Died, F1 Legend

Jochen Rindt

Austrian

  • Mainz, Volksstaat Hessen, German Reich Place of Birth
  • 18 April 1942 Date of Birth
  • 1964 Austrian Grand Prix F1 Debut
  • Team Lotus Current/Last Team

In the record books, Jochen Rindt stands out as the only posthumous World Champion. Before his untimely death, Rindt had already carved out a memorable niche among racing heroes, known for his voracious appetite for raw racing and a daredevil driving style that was as thrilling as it was worrying to watch. Few matched his vigour and colourful character, and his fiercely determined and resolutely independent nature gave him a rough-and-tumble allure rarely seen before or since.

NationalityAustrian
BornKarl Jochen Rindt
18 April 1942
Mainz, Volksstaat Hessen, German Reich
Died5 September 1970 (aged 28)
Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Lombardy, Italy

Karl Jochen Rindt was born on April 18, 1942, in Mainz, Germany. Orphaned as an infant when his wealthy parents were killed in a bombing raid, he was adopted by his maternal grandparents and raised in Graz, Austria. As a headstrong youngster seemingly intent on defying authority, he continuously sought ways to indulge his passions for speed and competition, preferably accompanied by danger. He broke limbs in schoolboy ski races, and when he switched to motorised sports, he either crashed or won on his moped and motocross bike. He drove battered Volkswagens recklessly on public roads, often landing in trouble with the police. His rebellious streak led to expulsion from several private schools, causing his strait-laced grandparents—his grandfather, a prominent lawyer—to despair for his future.

Rindt’s deliberately unkempt appearance, including using pieces of string instead of laces to tie his battered shoes, made him seem intimidating. His flat boxer’s nose and abrupt manner of speaking made him seem extremely ambitious. Confident to the point of arrogance, he resolved while still in his teens to reach the pinnacle of motorsport.

His hero was Count Wolfgang von Trips, the aristocratic German driver whose death at Monza in 1961 did not dampen Rindt’s enthusiasm. He began racing touring cars and then single-seaters, crashing frequently and ending up in the hospital several times. Yet, these setbacks only strengthened his will to succeed. He personally financed his initial entries into more serious formula cars. In 1964, he went to England and bought a Formula Two Brabham for 4,000 pounds cash. In his second F2 race, at Crystal Palace, the British press reported that ‘an unknown Austrian’ had beaten the famous Graham Hill. Contemporary accounts noted the spectacular style that became Rindt’s trademark: ‘His car was sideways throughout the race, navigating corners at unbelievable angles as if always about to go off the road.’

Rindt soon became the man to beat in the fiercely competitive F2 series. In 1965, he signed a three-year Formula One contract with Cooper, whose cars weren’t competitive. However, Ferrari’s sportscars were, and Rindt, partnered by American Masten Gregory, drove a Ferrari 250LM to victory in the 1965 Le Mans 24 Hour race.

While enduring two more seasons in uncompetitive Coopers and another in an unreliable Brabham, Rindt pushed his machinery to its limits. Often appearing completely out of control, Rindt acknowledged that appearances were not deceiving. When asked how often he drove beyond his limits, he replied: “Did I ever drive within them?”

For 1969, Team Lotus founder Colin Chapman signed Rindt to partner reigning World Champion Graham Hill. Rindt quickly outpaced his illustrious teammate, but the Lotus 49 was as fragile as it was fast. Leading the Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuich Park, his car’s high rear wing collapsed, causing a crash that also involved Hill’s earlier-collapsed Lotus. Hill was unhurt, but Rindt suffered a concussion and a broken jaw, becoming an outspoken critic of Chapman’s cars, calling them unsafe and unreliable. However, he moderated his views after his first championship win at the 1969 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

His first win of 1970, and the greatest of his short career, came at Monaco in the outdated Lotus 49, as the new 72 model was not yet raceworthy. After spending much of the race in fifth place, retirements promoted Rindt to runner-up, 15 seconds behind Jack Brabham. Sensing victory, Rindt mounted a thrilling charge, breaking the lap record repeatedly. Brabham, distracted by the wildly careening Lotus in his mirrors, crashed into the barriers on the last corner of the last lap.

Rindt wept tears of joy as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace presented him with the winner’s trophy. In the following weeks, he mourned the deaths of his close friends Bruce McLaren and Piers Courage. Contemplating retirement for family reasons—Nina had presented him with a daughter, Natasha—he still drove as hard as ever, winning four consecutive races, including the Dutch Grand Prix, where Courage was killed, and the French, British, and German events.

On September 5, 1970, Rindt’s Lotus inexplicably crashed into a guardrail at Monza during practice for the Italian Grand Prix. His good friend and business manager Bernie Ecclestone was one of the first on the scene, leaving with only two sad souvenirs: a battered helmet and a single shoe thrown some distance from the wreckage.

The fatal accident occurred near the spot where his boyhood hero Wolfgang von Trips had been killed in 1961. At that time, von Trips was leading the championship, just as Rindt was now. But while von Trips was beaten to the title by his Ferrari teammate Phil Hill, Rindt, even after his death, remained the uncontested Drivers’ World Champion—a title he undeniably deserved.

Jochen Rindt Formula One World Championship career

F1 Career1964–1970
TeamsRob Walker (Privateer Brabham),
Cooper, Brabham, Lotus
Entries62 (60 starts)
Championships1 (1970)
Wins6
Podiums13
Career points107 (109)
Pole positions10
Fastest laps3
First entry1964 Austrian Grand Prix
First win1969 United States Grand Prix
Last win1970 German Grand Prix
Last entry1970 Italian Grand Prix

Sources: Formula1.com and Wikipedia.com

Teammates

Driver Nationality Current/Last Team F1 Debut Status
New Zealand McLaren 1958 German Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend
British Surtees 1971 Austrian Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend
Australian Brabham 1955 British Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend
British Brabham 1958 Monaco Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend
American Ferrari 1968 United States Grand Prix F1 Legend
Brazilian Fittipaldi 1970 British Grand Prix F1 Legend

Teams

Team Nationality Debut Season Status
Brabham British 1962 Historic
Cooper British 1950 Historic
Team Lotus British 1958 Historic