F1 success was slow to come, but in F2 the spectacular Jochen Rindt set the benchmark – even for Clark and Stewart
By Paul Fearnley
It was the ‘Summer of Shove’ – for Jim Clark at least. All-of-a-sudden Cosworth DFV shove. Most powerful engine, world’s best driver and most advanced car – the just-bolt-it-on-the-back, still-a-bit-twitchy Lotus 49: no contest. From June 4, when he dominated the Dutch GP, albeit in a nursing way – crabby clutch, snapping throttles and shaky timing gears – Formula 1 had a new parameter. Clark led all eight of 1967’s remaining Grands Prix and won three of them (reliability was the weak point). They also brought him six poles and three fastest laps. After a gap season using stretched Coventry Climaxes and bulging BRM H16s, he was unquestionably back on top – except on points.
His F1 pretenders, meanwhile, were sinking slowly, dragged down by a pair of ‘blunder buses’: a Cooper-Maserati and a BRM H16, even the ‘lightweight’ T86 and P115 versions. That’s why that season’s Formula 2 was so important to them.
“I’m sure there was immense frustration,” says Jackie Stewart on Jochen Rindt’s behalf. “His success in F2 definitely kept him sane in motor racing terms. It was the same for me. Doing well in F2 was vital to keeping our reputations up there. And if winning meant beating Jim Clark in the process, so much the better.”
F2 in 1967 – the first season of the 1600s (in place of the banshee 1-litres) and of the European Championship for non-graded drivers, i.e. up-and-comers – was a lip-smacker: Jimmy, Jackie, Jochen; Lotus 48, Matras MS5 and MS7, Brabham BT23; Firestones, Dunlops, Firestones and (once) Goodyears; all tied together by a common thread – the 220bhp four-cylinder twin-cam FVA, a DFV minus its other half. This meant Clark was within reach in F2.
Rindt had already made an impact, at the 1963 Monaco Formula Junior event: pink trousers, red shirt, E-type tow car, fourth in his heat, and fifth in the final – until his ageing, Ecurie Vienne-run Cooper T59’s Ford engine croaked. But he ‘arrived’ in F2 in 1964 at Crystal Palace, via Mallory Park. Driving the Ford Austria-backed Brabham BT10 originally earmarked for his friend, compatriot and FJ team-mate Curt (sic) Bardi-Barry, who had been killed in a February road accident, a mature, albeit distant fourth behind Clark, Richard Attwood and Mike Spence in April’s Eifelrennen had marked Rindt out from the ordinary. What happened next was extraordinary. The just-turned-22-year-old in the green helmet would make it a Whit weekend to remember.
Works Brabham driver Denny Hulme, not always a grizzly bear, agreed to show Rindt the line around Mallory – and no doubt cursed his generosity when the German-born Austrian grabbed pole for Sunday’s 30-lap Grovewood Trophy. Rindt fluffed his start, though, and normality was resumed. But although the Ron Harris-run Lotuses of Clark and Peter Arundell secured a one-two, the interloper wouldn’t go away, slicing through a field that included an impressed Alan Rees in Roy Winkelmann Racing’s BT10, to finish third.
Rees got another good look at Crystal Palace on Monday. Drawn together in the second 20-lap heat of the London Trophy, the Welshman who had a reputation of being a Palace specialist led and set fastest lap, quickest of either heat. But Rindt, who had passed him by the second lap, got the nod even though they were credited with the same time.
Yeah, but the earlier heat had been loaded with stars – and its winner, Graham Hill, bristling with confidence in John Coombs’ Cooper T71, was on pole for the 40-lap final. Rees led away, only to be passed by Hill on lap two, and by Rindt on lap three.
“Jochen had tremendous natural ability,” says Rees. “You could tell immediately that he was special. People always talk about Jimmy Clark and Jackie Stewart, but I reckon Jochen had as much ability as they did. The one difference was that Jochen could be susceptible to being in the right mood. There were days when he didn’t seem to have his heart in it.” But today wasn’t one of them, and he began to catch Hill.
The Londoner was grappling with understeer caused by a broken rear anti-roll bar and was unable to prevent Rindt taking the lead on lap 15. He made the move look easy, but it wasn’t: Rees spent the remaining 25 laps stuck behind elbows-out Graham. Rindt, meanwhile, having set fastest lap, eased off – he was no hothead – and counted down the laps to the rest of his life.
Things moved quickly thereafter. He made his Formula 1 debut at the Austrian GP in August – qualifying Rob Walker’s Brabham BT11-BRM 13th (out of 20) and retiring after 58 laps, the lumpen Zeltweg airfield circuit having done for its steering – and by early 1965 he’d signed a three-year F1 contract with Cooper. He’d made big changes in F2 as well.
“At the end of 1964 Jochen and I decided to pool our resources,” says Rees. “John Muller, my fantastic mechanic, said he knew somebody just as good back home in New Zealand, and that’s how we came to employ Pete Kerr. He was fantastic, too.” Thus was created the most famous F2 outfit of them all: Rindt-era Roy Winkelmann Racing.
“Jochen was a great driver to work for,” says Muller. “He could drive consistently near the limit without making mistakes and he was sensitive to the most minute changes. At one race he came into the pits because of a vibration. We couldn’t locate it at the time and felt it unwise to continue. We eventually found the fault: a minute piece had broken from the magnesium spacer in the multi-plate clutch. It weighed so little that an average driver would not have felt it. Jochen was one of those few drivers who stand above the rest.”
The team’s paymaster was a mysterious – a criminologist with CIA connections, so the story went – and multifarious, British-born businessman based in the US.
“Roy had moved to America as a young man and been very successful,” says Rees. “Then he started opening businesses in the UK. He made armoured cars, security-type vehicles, and also had a ten-pin bowling alley in Slough – our team was based underneath it. He sponsored us, was very hot on presentation – our cars were always immaculate – but basically left me to run the team for him.”
Though usually outpaced by Rindt – “he was a second a lap quicker!” – Rees was a handy pedaller, quick enough to help his team-mate to ‘beat up’ Clark at Reims in July.
Rees: “At Enna [Sicily, the following month] Jochen said, ‘I think it’s your turn to win one.’ So we slipstreamed around and pulled right away from everybody. Towards the end, however, I developed a slight engine problem. But Jochen backed off, continued to give me a tow, and slowed to let me win.”
Rindt’s single-seater career had plateaued in 1965: Cooper’s F1 T77 was uncompetitive (although team leader Bruce McLaren comfortably outstripped Rindt), while he won just twice in a wide-open season of F2: only Clark won more. But in 1966 a succession of brilliant GP drives in the new Cooper T81-Maserati V12, a more competitive combination in the first season of the 3-litre formula than it would be in the second, brought Rindt two seconds, a third, two fourths, a fifth – and third in the points standings.
He was just as mercurial and consistent in F2. But even he couldn’t work miracles. He scored a runaway win at the Eifelrennen in April, but otherwise ran into an insurmountable obstacle: Jack Brabham’s twin-cam four-valve Brabham-Honda, to which Rindt’s single-cam two-valve Ford-powered BT18 had no answer. The Aussie, in his year of years, won 12 F2 races (including heats).
“That year we tried to keep our winning margins as small as possible to avoid destroying the formula,” says Brabham designer Ron Tauranac. “But in the final race of the season [the Motor Show 200 at Brands Hatch in late October] Jack was leading when he got baulked by a backmarker and Jochen passed him and pipped him on the line.”
The precocious and ferocious Rindt had never given up.
“Jochen was part of the car,” says New Zealander John Martin, the replacement for – and future brother-in-law of – the McLaren-bound Muller. “We travelled to test days in his Alfa Giulietta and, without appearing reckless, in wet or dry, he would scythe through traffic in such a relaxed way you could have sworn they all knew he was coming and made way for him.
“On the track, we were lucky to have a thinking driver like Alan [Rees] to set up the car, pick the gear ratios (both cars would be different) and plan the strategy. Jochen would not question the set-up, just get in and drive to win after win. He had a natural talent the like of which we may never see again.”
“1967 was the best year of F2,” says Rees. “A new formula, a new start. Jackie and Jimmy were both around, and Jochen dominated. That tells you how good he was.”
Rindt won four races before the end of March, but then Clark, whose tax situation prevented him racing in Britain, turned up at Pau in April. He took pole in his works Lotus 48 and led from the start – only to be passed, in front of the main grandstand at the end of lap one, by Rindt, who waltzed to victory. Clark would finish fourth after losing a lap because of two pitstops, one to have his brake fluid topped up, the other to secure a loose wheel.
The pair met again the following weekend at Montjuich Park, where Clark turned the tables by winning comfortably from pole. Rindt came second after spinning down to seventh on lap 11.
Their third April meeting resulted in another Rindt win, at a snow-hit Eifelrennen. Clark had secured pole by four-tenths on the little-used Sudschleife, but started minus top gear. He plugged on until halted by a duff metering unit after 10 laps.
A lull followed, if you can call the Monaco GP, Indy 500 and Le Mans a lull, and they didn’t pick up their F2 cudgels again until Reims in June – which is when Stewart made his move. He’d been hampered by various problems – fuel starvation at Snetterton, iffy handling and a broken clutch at Pau, a fractured brake pipe at Montjuich Park – and the new, more svelte MS7 was not yet to his satisfaction. But he put his boxy, Ken Tyrrell-run MS5 on pole in Champagne country and finished six-tenths behind Rindt after 191 miles. That gap, though, was sufficient to allow Hill’s Lotus 48 and the Lola T100 of John Surtees to squeeze between them. It had been another humdinger – yet Rindt appeared to be in control throughout. He even chose to lead exiting the final corner, a supposed slipstreaming no-no. Surprisingly, Clark had become detached from the lead group, despite setting fastest lap, before retiring with a broken gear selector rod.
Even more surprisingly, at Rouen a fortnight later, Clark spun having failed to detect a deflating rear tyre, and was collected by Jack Brabham’s BT23. Rindt also spun, but recovered sufficiently to pressure Stewart into a crash at three-quarter distance.
There seemed nothing Rindt couldn’t do (in F2): lead from the front, charge from the back, or mastermind a jostling pack. And he did it all in a crowd-pleasing style. “I don’t think he was putting on a show, though,” says Rees.
He won again, in front of an adoring home crowd at Tulln-Langenlebarn’s Flugplatzrennen. Clark set fastest lap, but Rindt was ahead when the rear suspension of the Scot’s Lotus was smashed by a chunk of concrete thrown up by a front tyre.
“I do reckon we had the best car,” says Rees, “certainly better than the Lotus 48. There were no particular tweaks with our chassis or engine, it was just a very good car, very well prepared and extremely well driven by Jochen.”
The 48 was a mix of monocoque cockpit and spaceframe engine bay. It was pretty, but somewhat hit and miss. The BT23 was more straightforward – spaceframe, outboard front springs – and seemed to work everywhere. A tipping point was coming, however.
At the end of July Rindt made his first costly mistake, spinning at Jarama and retiring with simultaneously punctured tyres. Clark spun, won and set fastest lap, but Stewart, finally installed in a MS7, had led until his Dunlops suffered more than Clark’s Firestones on an increasingly dusty and oily track. The exquisitely-built monocoque Matra was coming on strong, and three weeks later Stewart beat Rindt in a terrific scrap at Karlskoga in Sweden, where Clark, who had admitted during the season that his penchant for first-lap blitzes had given way to a more wait-and-see approach, tailed away in third. If he’d been waiting for the tyros to take each other off, he was sorely disappointed.
“Jochen and I had fantastic dices. We were friends and respected each other,” says Stewart. “You could trust him. Even if he went totally sideways in front of you, you knew he wouldn’t lose it.
“But even so, making sideways happen is a waste of energy. Even if you’re not into the ‘oh shit! zone’ because you have the experience and reactions to deal with it, it’s still eating into what I call creative time. You need to be dispassionate enough to plan – even at 150mph.
“Jochen was unquestionably exciting. The fans loved him for it. Often you thought, ‘He can’t keep that up’. But, of course, he usually did. Yet when I saw him driving like that, I felt confident I could beat him. I didn’t always do so, but it was a strong mental position to be in.
“Those F2 cars were like toys. You could do whatever you wanted with them; Jochen certainly did. But you couldn’t drive the 3-litre F1 cars like that – at least I didn’t think so. Jim Clark could have driven an F2 in the same way as Jochen, I could have driven an F2 in the same way as Jochen, but we chose not to. We didn’t think it was the quickest way.”
Even so, Rindt wiped Stewart at the Brands Hatch Guards’ Trophy in late August – albeit with a tyre advantage – to complete his domination of the RAC British F2 title: three wins from three starts. But overseas, in the presence of fellow Scotsman Clark, Stewart seemed to up his game, including comprehensively beating Jim at Enna the weekend after Karlskoga.
In the seven F2 races all three men contested in 1967, Clark held an edge in qualifying, albeit to the tune of 1.7sec over an amalgamated 11min 14.7sec lap. But when you factor in their Enna battle (from which Rindt was absent), Jackie beat Jimmy on aggregate qualifying time (by two-tenths!), pole positions (3-2) and qualifying head-to-heads (5-3). So, in (a sort of) conclusion, Jimmy was quicker than Jochen (8-3 in qualifying), Jochen was quicker than Jackie (five poles plays three), and Jackie was quicker than Jimmy. It was close, basically – except in the wins column. That was Jochen’s domain: he defeated Jimmy 6-4 (from 12 starts, including heats) and thrashed Jackie 9-3 (from 15).
Clark beat Rindt, in heat and final, at Finland’s Keimola in September, though. It was a meeting marred by a tyre controversy. When Firestone discovered it had brought an odd number of its latest R Spec tyre, it withdrew them. A cock-up followed by a fair decision. But Rindt, who had used them to win at Brands, was furious and stomped over to the Goodyear truck. Clark calmly stayed on Firestones.
“Jochen could be a little bit of everything,” says Rees. “He was a tough-minded person who sometimes made very quick decisions that upset people. But he was so likeable that you couldn’t stay angry with him for long.”
This was proved the following Tuesday. Still in Finland, but back on Firestones, he beat Clark at Ahvenisto, a track built in a disused sand quarry.
It was Stewart, though, who finished the season the strongest. With his MS7 now fitted with lower-profile front Dunlops, he won the F2 category of the Oulton Park Gold Cup – Rindt was a lacklustre fifth – and prevented a Rindt clean sweep of the four-round Trophées de France by beating him in an Albi ding-dong in which Clark, third, played only a bit part.
Reputations had been well and truly buffed.
Rindt’s flood of wins in F2 went unabated in 1968: nine (heats and finals), including six in a row, in a BT23C that sprouted wings mid-season. His F1 victory drought, however, continued. There were rays of hope – third places in South Africa and Germany, poles in France and Canada – but his move to Brabham brought heartache, soul-searching and criticism from those who thought him to be overdriving.
“That was the year of Repco’s four-valve engine,” says Tauranac. “It suffered vibration problems which led to unreliability. Rindt tended to use more rpm than Jack [Brabham]. Whereas Jack, with a corner approaching, would back off at the top of the rev range to avoid changing up and down again, Jochen would make those extra changes. Jack’s sympathetic driving was due to his technical knowledge, which was greater than any other driver in my experience.” Yet Jack retired left, right and centre, too, and scored two points to Jochen’s eight.
Despite this disappointment, Rindt wanted to stay at Brabham. Lotus, though, offered him a better chance of winning the World Championship – and more money. So, reservations in reserve, he signed, stepped into Clark’s size-19 shoes and prepared to do battle with Stewart for the honour of world’s best driver.
“Going to Lotus was the making of Jochen,” says Stewart. “I think the fragility part of the Lotus equation made him reassess. But more importantly, Colin Chapman knew what was best for his cars. He’d had Jim Clark, the best in the world, driving for him, and Jim didn’t fling an F1 car about. Jochen finally took it on board that he could be even faster if he cut down on the sideways stuff. Boy, was he a driver then.”
The bottom lines, though, remained the same: zip in F1, zap in F2!
Rees: “I retired from driving to concentrate on managing the team and we switched to a Lotus 59. My memory is that it wasn’t as good as the Brabhams, but such was our driving strength we were going to win no matter what car we were in.”
Rindt won six times that season in Dave Baldwin’s square-tube design: not a great slip-streamer, but it had excellent traction. The last of these, at Tulln, was his 34th win in the category.
Only then, finally, at last, did it happen: win, pole, fastest lap, 99 laps in the lead – at the American Grand Prix. Just like that. Easy. So what had been the problem? A lack of fitness in the longer races, perhaps?
“No. Jochen wasn’t interested in fitness for the sake of it, but he was a demon skier. He was lean,” says Stewart. “Basically he wasn’t happy during that first year at Lotus. We lived only 300 yards apart in Switzerland and he told me his concerns about the Lotus 49 [its high wing had folded calamitously in Spain, its low wing had fallen apart at Silverstone] and about how difficult Chapman was to deal with.”
By mid-season, with Chapman still obsessing about making four-wheel drive work in Formula 1, Rindt was linked to the new March team. “But he knew what he wanted: the world title,” continues Stewart. “And he knew that the best place to get it was Lotus. He was hard-headed.”
As was Chapman, and they thrashed it out after the German GP. Both men loved the buzz of racing – and the buzz of business, too. They needed each other. It wasn’t Clark/Chapman simpatico, it was Chapman Rindt & Co – but they would make it work; 1970 would be very different.
Indeed it was: Rindt couldn’t stop winning in F1, and Roy Winkelmann Racing was no more. Rees, unlike Rindt, had joined March, and taken Pete Kerr with him. And so it was Jochen Rindt Racing, under the auspices of Rindt’s astute manager and good mate Bernie Ecclestone, that ran Lotus 69s – essentially a 59 with a monocoque centre section. Seven wins (from eight starts) were dashed off before the end of May.
Then, with a sickening suddenness, the category that had kept Rindt ‘sane’ didn’t seem to matter much. All was madness. Piers Courage, his best friend in racing, was killed in the Dutch GP at Zandvoort, and the following weekend Rindt finished ninth at Rouen, in an F2 race, in an outwardly healthy car. Nobody needed to ask why.
The flamboyance had been reeled in. At last finding himself in the best Formula 1 car – the stiffer monocoque and squatting/diving suspension of the C-spec Lotus 72 – Rindt was doing just enough. Motor Sport’s Denis Jenkinson, never a fan of Rindt’s brio, noted the change: neat, tidy, with feet to spare. And it worked: the Dutch GP was a breeze – although a chill wind blew across its podium; the French GP at Clermont-Ferrand, a track Rindt hated, came back to him during a performance which increased in confidence and commitment; the British GP was handed to him by a fuel-starved Jack Brabham; and he opted to toy with Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari rather than run away with the German round.
But this style hadn’t sprung from nowhere. Even when accused of manhandling his F1 Coopers and Brabham, the shunts had been few: three, all while attempting to make up places in the early laps of a GP. Yes, he could have nursed the odd engine here and there – but which GP wins did he miss out on exactly? None. And God knows he knew how to win. He’d always been the total package, it’s just that he’d been waiting for a car that warranted the removal of the final layer. The prize within? King of F1.
Tragically, he wouldn’t be there at his own coronation.
Twenty-eight others have been crowned F1 World Champion, but there will only ever be one King of F2.
Jenks admired Rindt’s drive, though perhaps not his style…
January 1967: With Surtees leaving Cooper-Maserati, young Jochen Rindt has returned to his position as number one, a place he relinquished to Surtees with splendid grace last July. A lot of up-and-coming drivers could well keep an eye on Rindt as an example of how to succeed if you have not got the outstanding natural ability of a Clark or a Stewart. I remember watching Rindt in the old Formula Junior Racing in Europe, when he was just starting. Austria ran a Formula 1 race and he dearly wanted to drive in it, being his “own” Grand Prix event, and he worked away and got the loan of a 1½-litre Ford pushrod engine, which was put in his Junior Cooper. Against V8 BRM and Climax engines it was hopelessly outclassed, even if he could have driven as well as the factory drivers, but this did not trouble Rindt. He was in an F1 race, and he drove like a demon, thoroughly enjoying himself and putting up a performance that was no disgrace at all. He has kept his happy press-on characteristic all through his brief career, and it often carries him way ahead of better drivers who are busy grumbling and complaining.
October 1969: Rindt would seem to be the re-incarnation of the pre-war Mercedes-Benz driver, Manfred von Brauchitsch. A good, fast driver who seldom won GP races. If anything was to go wrong it seemed to happen to von Brauchitsch, such as tyre treads coming off when leading, his car catching fire at the pits when refuelling, spinning off and being disqualified for receiving outside assistance. He also drove in great opposite-lock power slides, when Caracciola and Seaman drove just as fast without any tail sliding. Even if Rindt does not make excuses for being beaten, there are those who are only too ready to do so for him! Is he really the unlucky one, or is something missing from his physical and mental make-up? Does he lack that difficult-to-define “something” that Stewart has got, and Clark and Moss had before him?