Monday, 5 September 2011

Remembering Jochen Rindt

Most F1 fans will have never seen Jochen Rindt race in their lifetime. I didn't but as a child reading about this great sport we all follow i would see his name crop up from time to time. The only posthumous world champion would be the common phrase. Whilst i would get intrigued by the mystique of Senna or how Mansell battled for a championship the story of Austria's first F1 star did not grab my attention. Now it has and it is a thrilling but tragic tale of one of the fastest drivers to have lived.

Rindt made his name mainly in F2, a series where many F1 drivers would take part in. He also had success at Le Mans in 1965 with victory in the famous endurance race. He drove for Cooper between 1965 and 1967 and whilst he showed his talent with 4 podiums in this time he was badly hampered by unreliability - 15 DNFs in 28 races. A move to Brabham would produce even more failures as he only took the chequered flag twice in the 12 race championship

Team Lotus was the constructor that allowed Rindt to fight for glory and that elusive first win would arrive at Watkins Glen. He also beat team mate and reigning world champion Graham Hill in the championship standings but Jackie Stewart would take the title comfortably in the Tyrrell. 1970 started poorly but then came Rindt's finest hour as he took an extraordinary victory on the streets of Monte Carlo. In a chase comparable with Montreal this year Rindt set fastest lap after fastest lap to close in on Jack Brabham. As they approached the final turn the Australian locked up and plunged into the hay bales. The lead changed so late that Rindt didn't even have the chequered flag waved for him!

What followed was a dominant spell of victories which would see him cement a big championship lead. His final win would come in his country of birth Germany as the home crowd at the Österreichring were left disappointed by engine failure on the Lotus. However amongst all the great results was sadness as close friend Piers Courage was killed at the Dutch Grand Prix. This and other factors including the birth of his daughter would lead to the Austrian deciding privately that he would retire at the end of the season if he took the title.

Rindt headed to Monza knowing he could take the title if things worked out but with 4 races to go there was no pressure to go for the win. However Rindt was still pushing for as much speed as possible and ran wingless in practice to try and keep up with rival cars who had better straightline speed. On Saturday he felt the setup had been optimised and he continued with the wingless configuration. As he braked for Parabolica at approximately 200mph the car suffered brake failure and speared left. The armco was poorly built and the car went under it before throwing the car back onto the circuit. His mechanic Herbie Blash (now working alongside Charlie Whiting with the FIA) would later reveal that Rindt didn't wear some of his belts as he wanted to be able to escape from the car quicker if it caught fire.

Rindt only competed in 9 of the 13 races in the 1970 season but he still took the title at the penultimate round such was his lead. It was simply a tragic way for it all to happen. 41 years ago today F1 lost one of its greatest. Jochen Rindt clearly was a supreme driver, his raw speed, racing instinct and results against other champions demonstrate this clearly. When you watch the heroes of 2011 drive towards Parabolica this weekend spare a thought for Jochen Rindt. A worthy world champion who should be never be forgotten.

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