Jochen Rindt burst onto the international racing scene in 1964, when he beat a field full of Formula One stars in a F2 race at Crystal Palace in London. While he had racked up a couple of notable international victories (an overall victory at LeMans with Masten Gregory in 1965, a win in the first Trans-Am race at Sebring in 1966), by 1970, Rindt hadn’t really broken through at motor sport’s top level, Formula One….even though Rindt had torn up F2 to that point with 29 victories. What Rindt had done was develop a well earned reputation for fast, aggressive racing, an ambitious attitude that bordered on arrogance and a string of broken Cooper, Brabham and Lotus F1 cars in his wake.
Everything changed for Jochen Rindt in 1970, beginning at Monaco. Starting the race in the outdated Lotus 49C, the new Lotus 72 not quite race worthy, Rindt languished in 5th place for much of the race, well off the pace of race leader Jack Brabham. As attrition removed Chris Amon, Jackie Stewart, Jacky Ickx and Denny Hulme from contention, Rindt found himself in second place, 15 seconds behind Brabham. Sensing an opportunity for victory, Rindt charged wildly after Brabham, repeatedly smashing the fastest lap record in the process. For the veteran Brabham, the sight of Rindt’s careening Lotus looming ever closer in his mirrors proved such a distraction that on the last corner of the last lap Brabham got crossed up passing a back marker and crashed into the barriers, handing victory to Jochen Rindt.
The deaths of Rindt’s friends, Piers Courage and Bruce McLaren, along with the birth of a new daughter, Natasha, made Rindt decide to retire at season’s end. Yet this decision did not slow Rindt in the slightest as he reeled off consecutive victories in the French, German and British Grand Prix’s, in Lotus’s new 72.
Then came the fateful day of September 5, 1970. While practicing for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Rindt lost control under braking for the Parabolica, possibly caused by a disc failure, and his car turned left, straight into and under the barriers which were placed too high for the revolutionary wedge design of his Lotus 72. He was rushed to hospital, but died in route. Rindt had only recently agreed to wear a simple lap belt, and had slid underneath where the belt buckle cut his throat.
Because Rindt had won five of that year’s ten Grands Prix, his lead in the World Drivers Championship had become unassailable, and Rindt became Formula One’s first and, to date, only posthumous World Champion.
Jochen Rindt would have been 69 years old today.