1970 Monaco Grand Prix: A Reversal of Fortunes By: Jeremy McMullen
In gambling and sports there is one word that seems to be absolutely foundational to both—luck. Heading into the 1970 season Jack Brabham had had his share of luck. Jochen Rindt, on the other hand, seemed to have none of it. This would all change on the 10th of May, 1970.
Jochen Rindt had come into Formula One during the mid-1960s and was certainly fast straight-away. Often one of the quickest drivers on the circuit, Rindt would find his choice of teams to be his biggest letdown as the reliability of the cars he was driving was certainly less than adequate.
So Rindt would keep working hard and would turn a lot of his attention toward Formula 2. It would be here that his famous on the edge style of driving would become so well appreciated by his fellow peers and those that witnessed him in a race.
A perennial fan favorite, Rindt would struggle to earn podium finishes despite being faster than some of the best. Hardly anyone would be able to forget the incredible battle Rindt would have with his good friend Jackie Stewart in the 1969 British Grand Prix. These two would battle for the lead of the race 77 out of the 84 total laps. Often side-by-side through the corners, these two talented drivers would leave each other just enough room to be safe but neither would give in to the other. Over the course of those fantastic and memorable 77 laps there would be 30 lead changes between the two. They would leave everyone watching absolutely mesmerized. Unfortunately, Rindt would be the one left with problems within his Lotus that would cause him to lose out on the lead and end up 4th by the end of the race.
Stewart would recall the British Grand Prix with fond memories and would remark, 'It was a fantastic battle yet full of good humor. Occassionally we'd go through Beckett's or somewhere side by side, neither of us willing to give way, yet taking care always to give the other fellow room. And we'd come out of the corner and look across at each other.'
Rindt was always up for a fight on the track but was always considered one of the cleanest and smoothest drivers on the track. Yet, this would not result in victories, just thoughts of what might have been. People and other drivers just couldn't believe it. Everyone believed the Austrian's time was coming. And when it seemed to arrive, it would be stolen away by something or someone else.
Jack Brabham, old 'Black Jack', seemed to be flush with luck. Upon arriving in England in the middle 1950s Brabham would somehow kind of work his way into the Cooper team. After a very brief foray on his own he would return to Cooper and would begin to work closely with the designers and engineers. The result would be that Brabham not only earned his first World Championship victory in 1959 but would go on to take the Drivers' Championship honors as well.
This success in 1959 would lead to an utterly dominant 1960 season in which he would score five straight wins and would take the championship for a second straight year after beating his teammate Bruce McLaren by nearly 10 points.
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Soon after, Brabham would leave Cooper and would start his own team building his own grand prix cars. Success could not have been expected right away, and yet, in just the team's second year of existence the duo of Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney would lead the Brabham Formula One team to the podium no fewer than four times and would end up 3rd in the Constructors' Championship standings.
Following a couple of victories in 1964 and some more podium finishes in 1965, Brabham would embark on his third and final World Championship season winning four straight races toward the middle of the year and beating John Surtees for the title by the not so insignificant margin of nearly 15 points.
Brabham seemed able to achieve the kind of results everyone expected Rindt to have after just his first couple of seasons in Formula One, but it just never came. But then there was the 1969 United States Grand Prix. In that race, Brabham would finish a little more than 2 laps behind while Rindt would take his first-ever World Championship victory. To many, it seemed things had changed for Rindt, but the start of the 1970 would seem to prove otherwise.
The start of the 1970 season would see Jack Brabham return to Formula One when he had told his wife he was done. A lack of competitive drivers, especially when they couldn't lure Rindt to Brabham, led to the Australian making the decision to return for one more year.
Amazingly, in the very first race of the season, the South African Grand Prix, Brabham would come through to take the victory while Rindt would be found not running at the finish. It seemed as though nothing had changed. Following a retirement in the Spanish Grand Prix Brabham would no longer hold onto the lead in the standings, but he would only be 4 points behind Stewart whereas Rindt would have absolutely no points whatsoever to his tally. But then came the Monaco Grand Prix.
Monaco. The crown jewel of the French Riviera, the tiny principality is also certainly the crown jewel of Formula One. Dominated by casinos and high-end hotels, yachts and shopping, Monaco is all about money and influence. Perhaps no place on earth is there the clearest image of those who have. And perhaps nowhere else on earth is there such the reminder of hopelessness to those who have not.
It was truly fitting. Rindt had never won in Monaco, Brabham had. In fact, prior to 1970, Rindt had never even finished a race on the tight and twisty streets. It certainly didn't seem as though anything special would happen for Rindt heading into the race, certainly nothing that would help to reverse his fortunes so much.
Measuring 1.95 miles in length, the Circuit de Monaco would be a circuit out of place in Formula One already by 1970s standards. Lined with Armco barriers and with pitfalls all around, the circuit provided absolutely no room for error and magnified even the slightest error in judgment or lack of concentration.
Rindt and Brabham didn't even seem to figure into the equation all that much following practice and qualifying. Heading into the beginning of the season the revolutionary Lotus 72 was a little delayed in being finished and in the form in which it would be completed Rindt would find the car terribly uncomfortable. As a result, Rindt would not be willing to drive the new car and would often demand the old Lotus 49. Since the 72s had just made their first appearance, Chapman and others at Lotus would make the decision to come to Monaco with the much older 49s.
At the end of qualifying Stewart would be the fastest around the tight Monaco streets having posted a time of 1:24.0 and averaging some 83 mph. Chris Amon would join Stewart on the front row having posted a lap time six-tenths of a second slower. Jack Brabham would find himself on the second row of the grid in the 4th position while Jochen Rindt would be way down in 8th place having posted a time just under 2 seconds slower than Stewart's best. It had been a terrible practice and qualifying for the Lotus team and the prospects for the race didn't appear to be any better.
The day of the race would break with overcast skies and the fear of a rainy day of racing. However, the skies would soon part and absolutely beautiful conditions would envelope the area around the principality. The crowd would already be assembled all over the circuit looking down from the steep cliffs and from the rooftops of the buildings surrounding the circuit.
The flag would drop to start the race and the crowd would watch as Stewart led the field through Sainte Devote for the first time. It had been a rather hectic start for Stewart who had stalled his car on the grid and would frantically try to get it to re-fire before the drop of the flag. Following along behind Stewart would be Amon in 2nd place. Brabham would make a terrific start and would end up jumping Hulme for 3rd while Ickx and Jean-Pierre Beltoise battled for 4th. Rindt would use his considerable talents to get by Pescarolo at the start and would be in 7th place.
Through the first few laps it would be Stewart leading the way over Chris Amon. Brabham would be still sitting in 3rd while Beltoise managed to get by Ickx for 4th. Rindt had stayed ahead of Pescarolo through the first couple of laps but would be unable to hold him off for very long. Soon, Rindt would be back in 8th place seemingly stuck there.
Very little would change in the top eight with the exception of Ickx's retirement due to a driveshaft failure. This would move Rindt up to 7th place by the natural order of things but it would do little else.
Over the next few laps of the 80 lap race the complexion of the race would change a great deal. John Surtees, Bruce McLaren and Beltoise would all be out by the 25th lap of the race. As a result of Beltoise's retirement Rindt would be up to 6th place. Then came the trouble with Stewart.
Stewart had been building upon his margin over Amon when his Cosworth engine suddenly began to develop a misfire. Immediately his pace would be lost. So too would be his lead. In one lap he would go from the lead to last. Chris Amon and been beaten out for position by Brabham only a few laps before. And so, Brabham would find himself in the lead of the race. It seemed providence and fortune was smiling down on the Australian this day. Rindt, on the other hand, was embroiled in a battle with Pescarolo finding the tight circuit very difficult to make a pass.
By the halfway mark, Brabham would still be in the lead and would be building upon his advantage. Amon would still be running in the 2nd spot while Rindt would begin pressuring Hulme for 3rd after getting by Pescarolo only laps earlier.
Brabham would look absolutely indomitable. It would seem as though the man who had just come back out of necessity was as destined as anyone to challenge for the title in 1970. Meanwhile, Hulme would begin to lose ground to the leaders and would fall into the clutches of Rindt. It wouldn't take Rindt too long before he would take over Hulme's position.
While aware of some of what was going on behind him, Brabham's pace would seem to be such that he had little need to be concerned. But when Rindt took over 3rd place he would begin to mount a charge toward the front that would soon see him close on Amon for 2nd. Once again, the Austrian was showing everyone what made him so popular. Flying between the Armco, Rindt would be catching Amon and Brabham.
Brabham still seemed in total control, but then Amon would suddenly run out of luck himself when his rear suspension failed after 61 laps. Just 19 laps remained and Rindt would be in 2nd place and gaining ground on Brabham.
Heading into the final 10 laps of the race Rindt would be gaining ground on Brabham and would move ever closer with every passing corner and lap. It was clear the Austrian was applying the pressure to the Australian, but Brabham had set what would be the fastest lap of the race earlier on and Rindt had always had his troubles. And so, it seemed Brabham had the younger Rindt well covered.
The crowd would yell with excitement as in the final 5 laps of the race there would be nothing more than a couple of seconds separating the two drivers. Sliding the Lotus sideways in his usual precise manner, Rindt could smell victory, but getting by Brabham would not be an easy proposition, not with the Monaco Grand Prix at stake.
Heading into the final lap, Brabham would have other problems besides the Austrian following along just a few car lengths behind him. Fuel would be running low in the Brabham and Jack would be forced to weave the car back and forth to make sure the pump picked up every available drop. While weaving back and forth to get every last drop of fuel, Brabham would also be coming around Tabac with a slower car just up ahead of him. Pressured in front, in back and within, Brabham would make one terrible mistake in judgment and would miss his braking point into the Gazometre hairpin, the final corner before the checkered flag.
Chaos would ensue. While Brabham's nose was buried in the Armco, Rindt would slip through and around the hairpin. Powering out of the hairpin the victory was his. But the man with the checkered flag was expecting Brabham. Rindt would flash by and would end up powering his way around for yet another lap questioning whether or not he had in fact won the race on the last lap. Finally, Brabham would reverse his Brabham and would power his way toward the line. It would then dawn on everybody at the finish line that he had thrown it all away and that the actual winner had already gone by. By the time he had made it halfway around the circuit the situation had been rectified and the crowd of crews and fans would begin to stream onto the track to great the popular driver as he appeared around the Gas Works hairpin one more time. Greeted with Chapman's iconic leap, the victory in Monaco would prove to be the launching pad for Rindt's World Championship hopes.
Just like that, and fittingly in a place where fortunes mean everything, the fortunes for Brabham and Rindt would change. After running out of fuel in the British Grand Prix and thereby handing victory, once again, to Rindt, Brabham's 1970 season would take a dramatic downhill turn. Meanwhile Rindt's season would only continue to get better, at least until Monza. Then, of course, what little bit of luck Rindt did manage to find would come crashing down hard, but nonetheless, providence would prove to be with Rindt just long enough to overcome the perpetual disappointment to enable him to take his place among the great Formula One World Champions. And to think this reversal of fortunes would come in one moment, at one seemingly conventional hairpin corner. Just one twist in the road and everything changed.
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