A highly charged season


I wonder if, like me, you are partial to the music of Frank Zappa? In one of his more philosophical moments, Zappa opined that the mind is like a parachute. It only works if it is opened. In August 1970 I travelled to the Isle of Wight Festival with Zappa, assigned to this task by the local newspaper. This ‘happening’ came between the Grands Prix in Austria and Italy.

Leaving aside the fun and frolics of the Isle of Wight, it’s interesting to look back on what was a highly charged season, brutally fractured by the death of Jochen Rindt at Monza in September. Already we’d lost Piers Courage at Zandvoort and Bruce McLaren in a test session at Goodwood. It seemed it couldn’t get any worse, but it did. The 1970 season is an example, too, of why we should keep an open mind. And this applies as much today as it has done over the decades.


If you recall, the mesmeric Rindt dominated proceedings, winning five races through the summer, from Monaco to the Hockenheimring. The only glitch came at Spa when the Cosworth in his Lotus 49C let go after 10 laps. Two weeks later Rindt, now in Chapman’s innovative 72, won the first of four on the trot. The championship, we thought, was surely his and deservedly so. But motor racing, as we have seen again this year, is full of surprises. Some happy, some sad.

All in all, a momentous year. Jacky Ickx was back at Ferrari after a year away at Brabham and by mid-summer the glorious 312B was coming on song, Ickx winning in Austria, Canada and Mexico. But it was not enough. Despite the tragedy of Monza, the mercurial Rindt could not be caught and he remains the sport’s only posthumous World Champion.


Intriguingly, if Ickx had won the penultimate round at Watkins Glen in October he would have beaten Rindt to the title. But it wasn’t to be. In a dramatic race that typified the season Ickx duly started from pole but this day the Ferrari was no match for the other man on the front row, Jackie Stewart in the new Tyrrell 001. Stewart led easily while Ickx pitted just after half-distance with a broken fuel line, returning in 12th place and storming back to a superb fourth by the flag. Meanwhile, a minute in the lead, Stewart retired, the Cosworth leaking oil. Who came through to win and wreck any hopes of a world title for Ickx? A young Brazilian called Emerson Fittipaldi in a Lotus, in only his fourth Grand Prix.

You needed a very open mind to keep up with the scriptwriter in 1970, and a strong stomach. It was both thrilling and awful, the sport at its best and worst. And it wasn’t over yet. Ickx won a chaotic final race in Mexico where spectators climbed the guardrails, stood trackside, and the maddest ran across the circuit itself. Eventually a dog escaped and ran into the path of Stewart’s Tyrrell, damaging the suspension and forcing the Scot to retire. Ickx came through to win and the 1971 Mexican Grand Prix was removed from the calendar.


Triple World Champion Jack Brabham hung up his helmet, having started his final season with a win in South Africa. Clay Regazzoni scored his first Grand Prix victory in a Ferrari at Monza. March arrived in Formula 1. Tyrrell built its first Grand Prix car, Stewart putting it on pole first time out in Canada. And Goodyear introduced slick tyres to the sport. What a year.

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