Goin' up, goin' down: 2021 French GP
Scuderia on the slide, Perez eating mammoth stints for breakfast and oscillating off-road surfaces – here's what was going up and down at the 2021 French GP
In the third part of our special Jochen Rindt tribute, we hear from three more of his rivals who were due to race against him at the fateful 1970 Italian Grand Prix, where the Austrian was killed in practice before becoming Formula 1’s only posthumous World Champion. Fifteen of the 26 drivers entered for that race survive, and we’ve spoken to all but one of them.
There are more recollections to come tomorrow, as we count down to this weekend’s Grand Prix at Monza.
“For us as drivers at the time, it wasn’t a question of if we would die in a racing car, but when. So after I learned that Jochen had died during the Italian Grand Prix, I didn’t really feel huge shock, just as I didn’t when my brother-in-law François Cevert was killed three years later. You became very hardened to injuries, accidents and deaths. These were simply the price you paid for racing, and for as long as the rewards were worth it and you had the chance to win races you just accepted it. The risks never stopped you sleeping at night and if those thoughts ever cropped up in your mind you chased them away.
“I don’t remember much about the weekend in Monza, but I’ll always remember Jochen as a very nice guy. The French drivers used to stick together and were very close, but while Jochen was Austrian, he was also one of our circle. I knew him well as we were both racing in Formula 2, and although I was younger than him, we were very good friends. When he died he was the man to beat in Formula 1: definitely one of the great drivers.”
“At the time of the accident it was very difficult to know what had happened. It wasn’t like now when you have a safety car and yellow flags. Often in races, even if there was a very bad accident, they would just carry on. We knew something bad had happened because we could see how badly the car was damaged, but we didn’t know about Jochen until much later.
“He was a good guy, you know, and we were friends as we raced together in F2. I remember the year he died, 1970, at Monaco I stayed ahead of him for most of the race until he won at the very last corner when he passed Jack Brabham. I knew that if I stayed ahead of Jochen I had done a good job. He was exceptionally fast, very spectacular and aggressive. Great for the fans to watch.
“After he died… well, it’s hard to say it now, but we just carried on because we were so used to drivers being killed in F1 or sports car racing. It was just the way of the times. Every weekend, it seemed, somebody would die. The next time, maybe it would be you…”
“As a competitor Jochen was exceptional in everything he drove – particularly Formula 2. When he came into F1 he was with Cooper, which at that time wasn’t a great car, but you could see he was exceptionally good and that he was destined to be a World Champion. As a bloke he was a decent guy, a very intelligent guy and a nice guy – pretty hard-nosed, pretty sharp and very Austrian. He was a guy with a very good sense of humour, too.
“I remember speaking to him on the Friday night before the race and that was the last time. I was on track when he crashed and not that far behind him. I remember Jackie Stewart running back to me in the pits and asking if I’d seen what had happened. It was a very sad and traumatic day, but in those days these things happened.
“The accident was at the highest possible speed on the straight approaching the Parabolica. But he definitely didn’t make a mistake. He was unlucky that his car went under the Armco and that he wasn’t wearing lap belts, but it was going to be a terrible accident anyway.
“As drivers back then we had an attitude a bit like fighter pilots in the last war: we knew it was dangerous, but it was never going to happen to you. If it happened to someone else you were upset, but if you thought about it too much you couldn’t do your job. That’s how it was.”
Anthony Rowlinson is executive editor of The Red Bulletin
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