The definitive biography of Jochen Rindt has just been published, and is available through Amazon.com. Written by this story's author, David Tremayne, it does justice to a brilliant driver and intriguing man. The following excerpt explores one aspect of this sad, if fascinating story. -Ed.
After five years of disappointment, everything seemed to have come right for Jochen Rindt in 1970. Following a difficult start to the Formula 1 season, he kickstarted his title campaign with a stunning last-corner victory at Monaco, driving the Lotus 49C, the final iteration of a four-year-old design. Then, in the new Lotus 72 he had initially so detested, the fastest man in grand prix racing won four straight races – Holland, France, Britain and Germany.
Jacky Ickx and the Ferrari 312B, meanwhile, had shown increasing speed, if not reliability. The Belgian led for two laps at Zandvoort before Jochen dominated; for 14 laps at Clermont-Ferrand before an ingested stone damaged a valve; for six laps at Brands Hatch before the diff failed; and he raced wheel to wheel with Rindt at Hockenheim before the Austrian outsmarted him to win by 0.7sec.
But in Austria, Ickx led Clay Regazzoni home in a Ferrari 1-2, and Rindt retired. Curiously, Jochen was almost cheerful as he sauntered back to the pits, where he told friends, “Motor kaput!” He seemed pleased bad luck had ended a streak of fortune that had made him uneasy, as if he'd been riding his luck too hard.
Then came the tragedy in qualifying at Monza where, on Saturday, Sept. 5, Rindt's Lotus turned sharp left into the barriers at Parabolica, most likely because of a front brakeshaft failure, and he was killed. In the race, Ickx led five of the 68 laps before transmission failure.
Lotus chief Colin Chapman had no stomach to run in Canada, where Ickx won again. If the Ferrari driver won the U.S. and Mexican grands prix as well, he'd be World Champion. Rindt had 45 points, garnered from his five victories; Ickx had 28. With 18 up for grabs (nine points for a win), he could overhaul the Austrian. It was a possibility that appalled the cultured Belgian.
Ickx admits today that he didn't always behave with consideration for everyone around him. He was a throwback to a bygone era, a maverick who raced with a fatalism that didn't sit well with peers – among them Rindt and Jackie Stewart – who were set on trying to improve F1's safety standards. Many remain adamant that Rindt didn't like Ickx. One described Jochen's last-ever race, in Formula 2 at Salzburgring, where he very uncharacteristically pulled a super-aggressive move on Ickx, and later explained his antipathy toward him by saying, “He's a little **** with big balls!” Jacky, however, says they never exchanged any hard words.
However, Ickx would be the first to admit that back then, when he was himself a young god, he believed that all his dreams could come true and that, at the time, he didn't fully appreciate the people around him who contributed to the effort on his behalf. “When you are young you think everything is somehow due to you,” he says now.
Jochen's friends say he thought Jacky was arrogant, just as others thought Jochen was. But Ickx was also a sportsman, man of honor and great integrity, and the idea of beating a dead man to the title didn't appeal, however great his own ambition to be World Champion.
Emerson Fittipaldi had crashed a Lotus 72 at Monza, the day before Jochen's death. The next time he sat in one, the Brazilian ended up driving it to victory as Lotus returned for the US GP at Watkins Glen on Oct. 4.
“After Monza, there was a month with a lot of pressure,” he remembered. “Then Colin said, ‘I want you to be number one at Lotus.' For me that was a big surprise. I hadn't been expecting that at all. So there was tremendous pressure, going to the Glen. Two huge pressures, you know? Back again driving after a very tough weekend, and being number one driver after only three grands prix. I had read all the stories about Jim Clark and Team Lotus, and suddenly it hit me: ‘****! I'm their number one!'”
Emerson qualified strongly, third on the grid behind Ickx, who was half a second faster than Jackie Stewart in the new Tyrrell-Ford, but the Brazilian made a terrible start. Jackie beat Jacky off the line, but Emerson had to start fighting back from only eighth place at the end of the first lap.
There was an edge to Stewart's performance. He passionately believed Jochen would be the rightful recipient of the 1970 World Championship, and so was hell-bent on preventing Ickx from winning and taking the title away from his fallen friend.
“The thing I wanted most, after Jochen died,” he says, “was to be sure that he won the World Championship. At one time there was a doubt whether it would be awarded to him, even if nobody else surpassed his points total. I felt very strongly that it should be awarded to him. I really could not imagine anyone taking this honor away; it really would have been a terrible thing.”
Stewart soon opened up a healthy lead, leaving Ickx trailing, while by lap 50 Emerson was up to fourth. That became third when Ickx pitted on lap 57 with a ruptured pipe along the Ferrari's flank that sprayed fuel everywhere. Whatever happened now, the Belgian's title hopes were over. He rejoined in 12th place, and even if he were to win in Mexico (which he did, ABOVE)), he could not now beat Rindt's points tally.
Stewart eased back a little, apparently home and dry, but on lap 75 his Ford engine began smoking badly and he finally quit on the 83rd with a suspected piston failure. That left only Pedro Rodriguez in the BRM ahead of Fittipaldi, but the P153 was marginal on fuel capacity in this longer-than-usual race and the Mexican had to make a late pit stop for a splash and dash. Now, with only seven laps left, Emerson found himself running in the lead of the season's richest race.
It was only the fourth Formula 1 grand prix of Fittipaldi's career and his success cemented Rindt's title. There was another poignant postscript: 12 months earlier at the Glen, it had been Jochen who was celebrating his maiden triumph. Chapman was in tears. To make things even better, fellow Lotus newbie Reine Wisell brought his 72 home behind the recovered Rodriguez, and ahead of Ickx, who broke the lap record in a gallant comeback drive.
Subsequently, Nina Rindt, Jochen's widow, sent a letter to Ickx. “First of all, I want to congratulate you on your win in Canada,” it read. “To be honest, I was a little worried that you might win Watkins Glen and Mexico City as well, which would have meant that Jochen had lost the Championship. I am very happy that Jochen managed it after all; it was his only burning wish.”
In turn, Ickx wrote: “I consider it important that Jochen Rindt died a happy man. When, after four years of courage and disappointment, success in grand prix racing finally came to him, he became a different person. At the moment when he climbed into his car for the last time, he was particularly happy. He had the looks and manners of a contented man. There can be little doubt that he remained happy until the very moment of his accident, for we drivers are always happy behind the wheel.
“And even if one can talk of untimely death, all I can say is that the duration of life should not be measured in days or hours, but by that which we achieve during the time given to us. There isn't a single one of us who hasn't left his hotel room in the morning well aware that he may not return, but this does not prevent us from achieving complete happiness. On the contrary, perhaps it enables us to be all the more so. The knowledge that everything could finish before the end of the day enables us to enjoy the wonders of life and all that surrounds it all the more.”
For many years a story did the rounds that the Belgian had “created” the fuel line problem so he wouldn't have to win the title. Today, he smiles at the suggestion, and replies: “No, we really did have a problem. And that was such a release. Because being in front, in a championship, with a man who was not on earth any more, doesn't bring me any satisfaction.
“Frankly, I am glad Jochen won the World Championship. It was 40 years ago and I am still thinking the same way today. To win without glory is not interesting, and winning in front of Rindt that year would not have been interesting. At all. Yes, it would have been in the records – “Ah, Jacky Ickx won in 1970” – but what poor satisfaction.”
And so Karl Jochen Rindt, the orphan from Mainz, Austria, became Formula 1's only posthumous World Champion. As Ickx reflects, “There was a justice there…If God exists, he made the right decision.”
High emotion for Emerson at the Glen
“I had a high fever Saturday night,” Emerson Fittipaldi recalls of that crucial race at Watkins Glen. “Colin Chapman came up to my room with an American doctor and I was sweating like crazy. Ferrari was fast enough to take away the points that Jochen needed to win the championship. Colin said to me, ‘Emerson, whatever you do, you must finish in front of Jacky Ickx because of the championship.'
“Well, I had this fever, and I always knew my limits. I was never a kamikaze driver. I told him I would do everything I could. You can imagine the responsibility I felt. From the tragic weekend, and then going to such an incredible weekend of opposites for Team Lotus. We were in God's hands, to make that happen. Sunday happened the way it had to happen, and it was fantastic.
“I never saw Pedro [Rodriguez] go into the pits, but then I got a signal that said I was P1. I couldn't believe it.
I looked behind me because I thought it must be for someone else! Then they gave me P1 again. All the lap I had been thinking they must have made the mistake. But I was first! I was leading the race! I could win my first grand prix!
“Then my mind stared working overtime. I thought about the fuel. Did I have enough? I thought about what might break. The last laps went on forever, and the last one was the longest of my career. The finish line was at the bottom of a hill and, when I came through the last corner, I saw Colin Chapman jump the barrier and throw the hat to me. I had seen that image so many times with Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill. But this was for me!
“When I got back to the pits after the slow-down lap, I couldn't remember a word of English! Was a fantastic time of my career.”