Legends

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Jochen Rindt

As a devotee of Messrs Cook & Moore, I recently learned with horror that most episodes of Not Only… But Also are lost for ever. Back then the BBC would re-use tapes, and Pete and Dud were later submerged by the Horse of the Year Show. It gets worse, too, for Jochen Rindt’s mesmeric drive in the 1970 Monaco Grand Prix apparently suffered a similar fate.

I was in the Principality, on the afternoon of May 10, 1970, when I came to see I would never be a racing photographer. I couldn’t function with a camera in a split-second of drama.

I was still a year away from working in motor racing, and had gone to Monaco on a Page & Moy trip, reserving myself a front-row seat in the grandstand at the old Gasworks Hairpin, the final corner of the lap and thus now the final corner of the race. As Jack Brabham and Jochen Rindt went into their last lap, they were just over a second apart. I double-checked the settings on my Canon FX, and waited.

Piers Courage’s hobbled de Tomaso was the first car to come into sight. In his position, it was difficult to know how to keep out of the way, for the stretch down to Gasworks was a long left-hand curve, and the fastest line was out to the right A slower car would therefore hug the left-hand wall which was fine until it reached the braking area for the hairpin, for there a car travelling quickly would chop across to the left, to take the best line for the hairpin.

For Jack Brabham, Courage was in precisely the wrong place at precisely the wrong moment. What Jack should and, ordinarily, would have done was duck in behind the de Tomaso, and accelerate by at the exit of the hairpin, for while Rindt now had him in his sights, he was not close enough to try an out-braking move.

An inspired Jochen, though, would unnerve anyone, and in the circumstances it was perhaps not surprising that Brabham, for all his experience, felt he had to get by Courage before the hairpin; that being so, he steered to the right, off the regular line.

No one had been there all weekend, and the track was dirty and slick. When Jack put the brakes on, his car despite being on full right lock slid straight on, thumping into the barrier at my feet.

On the approach to the corner, he and Piers had filled my viewfinder; now, as he threw the race away, so I did the same with the camera. Not my forte, motor racing photography…

The race had started in a straightforward fashion, with front row men Stewart and Amon running 1-2 in their agricultural March 701s, followed by Brabham, Ickx’s Ferrari, Beltoise’s Matra, Hulme’s McLaren and Rindt.

In truth, Jochen approached the race with something close to indifference. “That was the way he was sometimes,” Colin Chapman told me years later. “That was Jochen. If he felt there was no chance of winning, quite often he just went through the motions…”

Rindt had been in negative frame of mind even before practice began, for Chapman’s new wonder car, the 72, had proved anything but that in its first couple of races, and Colin had accepted that some of its innovations had to go. While the redesigns and modifications were undertaken, Lotus had to revert to the venerable 49 for Monte Carlo, and Jochen felt the car no longer had a prayer.

It looked that way during practice. In the first session, on Thursday, he was sixth, but his time 1m25.9s was almost two seconds away from Stewart; in the second, run at crack of dawn on Friday, it poured down, and Jochen, disinterested, was slowest of all; in the third, on Saturday afternoon, he felt queasy, and was two seconds off his Thursday time.

Seasickness was the problem, believe it or not. As was his custom at Monaco, Rindt was sharing a yacht with his friend Bernie Ecclestone, and while the future ruler of Formula One slept soundly through a choppy Friday night, Jochen emphatically did not. It was all he could do to turn out for the final session, adding to his despondency about the race. “No chance,” he said to his wife, Nina. “I’ll just drive around.”

Rindt, so it seemed, could not be shaken out of this mood, and it showed in the early part of the race: as early as lap three, he was passed for seventh place by the Matra of Henri Pescarolo, and there he seemed content to sit, as if waiting for the 80 laps to be up.

By and by, though, his position improved, albeit only by attrition. Ickx disappeared early, then Beltoise, putting Jochen up to sixth, which became fifth when Stewart, the runaway leader, lost three laps while a misfire was rectified. Now Brabham led, followed by Amon, Hulme, Pescarolo and Rindt, but at this stage, 28 laps in, Jochen was already over 16 seconds behind Jack.

At least, though, there were signs that his interest was being awakened. On lap 36 he repassed Pescarolo, and set off after Hulme, whom he dealt with on lap 41: third now, with only Brabham and Amon ahead.

It was the old thing, that whiff of possible victory. Rindt never needed more than that. Fifteen seconds behind the leaders, he began to push harder, keeping pace with them now, closing a tenth here and there, and further encouraged by the retirement of Amon on lap 61.

Brabham was unconcerned. With the March gone from his mirrors, and Rindt still 13 seconds back, he looked set for a comfortable win indeed, with only four laps to the flag, his lead was still nine seconds.

Then everything began to unravel for Jack. On lap 77, at the top of the hill, he encountered Jo Siffert’s March, stuttering along with a fuel problem, the driver jiggling with his wheel, and paying little attention to his mirrors. Obliged almost to stop, as he sought a safe way past. Brabham dropped five seconds to Rindt

Three laps to go, and the gap was 2.4, with Jochen now unleashing all his genius. On lap 78, with Brabham trying to find his rhythm again, he picked up two seconds, and although Jack was back on full flow next time round, turning in his fastest lap, 1m24.4s, this was useless in the face of Jochen’s inspiration, which wrestled that old Lotus 49 round in 1m23.3s.

Thus we came to the final lap, and even now the fates worked against the leader. At Tabac, before the drag down to Gasworks, Brabham came upon three backmarkers, and had again to back off. Probably it was this, more than anything else, that unsettled him when he came across Courage.

As Jack thudded into the fence, as I put my camera down, Rindt flicked into the hairpin, looking across at the Brabham, head shaking in disbelief. After what seemed an age, jack got on his way again, crossing the line without losing second to Pescarolo. When he stopped finally, he stayed in the cockpit a long time.

Once the come car had been found, I ran the whole length of the pit straight, arriving at the Royal Box just as Jochen climbed the steps, shook hands with Rainier and Grace and accepted the garland and the trophy. Trembling, and with tears rolling down his face, he looked like a man coming out of a trance, and probably he was. After the national anthems of Britain and Austria, the French commentator excitedly announced his time for the last lap: “Une minute vingt-trois secondes deux-dixiemes!”

Raw statistics can never illustrate a man’s artistry, but they can say something about inspiration. For the first 40 laps of the race, Rindt’s average lap time was 1m27.0s; for the last 40 it was 1m24.9s — a full second faster than his qualifying time…

That night, after the traditional Gala Ball at the Hotel de Paris, Jochen came down to the Tip-Top Bar, as drivers did in those days. We were waiting for him, and at midnight he and Nina arrived, swinging the trophy between them. He stayed until well after two.

They used to run a book at the club. “What odds did they have for me?” Rindt asked. “Seven to two,” someone said. “Ha!” Jochen grinned. “Was anyone stupid enough to bet on me?”

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