Jochen Rindt: F1's unanointed champion

F1

On the anniversary of his death, Motor Sport looks back on a 1970 season where the brilliant Jochen Rindt won and lost it all

Team Lotus's Jochen Rindt at the Italian Grand Prix 1970

Jochen Rindt would win the 1970 F1 driver's title, but didn't live to see himself crowned champion

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of Jochen Rindt’s passing. A mercurial talent who rubbed shoulders with Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark and Jack Brabham, the Austrian remains to date the only posthumous Formula One World Champion, after he was killed during qualifying for the 1970 Grand Prix at Monza.

Bernie Ecclestone is often quoted remembering the choice Rindt had to make prior joining Lotus at the end of 1968: “If you want to win the World Championship you’ve got more chance with Lotus than with Brabham. If you want to stay alive you’ve got more chance with Brabham than with Lotus.”

These prophetic words proceeded a dominant season forever tainted by tragedy. In remembering this singular talent, we look back at a season where none were a match for driver or car.

 

1. South African Grand Prix

Despite the new Lotus 72 being ready to race, Rindt preferred to use the old 49 model for the season opener. The Austrian was wary of the new car’s apparent fragility, already having suffered injury at the wheel of a Colin Chapman car the year before. It mattered not anyway, as his Cosworth-DFV didn’t last four laps of the race.

Lotus' Jochen Rindt 1970 South African Grand Prix Kyalami

Rindt retired on lap 72 at Kyalami with engine failure

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2. Spanish Grand Prix

Rindt tried the Lotus 72 this time out, but perhaps wished he hadn’t. After qualifying an indifferent 8th, his new car’s ignition failed on lap 9 of the grand prix.

Jochen Rindt Lotus 1970 Spanish Grand Prix Jarama

Not much improvement at Jarama, Rindt was out on lap 9 with ignition failure

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3. Monaco GP

One of Rindt’s – and F1’s – most storied wins. After running fourth for much of the race, retirements for Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon elevated Rindt to 2nd. 

With the scent of a win in the air, the Austrian set about catching Jack Brabham who, with a 9sec lead, had looked set to win.

With the pressure mounting, Brabham tried to pass a backmarker offline at the final corner of the last lap. Finding himself on the marbles, “Black Jack” slid off into the barriers, and Rindt was rewarded for his persistence with an unlikely victory.

Jochen RIndt Lotus 1970 Monaco Grand Prix

Rindt rounds Casino Square during his charge to hunt down Jack Brabham

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4. Belgian GP

Back in the Lotus 49, which he’d also used in Monaco, Rindt had claimed a promising 2nd place in qualifying. 

However, his engine let him down once more, the Austrian not even making it halfway before being forced to retire.

Jochen Rindt Lotus 1970 Belgian Grand Prix

The Lotus man gets a good start, but would quickly fade before retiring

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5. Dutch Grand Prix

Rindt’s season finally got underway for real. With the new and improved 72C wheeled out for Zandvoort, Lotus’ lead man was in a class of his own. 

The Austrian underlined its speed in qualifying, taking pole from Tyrrell’s Jackie Stewart by over half a second. 

Jacky Ickx briefly got ahead at the race start, but Rindt reclaimed the lead on lap 3 to ultimately take a dominant victory. 

His winning margin of 30sec showed the revamped Lotus was now the car to have, and Rindt knew just how to use it.

Jochen Rindt Lotus 72C Dutch Grand Prix 1970

Rindt got his title challenge going with a debut win for the Lotus 72C at Zandvoort

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6. French Grand Prix

After only qualifying 6th at Clermont-Ferrand, Rindt methodically worked his way through the field during the race.

Once in 2nd, the Lotus driver had a 15sec gap to make up on Jean-Pierre Beltoise. Unperturbed, the Austrian gradually reeled the Frenchman, passing on lap 25 before pressing on to take his second consecutive win.

Jochen Rindt Lotus 1970 French Grand Prix

Rindt reeled in Beltoise to to take a third win of the year

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7. British Grand Prix

A duel for the ages between Rindt and Brabham. From lap 7 to 69 the Aussie sat on the Lotus’ gearbox, waiting for his chance to steal into the lead. It came when Rindt missed a gear-change, with Brabham car and driver pulling away immediately.

Fortune favoured the Lotus driver however, as “Black Jack” ran out of fuel at the very last corner the, meaning Rindt could take his third victory in a row. 

Jochen Rindt Jack Brabham Jacky Ickx British grand Prix Brands Hatch

Rindt (foreground) put his foot down as Brabham (centre) and Ickx follow suit

Grand Prix Photo

 

8. German Grand Prix

After being pipped to pole by Ferrari’s Jacky Ickx, Rindt sought to reassert his superiority in the race. He was given a stern challenge however by Ickx, with whom he traded the lead through the grand prix.

Ultimately, it was Rindt who emerged victorious, eventually winning by 0.7sec from the Scuderia’s car. This was the Austrian’s fourth win in a row, the Lotus driver now had a championship lead of over 20 points from Jack Brabham.

Jochen Rindt Lotus German Grand Prix 1970

Rindt and Ickx sprint off from the Hockenheim start line

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9. Austrian Grand Prix

Another pole for Rindt in Austria, but on this occasion his early-season DFV woes returned once more. 

The Cosworth engine expired on lap 21 whilst Rindt running 4th, but there were still four more races left to close out the championship.

Jochen Rindt Lotus Austrian Grand Prix 1970

Rindt presses on before being halted by engine trouble

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10.Italian Grand Prix

Ever in search of more speed, Lotus opted for a super low-downforce setting at Monza. Whilst his team-mate John Miles complained of the car being unstable, Rindt was reportedly comfortable with the increased velocity. 

However, during qualifying the Austrian apparently suffered brake failure whilst travelling at almost full speed, the Lotus spearing into the barriers.

Rindt was in the habit of not fully fastening his seatbelts – to aid his escape in case of fire – and did not survive the impact.

His friend Jackie Stewart underwent the terrible ordeal of having to go to the scene of accident, realising upon his arrival that Rindt was already dead.

Whilst an understandably shaken Stewart had to steel himself and qualify the Tyrrell, his wife Helen accompanied Rindt’s distraught partner Nina to the hospital.

Lotus withdrew from the grand prix, as Clay Regazzoni took a home win for Ferrari.

Jochen Rindt Lotus Italian Grand Prix 1970

Rindt and Lotus team boss Colin Chapman look prophetically pensive during qualifying

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11. Posthumous Champion

Such was the points gap that Rindt had built up, none could catch the late driver in the championship fight. Ickx needed two wins from the last two races to take the title, but he was denied in an ironic twist.

Rindt’s replacement, a young Emerson Fittipaldi, won the penultimate round at Watkins Glen for Lotus, meaning Jochen Rindt was confirmed the first – and to date only – posthumous world champion.

Jochen Rindt Lotus 1970 French Grand Prix

Rindt would become first – and so far only -posthumous F1 world champion

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