Happy in defeat

Jacky Ickx 1970

This Belgian’s startling talent was greater than that of many a champion. But when his best opportunity for the world title arose, he was relieved to be runner-up

There were three phases to Jacky Ickx’s 1970 season. At first he was neither quick nor reliable; then he was extremely fast, but still unreliable; and finally, he was fast, reliable — and no longer wanted the championship.

At a time when Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon were hamstrung with March 701s, and Rindt was still racing the four-year-old Lotus 49, Ickx should have been making hay. Instead of capitalising on a machinery advantage, however, he spent the early races developing Mauro Forghieri’s flat-12 which had replaced the gutless V12. In the opener at Kyalarni, a trip over the kerbs cracked his sump which led to an engine seizure, though it only cost him a sixth place. At Jarama, he missed an easy second place when his Ferrari was struck by an out-of-control Jackie Oliver, the resulting shunt and fire leaving Ickx with painful bums.

Monaco was different. No-one could have matched Rindt’s closing laps that day; but Ickx could have copped a handy third ahead of Henri Pescarolo. Instead, a driveshaft snapped and he retired. On home ground at the old Spa-Francorchamps’ final grand prix, Jacky was in third behind the Amon/Rodriguez duel when he needed a splash-and-dash because of a fuel leak. Result: eighth.

So at a time when he should have had 15 points on the board, Jacky had none. And at the next round, the Dutch GP, Rindt had Colin Chapman’s latest wonder-car, the Lotus 72, with its teething troubles removed. Having made a fine start from the second row, Jacky led the first two laps, and though outbraked and left behind by Rindt, held second place until a puncture 30 laps from the end sent him scurrying to the pits. Even so, he finished third.

Immediately after the race, issues such as missed points became irrelevant when it was learned that highly respected colleague Piers Courage had died in a crash on lap 22. His death hit best friend Rindt harder than most Not three weeks after Bruce McLaren had been killed at Goodwood, this latest fatality left the Austrian shell-shocked, and his worries over the Lotus’s fragility soared.

A harder, or luckier, man than Ickx might have exploited the pace-setter’s increasing caution, but Ickx was a modest fellow out of the cockpit, unwilling to play mindgames. But if he fulfilled the cliché of letting his driving do the talking, there were days when he shouted.

One such came at Clermont-Ferrand, when he put the Ferrari on pole position and fled in the opening laps. Rindt, by comparison, was out of sorts all weekend. Yet when a burnt valve took Ickx out, and Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s Main quit, Jochen had another nine points.

Everyone remembers the next race, the British Grand Prix, for Brabham running out of fuel on the last lap and gifting Rindt the win. But it’s worth recalling too, that easing away from both of them until his diff failed was one j Ickx. Another nine points, rightfully Jacky’s, that went to Jochen. Seven down in a 13-race season, Ickx should have had 38 points; instead he had four, to Rindt’s 36.

At Hockenheim, Rindt beat Ickx fair and square, and with considerably more in hand than his 0.7sec margin would suggest.

Come Austria, though, the Ferraris checked out on race-day, and Rindts engine blew while a distant third. So Ickx had his first win of the year. However, with a total of 19 points to Rindt’s 45, and with just 36 available over the next four rounds, even if Jacky were to clinch all four battles, Jochen needed just 10 points to win the war.

But at the next round, held at Monza, the rules of engagement changed. Rindt was killed in practice, and though the show, the Ferrari team and Jacky went on, the Belgian faced the most invidious position ever confronted by a championship challenger. Beating a dead man to the title might be seen as callous, distasteful or any stop in between. Even when Ickx had to retire from the Italian GP with clutch failure, winning the final three races would steal the title by a point.

Jackie Stewart’s brand-new Tyrrell 001 gifted the Ferrari driver a win at St Jovite, Canada, but a broken fuel breather while running second at Watkins Glen sent Ickx to the pits; he eventually finished fourth. Not that it mattered, for Ickx would have had to drop this as one of his low scores under the fatuous rule of the day (count six best scores from the the first seven races, and five from the second six).

Still, the pressure was off, the title gone, and Jacky went to the final round in Mexico with a sense of relief. He won consummately.

The totals on the table shows clearly what might have been, perhaps what should have been. By the time the teams arrived in Monza, Ickx could have been leading the title race 53-39. And had the title duel continued thereafter, Rindt couldn’t have clawed back the deficit, for the Ferrari was the best car on the long straights of Monza (as Regazzoni proved) and in the high altitudes of Mexico. While the Lotus’s torquey Cosworth would have been ideal for St Jovite, and Jochen’s proven pace at the ‘Glen would have put him ahead of Ickx, it wouldn’t have been enough. DM