|Karl Jochen Rindt|
|Jochen Rindt: Faster Than Good Fortune|
|by Jeremy McMullen|
| At the 1969 British Grand Prix a titanic duel would erupt between two talented and fast drivers. Lap after lap, corner after corner, these two would do battle. Often side-by-side, exchanging glances, these two combatants would capture the imaginations of on-lookers the world over. In the end, it would be mechanical maladies that would bring an end to the display nobody wanted to see finish. One would become victor, the other the frustrated loser. However, when it was all said and done it would be the loser that captured the imaginations of all that witnessed the events, even the victor himself. Such was the talent, and reality if you will, of Jochen Rindt.|
Karl Jochen Rindt would be born in April, 1942 in Mainz, Germany. It would be the height of German occupation of Europe, but it would also be a very dangerous time. The United States would just be entering the war and would begin their daylight bombing campaigns over mainland Europe. While still an infant, the bombing raids over Germany would increase. Unfortunately for Jochen his parents would be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rindt's parents would end up being killed as a result of the bombing raid leaving Jochen to be raised by his grandparents in Graz, Austria.
By the time Rindt was in his teen years the new Formula One World Championship was just beginning. Motor racing in post-war Europe would attract a wide audience and would cause more than one child to dream of motor sport glory. But Rindt wouldn't just dream about it; he would pursue it with every fiber of his being.
As Formula One entered the mid-to-late 1950s and early '60s Rindt would find a hero, his own source of inspiration to further push him onwards toward his motor racing goals. Wolfgang von Trips would be a shining star in the world of Formula One. Talented and fast, von Trips had great potential, and yet, difficulty and failure never seemed far away. In this regard it would be absolutely amazing how much Rindt emulated his fellow German racer. Of course, the irony between these two German racers would only become deeper as time went on.
Though born in Germany, Rindt would pursue a superlicense under Austrian nationality. And, with license in hand, the young Rindt would quickly make his way up through the lower ranks of motor racing. Supported by his grandparents, Rindt would very quickly make his way to Formula 2 and it would be at the 1964 London Trophy race held at Crystal Palace that Rindt would shock many a well known driver and earn a name for himself.
Jochen would enter the London Trophy race under the Austrian Ford Motor Co. name. He would be at the wheel of a Cosworth-powered Brabham and would find himself going up against the likes of Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Denis Hulme. Full of confidence and determination, Rindt would put together a truly impressive performance and would fight tooth and nail to hold off Hill for the victory by a second and a half. Rindt had exploded onto the scene in such a short time that his victory at Crystal Palace wouldn't even include his name in British press just some ‘unknown Austrian'. Rindt had only taken part in a handful of Formula 2 races prior to this victory, but it was clear Rindt certainly belonged to that special class of racing driver.
The victory in London would go a long way to attracting attention Rindt's way. It wouldn't take very long at all before he would be getting offers to race in Formula One. Eager to jump into Formula One, Rindt would take a drive with Rob Walker Racing in his home grand prix.
The Austrian Grand Prix n 1964 would still be in the midst of the 1.5-liter years of Formula One. Because of these regulations some teams would try and get away with entering Formula 2 cars since there wasn't too much difference between the two classes at the time. Entering a Brabham BT11 with a V8 BRM engine, this would be exactly what Rindt would find when he showed up for the race at Zeltweg.
Already at a disadvantage, Rindt would be forced to do what he would become famous for in that he would have to take hold of the car and absolutely push it beyond its limits. He would do just that as he would end up qualifying for his first Formula One World Championship race with a time just a little more than two seconds slower than Graham Hill's pole-winning effort.
Despite an impressive performance in qualifying, Rindt's first race would result in another unfortunate trademark that would never fully escape him for the rest of his life. In spite of showing great natural talent, problems with the steering on the Brabham would lead to his retirement just past the halfway mark in the race.
Although he would only take part in the one Formula One race in 1964, Rindt's Formula One career was set into motion. Unfortunately, a continual cycle of poor choices would also seem to come as part of the deal.
Moving to the Cooper Car Company for 1965, Rindt would experience some strong results including a couple of points-paying results in the German and United States Grand Prix. The following year, 1966, Rindt would really come on strong finishing in 2nd place at the Belgian and United States Grand Prix and finishing 3rd in the Drivers' Championship standings with 22 points.
In spite of the strong results scored with Cooper in 1966, Rindt wouldn't be able to recognize when it was time to move on and the next two seasons would see the Austrian finish just 4 of 22 races. And out of those 22 races, Rindt would start 10th or better in 19 of them. In fact, in 1968, an absolutely terrible year for Rindt, he would start on the front row, or on pole, nearly a half dozen times.
Certainly struggling in Formula One, Rindt would join a band of top-flight drivers taking part in Formula 2 races. It would be in this environment that the true genius of Jochen would become apparent and his respect amongst some of the other great drivers of that time would only increase.
In the world of Formula 2, Rindt's driving genius would be phenomenal. Sideways around corners, taking trajectories seemingly impossible to maintain throughout the whole of a race, Rindt would become one of the best, if not the absolute best on a given day.
His supremacy was never more established than in 1967 when he would take victory in the first three Formula 2 events of the year. Then at the Gran Premio de Barcelona, held at Montjuic Park, Rindt's streak would come to an end, but he would still finish 2nd behind Jim Clark.
Over the course of the 1967 season, while driving for Roy Winkelmann Racing, Rindt would score no less than 9 victories earning him a fearsome reputation on the track, a reputation that actually attracted other drivers to him.
Over the course of his short career, Rindt would have more than one battle with soon-to-be three-time World Champion Jackie Stewart. On and off the track these two would be best of friends. Both men would live in Switzerland and would actually be neighbors separated by just a couple of hundred meters. The two men would enjoy life together with their families. They would laugh together and just enjoy life. Stewart and some of the other drivers would get to know Rindt in a way the public was never shown by the Austrian. Appearing abrupt and unapproachable, Jochen would be anything but to his grand prix friends.
But on the track, Rindt would show his fierce and fiery side. Not one to back down when he got his dander up, Rindt would provide motor racing fans one of the most memorable moments in Formula One history when he and Stewart battled lap after lap during the 1969 British Grand Prix. While hugely competitive, Rindt would show the other side of himself to his fellow drivers through his utmost respect and professionalism on the track. But the result of that pairing of competitive drive with huge respect would be performances and races that would leave people shaking their heads in awe.
More than one time Rindt and his good friend Stewart would be pitted in an epic duel. People would stand back and watch in amazement as these two professionals would show each other the greatest amount of respect but would often be side-by-side going through corners, neither one willing to back out of the throttle. Over the course of their titanic battle for the lead in the 1969 British Grand Prix the would change hands some 30 times! People had the opportunity to watch two of the absolute best driving with their individual styles that would absolutely make them famous.
Stewart was known, as was Jim Clark, for a smooth, fluid style of driving. And with each and every lap of the '69 British Grand Prix this is what people witnessed from the Scot. Smooth and fast, Stewart made it look easy. Rindt, on the other hand, driving with his usual absolute abandon, would exhibit car control that even Stewart admired. It would be a show for the ages and it would forever place Rindt in the category as one of the world's greatest.
Seemingly always struggling to find a team with a car that could last or that was a constant underachiever, Rindt would hone his car control skills that would make him an absolute crowd favorite. This was certainly exciting for the world of Formula One, but such a driving style certainly wouldn't have seemed ideally suited to endurance sportscar racing. But then again, this was Jochen Rindt.
Rindt would take home more than one victory in endurance sportscar racing. Partnering with Jo Bonnier he would take the class win and a 3rd overall result in the 1965 1000 Kilometers of Nurburgring. Actually, this class victory would spark a run of four-straight overall wins in sportscar races including an overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Driving a Ferrari 250LM for the NART team, Rindt would be partnered with Masten Gregory and Ed Hugus for the 24 hour race. After starting the race from the 11th spot on the grid the trio would go on to score a dominant victory beating the Ferrari of Pierre Dumay and Gustave Gosselin by no fewer than 5 laps.
In 1969, Rindt would take part in just two sportscar races and would be victorious in both of them. Following these two victories Rindt would place all of his focus into Formula One. And he would have good reason to do so.
While the relationship would remain frosty right up to the very day of his death, Rindt would not pass up the opportunity to join the Lotus team and its revolutionary captain Colin Chapman.
Despite his out-right speed and talent, Rindt was still to achieve a victory in Formula One. Lotus certainly seemed to offer the Austrian the best chance. And so, despite his reservations, Rindt would join the team intent on scoring victories and giving himself the best chance at a World Championship.
The two years in which Rindt would drive for Lotus the public could not have found two approaches to motor racing any more on opposite ends of the spectrum. Chapman was a revolutionary car-builder that believed in the car making up a lot of the equation of what a championship winning team should be. Rindt on the other hand, after having years of Formula 2 and underachieving Formula One cars, had become used to wrestling with a car to get it perform at its absolute best. Therefore, technology took a far backseat to the driver's natural talent.
While Rindt would end the season with the same number of points he scored with Cooper back in 1966, the Lotus 49B certainly seemed to be of the older mold that suited Jochen's approach. These two, when they finally came together as one, would become a potent combination and would eventually lead to Rindt scoring his first Formula One World Championship victory in the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen toward the end of the 1969 season. And then of course there was the incredible race at Silverstone in the British Grand Prix that takes its place in Formula One history as one of the most intense and greatest performances of all time.
When asked later in his life how 'frequently he drove beyond his limits' Rindt would reply, 'Did I ever drive within them?' Jackie Stewart would say of Rindt, 'Jochen was one of the top two or three drivers in the world…' But the fact he still didn't have a World Championship to his name said something about his choice of teams and cars throughout his career. But then again, it also said something about him. He was fast, but perhaps too fast for good fortune. Perhaps there was something to Chapman's approach of having more of a balance between car and driver. The question heading into the 1970 season, however, would be whether or not Rindt would believe it to be true or not.
Toward the end of the 1969 season Lotus began to build its new and revolutionary 72 chassis. Chapman would be obviously very enthusiastic about the car. Rindt, on the other hand, would be less than enthusiastic. Not believing in the technological age as much as Chapman, Jochen would determine he wanted the older Lotus 49 for the first race of the season. However, following a 13th place finish in the South African Grand Prix, Rindt would decide to go with the 72 for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Following a retirement in the Spanish Grand Prix Jochen would be adamant about continuing to use the 49. After an incredible performance in which he chased down Jack Brabham and took the win on the last corner of the last lap of the race it seemed Rindt had made the correct choice. But Chapman didn't see it that way.
The Belgian Grand Prix followed the Monaco Grand Prix. Rindt would qualify in the middle of the front row for the race. However, during the race engine problems would bring Rindt's race to an end. It would also spell the end for the solid and stable 49. Chapman believed he had a faster car in the 72 and that it was time to get on with it.
Rindt would not enjoy the handling and feel of the 72 but he would soon come to grips with the car. The result would be four-straight victories following his retirement in the Belgian Grand Prix. It would also result in a 20 point lead in the championship standings. It seemed Rindt was finally on course for his first World Championship. But then came Monza and the Italian Grand Prix.
Following a retirement in his home grand prix, Rindt still had an advantage of 20 points over Jack Brabham. However, the victory scored by Jacky Ickx meant there were now five drivers with a chance at the title. Just four races remained. The Italian Grand Prix would be very important.
The Autodromo Nazionale Monza was one of the fastest circuits in the world despite being a road course. It was not the kind of place a driver wanted to feel uncomfortable in his car, and that is exactly what Rindt felt like behind the wheel of the 72C. He would tell Chapman and others he wanted the more stable 49 for the race. But, upon arriving at the circuit, he would find 72s being unloaded.
Lapping the Monza circuit at speed Rindt wouldn't be alone in his concerns about the 72. John Miles would come into the pits following a practice session and would be nearly scared to death. Lotus had been slower at Monza in the past. As a result, the 72s would not have wings attached to improve straight-line speed. To Miles and others this made the car very unstable at high speeds. Rindt, showing his ability to forget and get down to the job at hand, would come in after practice and would declare nothing. And so, the team would look toward qualifying without any thoughts of tragedy.
Rindt's hero growing up had been Wolfgang von Trips. During the 1961 Italian Grand Prix he would touch wheels with Jim Clark and would veer off to the left into an earthen bank. The crash would be catastrophic taking the lives of von Trips and a number of spectators. Approaching the Curva Parabolica in qualifying, the same section of track in which von Trips lost his life, the irony would begin to play out.
Before his death at the Hockenheimring, Jim Clark had been just one of a group of friends that also included Jackie Stewart and Jochen Rindt. And here, at the same place that had taken his hero less than a decade earlier, Rindt would suddenly have his Lotus 72 veer to the left and end up crashing in the space between two barriers. The car would turn violently and would finally end up coming to a rest back on the track, but with the front end of the car completely torn away.
The fear of fire had always been the biggest threat in the minds of the drivers. Therefore, Rindt was one of those that had gotten into the habit of only using four of the five points in the harness. Unfortunately, because of the head on crash Rindt would slide down through the belts and would suffer severe damage from the belts to his neck.
The loss would be shocking to more than just the Lotus team. The fans had lost a favorite and Stewart had lost yet another friend. In response to the Austrian's death the Lotus team would withdraw from the race. The race itself would go on.
Jacky Ickx would earn the victory at the Canadian Grand Prix and threatened Rindt's lead in the World Championship standings. And this is where the last bit of irony would come into play.
Jochen Rindt had scored his first World Championship victory in the United States Grand Prix held on Watkins Glen. In 1970, if Jacky Ickx did not take the victory then the United States Grand Prix would be the determiner for Rindt to become World Champion.
During the race, Stewart would do what he could for his friend by amassing a lead of one minute over Ickx and the rest of the field. But then there would be smoke trailing behind the Tyrrell. It would grow worse and worse until Stewart retired with just a little more than 20 laps remaining. This would be a little reminiscent of Rindt.
So it would be up to providence. And providence would come through. Ickx had been fast all weekend and would be on an absolute terror in the very late stages of the race, but a pit stop to repair a broken fuel line would seal his fate. Rindt, even in death, had done it!
Though honored with the World Championship, Rindt was still gone from Formula One. It would be a loss that would hit the Formula One community hard. The sport had lost its great champion Jim Clark just a couple of years earlier. And here with Rindt's death, very much the peoples' champion because of his flair and car-control, there would be nobody to celebrate. He was already gone; his party was only just beginning. All that would be left would be a life and career that came and went entirely too soon. It then seemed possible Rindt was too fast for life itself.Benson, Andrew. 'Formula 1's Greatest Drivers. Number 20: Jochen Rindt', (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/17319968). Sport Formula 1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/17319968. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
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Wikipedia contributors, 'Jochen Rindt', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 March 2013, 04:48 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jochen_Rindt&oldid=543345397 accessed 20 April 2013