Brabham, Cooper, Lotus
  • Active years: 1964-1970
  • Championships: 1 (1970)
  • Wins: 6
  • Podiums: 13
  • Pole positions: 10
  • Fastest laps: 3

All any Formula 1 driver wants to do, is to win the championship. You can see just how much it means to them when they do; the happy tears, the screams on the radio, the inability to stop saying thank you. Rindt was able to fulfil his dream, he just never knew about it. He may not have been the most successful champion, but he was an exceptional driver with outstanding car control and reflexes. He never experienced those emotions of lifting up his final trophy; the most important one. He’ll never know that his name will forever be on the ever growing list of Formula 1 world champions, and the sad thing is (as I mentioned earlier) everyone forgets about him, as if he was never even there.

But not me, R.I.P champ.

Jochen Rindt during the Monaco GP 1970 that he won. (LAT Photo)

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