Who Was Jochen Rindt?
A little while back, I was having my weekly look at the posting from Vintage Motorsport and keeping up with what’s going on in vintage racing. If you’re at all interested, sign on, it’s a good read.
But what really hooks me every week comes at the bottom of the posting: “This Week’s Videos.” Vintage Motorsport picks four videos of varying lengths, from two minutes up to an hour in length, of fascinating racing footage from long ago. Very often, the video will star a major driver from the Fifties. Sixties or Seventies, when racing was absolutely “at its best. I say “at its best,” only because I was there writing about it—so don’t argue with me, kid.
But I was honestly taken aback some months ago by a Vintage Motorsport video starring the great, but alas, short-lived 1970 World Champion, Jochen Rindt. I was taken aback, because the whole point of the video was that today, it reports, nobody’s ever heard of Jochen!
I was scandalized. How brief fame can be! In the late-Sixties, Jochen Rindt was considered on a par with Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, and even Jimmy Clark. Judged on raw talent and fearless racing aggression, he was in a class with Gilles Villeneuve and Ayrton Senna, which is to say, unmatched in his time. Yet way up here in the 21st century … nobody’s heard of him. It cannot be. Time is a cruel master.
I remember him and his beautiful young model wife, Nina, escapading on a Monaco yacht in 1970 with their good friend and similarly aspiring up-and-coming F1 racer, the aptly-named Englishman Piers Courage. They were running back and forth, on and off the yacht, clowning with each other, just one day before Jochen scored one of the most historic performances in the history of the Monaco Grand Prix.
Only two years before, Rindt had been driving an evil-handling, slow, and treacherous Cooper-Maserati in F1—the best ride he could get in grand prix as a raw newcomer. Race after race, Rindt drove the wheels off the Cooper, often working himself well up to mid-pack before the car failed—far ahead of where the car should really ever have been. And the brilliant Team Lotus impresario Colin Chapman was never one to pass up an opportunity with a promising new driver. Having lost the great Jimmy Clark in a fatal crash at a Formula 2-race in 1968, Chapman made certain to have Rindt as his F1 team leader in 1970, having lured him away from the 1969 Brabham F1 team.
Now at Monaco 1970 with Lotus, Rindt was at the peak of the sport. He was to race the brand-new, revolutionary wedge-shaped Lotus 72, but Jochen refused. He said it was not ready yet. He insisted, instead, on the two-year old Lotus 49—a dinosaur by F1 standards. And even with Rindt at its wheel, the old 72 was only capable of qualifying eighth.
At the start of the race, pole-sitter Stewart led. Then one by one, Ickx, Beltoise, Stewart, and Amon, all ahead of Rindt, fell out. Meanwhile, Rindt was driving like a demon. He passed Pescarolo, then Hulme, and was running second,13 seconds behind leader Brabham with 15 laps to go. He went faster and faster, finally closing on Brabham at two seconds a lap, The old Lotus 49 broke the lap record the last four laps in a row, finally bettering it by a full second. In the last turn of the very last lap, right on Brabham’s tail, Rindt forced Brabham into a braking error, slipping inside him and taking the checkered flag and victory!
It was one of the greatest grand-prix drives of all time, so dramatic it sounds fake—but I saw it all from the Monaco pits, Colin Chapman running out onto the track to greet Jochen at the finish, with my own eyes!
Jochen Rindt, posthumous 1970 Formula 1 World Champion, had less than four months to live. He died in the Lotus 72 in practice for the Italian Grand Prix. How dare we forget, I say. But time is cruel. And if you want to hear more about that … I’ll talk your ear off!
Ted West wrote “Closing Speed” about the 1970 World Sports Car Championship in Europe between Porsche and Ferrari. The novel includes a fictionalized version of this same 1970 Monaco Grand Prix, as well as races at Brands Hatch, Monza, the Targa Florio, and Spa-Francorchamps and available on Amazon.