Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham, the combatants of the 1970 British Grand Prix, shared a star-crossed history. In their intertwined tale lies much of what shaped that tragic season. Their race-long dice around Brands Hatch on that day 50 years ago was the last time they’d get to go at it wheel-to- wheel. In hindsight, it makes that race, in which so many parallel and significant stories unfolded, all the more poignant.
Britain’s 1970 summer was long and hot. Brands Hatch was in gorgeously lush form in mid-July and on the sun-kissed morning of Saturday the 18th the car parks were already filling with Capris, Hunters, Vivas, Minis, Escorts, Zephyrs and the odd Jag, the crowds gathering for their home grand prix as the holiday season approached. Mungo Jerry’s paean to carefree indulgence in the glorious weather, In The Summertime, number one in the UK charts at that moment, might have been playing from those few cars fitted with radios as they were directed to the fields surrounding the ancient woodland through which the track picked its crazy off-cambered way. But beneath the happy scene was a dark undercurrent. This was already one of the sport’s most tragic seasons; F1 had recently lost Bruce McLaren and Piers Courage, the latter in an obscenely brutal and public way. Jackie Stewart and Rindt were increasingly militant in leading the GPDA, trying to drag F1 to a more civilised place, but against the grain of the entrenched old guard at the circuits and the governing body.
The contrast between the happy summer scene as F1 gathered at Brands and the psychological stresses of the drivers were profound. Stewart later talked of how he had lost all interest, how he was waking with fists clenched, how, “I’m in a state where other people’s compliments, their consideration for me doesn’t matter and I find myself wanting to stop. But I don’t have the guts.” Even tough old Jack Brabham, in what he and his family knew was his final year before retirement, was struggling with the stress and under considerable pressure from his wife and father to stop in the wake of the recent fatalities. Rindt had raced past his friend Courage’s dead body, entombed in a burnt- out car, for lap after lap at Zandvoort in giving the Lotus 72 its first win. His wife Nina had begged him to retire. In the immediate aftermath, he’d resolved to do so, but had since changed his mind as his winning streak seemed to be putting him on course for the world title he craved.