Books special: Summer Escapes

This year’s holiday season may well be spent at home, so Gordon Cruickshank picks his top books from the last year, as good in the garden as on the beach

09011008_316

Rindt and Lotus head Chapman in 1970, just hours before that horrific accident at Monza

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Given that this biography makes much of Jochen Rindt’s position as practically a saint in Austria – attended by thousands, his funeral looked like a state event – it’s surprising that the author opens with the firm declaration that Rindt, not Michael Schumacher, was Germany’s first world champion – “even if many Austrians don’t wish to hear this”. Though born in Germany he raced as Austrian and lived his life there: an academic point, but it hints at the undercurrents in this very personal book written by someone who knew him well, and augmented by another figure few knew about – Rindt’s half-brother Uwe Eisleben, whose personal memories and photos from the family album lift this from a simple racing history to a full life of Formula 1’s only posthumous champion. (Incidentally, Rindt’s answer to the nationality question was “I think of myself as European”.

Ignoring some nonsense about the pseudo-science of astrology, Glavitza’s writing is lively, describing one of Jochen’s early outfits as “a clown team drowning in alcohol”. Though a friend, he frankly lists Rindt’s “egotism, unpredictability, impatience and impetuousness” as well as his self-confidence and ambition. More undercurrents: references to “the backwoods man from Graz” and R’s accent make it plain that he must have had to push through class divisions as well as the eternal finance challenge. That’s an element it takes a compatriot to bring out, trying not to be seen as a yokel as he buys his first F2 Cooper from Kurt Bardi-Barry, then Austria’s top driver. (When informed that Barry had been killed in a crash his response was “Now I am number one in Austria”.)

Packed with family records and fascinating photos of Jochen’s childhood, this attractively laid-out book powerfully describes his parents’ tragic end in an RAF bombing raid in 1943. Grim photos of the devastation caused by the Hamburg fire-storm bring home the terrible events of that time, which left the future racing star an orphan in the care of his grandparents. Jochen was just 18 months old but Eisleben, then aged four, remembers this sad beginning to Jochen’s life. Yet the author makes it clear that this was not an unhappy childhood and that with his adored brother Jochen got up to all the things any healthy child will. Later when puberty and petrol arrived things became difficult for the ageing grandparents who despaired of controlling the wild young man who had the police after him for his moped exploits. Their answer was a boarding school where he met Helmut Marko; they would dare each other to drive certain roads with foot flat. “Braking is for cowards!”. Rindt’s VW got trashed, but he said to a friend “I want to be world champion’. Given his impetuous attitude, lasting well into his racing career, it didn’t seem likely then.

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