September 5th, 1970. Monza, Italy. It is a Saturday, the day of the final practice for the Italian Grand Prix. The great Austrian driver, Jochen Rindt, is on the verge of winning the biggest prize in all of motor sport: The F1 World Championship. Including Monza, there are four rounds to go, the other races being in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. But Jochen has a 20-point lead over Jack Brabham, with just four rounds to go, and none of the other drivers, bar Jacky Ickx in the Ferrari, are on winning form. In his revolutionary Lotus 72, he has won four of the last five races, ironically having to retiring due to mechanical failure in his home race in Austria a couple of weeks before. Although Jackie Stewart is my absolute hero, I am looking forward to Rindt wrapping up the title, as I am a massive fan of this incredibly exiting driver (To give you an example of his driving style, think of blending Ronnie Peterson with Gilles Villeneuve, and you are somewhere near), and a win at Monza, which is expected, will bring him right to the edge of doing so. My Father is also a great fan of the Austrian. I am in the sitting room with the TV on, and it is “World of Sport”. Suddenly I hear the presenter, Dickie Davies, mention the name “Jochen Rindt”, and I fully expect it to be followed by the words “is in pole position”; but I am wrong. “Jochen Rindt dies at Monza.” I immediately rush out into the front garden, where dad is edging the lawn, and tell him the news. With equal suddenness, he throws the shears to one side and comes bolting into the house to hear the rest of the report…
I had seen Jochen race several times; indeed, the very first big race I had been taken to, the Formula Two Guards Trophy on Bank Holiday Monday in 1967, was won by the Austrian. In Formula Two, he had already proved himself to be king. In 1970, I had seen him race three times; at the Brands Race of Champions where he finished second, The Alcoa Britain International Trophy for Formula Two cars, in which he won his heat but retired in the final while well in the lead, and the British grand Prix back at Brands, where he won following a great scrap with Jack Brabham which was resolved when the Australian ran out of petrol on the last lap. In the past he had always been fast but unlucky in F1, but that began to change when he joined Lotus at the beginning of 1969, although often expressing concern about the strength and safety of Colin Chapman’s designs, having had two massive crashes within months of joining the team.
At Monza in 1970, that luck was to run out again…for the last time. Approaching the Parabolica curve Jochen’s car swerved to the left under braking and crashed into the barrier, the wedge-shaped nose of the car sliding along under the barrier until it reached a supporting post, hitting it at great speed and sending it into a violent spin, and car and driver finally came to a halt in the sand trap. For reasons best known to himself, Jochen did not like fastening the crotch strap on his safety harness, and, as a result, he had “submarined” down into the cockpit upon impact, receiving terrible chest and throat injuries from the harness buckle. He was pronounced dead soon after.
I write this article not to sadden you, but to remember this great driver on the weekend that Formula One returns to Monza, forty-six years later. Thankfully nobody did go on to beat Jochen’s points score that year, and thus, to this day, he remains the first – and only – posthumous world champion. We salute you, champ.
Max Scott @MaxFalconScott