“He lived beyond reason.” The history of the only posthumous Formula 1 champion

Jochen Rindt and his short career in racing, business and TV shows

Since 2022, Formula 1 has been living under new financial and technical regulations, which has seriously changed the balance of power in the championship. Long-time F1 leader Briton Lewis Hamilton (seven titles) hasn’t won a single win in a year (sixth in the individual standings – the worst result in his career), and his Mercedes has fallen to third place in the team’s Constructors’ Championship, which since 2014 Mr. took eight years in a row.

The 2021 world champion Dutchman Max Verstappen became the total winner of the 2022 season: he won 15 races out of 22 and secured the title with four stages to go. His team – the Austrian “Red Bull Racing” – got the constructors’ championship.

The Austrian flag returned to the F1 championship protocols for the first time since the early 2010s, when Red Bull won the team classification four years in a row thanks to the success of German driver Sebastian Vettel. Prior to the arrival of the energy producer in motorsport, only drivers were responsible for the Austrian trophies in Formula 1: the legendary Niki Lauda won the series three times (1975,1977 and 1984), in 1970 Jochen Rindt became the winner posthumously.

Citizen of the world

Jochen Rindt was born in Mainz in 1942, at the height of World War II, to a German-Austrian family. His father ran the family business producing and selling spices, and his mother tried to live contrary to the traditional ideas of the time about the role of a woman in society: she smoked, drove a car on her own and loved to ski. From his parents, Jochen inherited a business sense, passion for extreme sports and cosmopolitanism. When asked about his origins, Rindt replied: “I am European.” When the boy was in his second year, his parents died in the bombing of Hamburg. Further, the mother’s parents began to raise Jochen – they transported him to the Austrian Graz.

Against the backdrop of post-war poverty, Jochen’s family was considered prosperous. In elementary school, he was presented with a scooter, later – the then popular Lohner Sissy moped, and while studying in England, Rindt mastered driving. For a long time, Jochen drove without a license and received fines more than once, and in 1960 he got his first personal car – a Volkswagen Beetle. Together with friends, Rindt arranged street races according to extreme rules: gear changes were allowed only at maximum speeds.

At the end of school, his grandparents gave Jochen a French car Simca Montlhery. It Rindt went on a 14-hour journey to the German stage of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Watching the competition, Jochen firmly decided that he wanted to become a race car driver. And already in 1961 he made his debut on his Simca in the race in Innsbruck, where after a few laps he was disqualified for dangerous driving.

A modest car did not allow winning races, but Rindt’s talent was noticed. Ossi Vogl, a car dealer in Mainz, sold him an Alfa Romeo GT 1300 capable of 160 km/h at cost. With this car, Jochen won eight victories in various Austrian and German races and attracted the attention of specialists.

Business, show and racing

Rindt won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965 with the North American Racing Team, a subsidiary of Ferrari. In addition, he successfully performed in Formula 2. During his career he won 29 races in this series, and victory at the London Trophy in 1964, where he overtook F-1 champion Graham Hill, accelerated his career. Already in 1965, he spent a full season in Formula 1 for the British Cooper team, winning the first four points. A year later, he climbed to the final podium, becoming third in the individual competition. “From the outside, he seemed crazy when he tried to win in an uncompetitive car. He lived beyond reason,” says Jochen’s classmate and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Helmut Marko in the documentary The Uncrowned Champion.

In 1967, Jochen married a Finnish model and the daughter of a race car driver, Nina Lincoln. But here, as in racing, Rindt’s “victory” was not easy. After the engagement, Nina changed her mind and returned the ring to Jochen. But the racer sent the box back, accompanied by a note: keep the ring until he changes his mind. As a result, the couple got married. Jochen perseverance achieved the location of the beauty. “I like men who know what they want,” Nina Rindt later said.

And Jochen knew exactly what he wanted, but more importantly, he knew what the people around him wanted. At the age of 23, he came up with the idea to organize a series of exhibitions of racing cars. Ordinary people wanted to touch the elite world of motorsport, to see champion cars up close, and automotive equipment dealers were looking for a showroom and were willing to pay big money for it. Every year, the Jochen Rindt Show attracted tens of thousands of viewers and became a successful business: according to Rindt, he could live without a racer’s salary on the income from the project.

In addition, Rindt really liked the role of a hospitable host – he himself presented the exhibits and willingly communicated with visitors and journalists. Jochen’s popularity also grew thanks to the TV show Motorama, which he hosted. The monthly program included driving tips, reports from the Grand Prix and Rindt’s interviews with other drivers.

In parallel with business and TV activities, Rindt built a career in auto racing. His unofficial manager (they didn’t sign a contract) was Bernie Ecclestone, who later took over F1 and ran the series for 40 years. At the end of 1968, Jochen had offers from Lotus and Brabham – he had to choose. Ecclestone gave the rider advice: “If you want to win the world championship, you have a better chance with Lotus than with Brabham. If you want to stay alive, you’re better off with Brabham than Lotus.” Rindt chose the championship, entered into a contract with Lotus and at the end of the 1969 season won his first Formula 1 race.

Victory or life

But 1969 did not begin too positively. Jochen came to the championship team, where the leader was the Briton Graham Hill – by that time already a two-time winner of the series. Jochen got a supporting role. At the Grand Prix in Barcelona, ​​both pilots crashed, and Rindt received a severe concussion and injured his nose. But at the penultimate stage – in the USA – Jochen won the first victory, but Hill had an accident and seriously injured his leg. The injury and the age of a colleague (Hill was already over 40) opened up the prospect of becoming a team leader for Rindt.

At the beginning of 1970, Lotus introduced its new car – the Lotus 72, an innovative wedge-shaped car for that time (the rest of the cars looked like “sausages on wheels”). This modification was a revolutionary decision by Lotus designer Colin Chapman, the author of such innovations as rear wings or painting cars in the colors of sponsors.

Even at the training races before the Spanish Grand Prix, Jochen discovered the main drawback of the new car – serious problems with the brakes. Jochen’s reaction was harsh: “I will never get into that damn car again.” But Chapman knew how to calm the riders. Already after two stages (one of which Rindt won in Monaco on the model of the previous generation – Lotus 49) Jochen got behind the wheel of the Lotus 72 again – in a slightly modified version. On it, he won the next four stages, breaking away from the nearest pursuer by 20 points. But Rindt’s success was overshadowed by the death of British pilot Piers Carage at the Grand Prix in the Netherlands.

In those years, racing was an extremely dangerous activity – accidents happened often and often ended in severe injuries or even death. In 1968, then Lotus leader Jim Clark died, a year earlier – Italian Lorenzo Bandini, and now Pierce Carage. According to Rindt’s wife, the tragic events on the tracks made the 28-year-old pilot think about ending his career. Nina herself said in an interview that, going to the Grand Prix, she always put a black dress in her suitcase, since funerals were then part of motorsport. Ecclestone said to Jochen’s idea of ​​ending his career: “If you want to leave, do it now – don’t wait for the end of the season.” But the victory in the championship was so close that Jochen decided to take a chance and stayed.

Speed or wings

At the Austrian Grand Prix, Rindt won the qualification but missed the finish line in the main race due to engine problems. But the Ferrari cars, which took the first two places, showed a speed of 16 km / h faster than the Lotus. In training for the Italian Grand Prix, Lotus installed more powerful engines in their cars, and also decided to remove the rear wings: this reduced air resistance, but made the car less stable.

Rindt’s teammate John Miles spoke out against this option: in Friday practice, he felt that the car without wings was uncontrollable and did not want to go in a straight line. Another Lotus pilot, Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, had a severe accident in a training race and refused to continue to participate in the Grand Prix. Rindt was also unhappy that the car was losing control without wings, but the fact that the car would be faster than its competitors was decisive.

The following day, during Saturday practice, Rindt’s top speed on the long straight of the Monza circuit reached 330 km/h. But after it there was a hard turn of the Parabolic, to enter which it was necessary to slow down twice. With such a sharp braking on one of the circles, Jochen’s car began to wag, then turned sharply, rammed the bump stop and crashed into the fence post. The entire front of the car was destroyed, Rindt slid down as a result of the collision, and the seat belt actually cut his throat. Jochen was always afraid that in case of fire he would not be able to get out of the car in time, and at his request, the mount between the legs was removed from the car, which, perhaps, would not allow his body to slide down (the mandatory requirement to fasten all seat belts appeared in Formula 1 only in 1972). Rindt died on the way to the hospital, and the Lotus team declared mourning and withdrew all of their riders from Sunday’s final.

The cause of the accident was later determined to be a malfunction of the car’s front right brake shaft, but Rindt’s death was caused by a poorly installed fender. For seven years, the court considered Chapman’s guilt in the insufficient preparation of the car, but in the end he was acquitted.

Awarded posthumously

At the time of his death, Rindt had won five out of nine Grand Prix events and was confidently leading the championship with 45 points. To get ahead of Jochen, his pursuers needed to get into the prizes in the remaining four races of the season. As a result, the Belgian Jacqui Ickx of Ferrari was closest to Rindt with 40 points. But Jochen’s Lotus partner Fittipaldi (future two-time F-1 champion in 1972 and 1974) won the penultimate Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in America, thus depriving X of the chance to win the title. Lotus also won the Constructors’ Championship.

In November 1970 Briton Jackie Stewart, the 1969 winner and a close friend of Jochen, presented the Champion Challenge Trophy, which has always been awarded to a F1 champion driver, to widow Nina Rindt.

And although Jochen was not officially a citizen of Austria (he played for the country under a racing license), about 30,000 people gathered for his funeral in Graz. And on the track near the Austrian town of Spielberg, where the Formula 1 Grand Prix (now the Red Bull Ring) has been held dozens of times since 1970, one of the turns is named after the driver – Rindt.