Saturday 5th September 2020
30,000 people gave Jochen Rindt their last escort 50 years ago, and there are still numerous candles on his grave today. The Formula 1 driver had a fatal accident on September 5, 1970 – and was nevertheless world champion. Who was the German who started with an Austrian license?
A cigarette in the corner of his mouth, a conspicuous nose, sunglasses, a mischievous smile, a lanky walk: Jochen Rindt came across as casual, self-confident, charismatic. A guy who stood out and liked. A daredevil as soon as he was in a racing car. “He stood out from the crowd with his whole demeanor,” remembers his school friend and today’s Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko at the beginning of July on the sidelines of the Austrian Grand Prix.
Jochen Rindt pursued one goal in his career: he wanted to become Formula 1 world champion. When Nina Rindt finally accepted the World Cup trophy her husband had longed for, he had been dead for two months. “It was his passion. He did what he loved,” says the Finn in the ARD documentary “Jochen Rindts last Summer “from 2010.
On September 5, 1970, this passion became Jochen Rindt’s undoing. He had a fatal accident in training for the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. In the Parabolica, Rindt crashes into the guardrails with his Lotus 72. Cause: a broken brake shaft in the front right. Rindt is only 28 years old – and is the first and so far only driver to posthumously become Formula 1 world champion. The pictures are unforgettable.
Wife Nina sitting on a bar stool in the lotus box with a fearful look, a stopwatch in her hand. She waits for her husband while all the other drivers come back from the track. It’s getting quieter. Jackie Stewart, Rindt’s rival and close friend, comes up to her and tells her what happened. Bernie Ecclestone, later Formula 1 ruler, wears his friend’s bloodied helmet.
Born in Germany, raised in Austria
The shock in and outside of the motorsport world over Rindt’s death is great, comparable only to the accident tragedies of the Briton Jim Clark in 1968 in a Formula 2 race at the Hockenheimring and the Brazilian Ayrton Senna in Imola in 1994. 30,000 people give Rindt their last escort six days after his death in Graz. Racing driver colleague Joakim Bonnier says in his funeral speech: “And no matter what happens in the next few weeks: Jochen is the world champion for us.”
In the central cemetery in Graz there are still numerous candles on Rindt’s grave. The city in which he grew up is reminiscent of him this year. The award is given to a driver who “was Austria’s departure for motorsport”, as journalist Helmut Zwickl says in the ARD documentary. “He became the nation’s driving instructor and tutored everyone.”
Rindt was not an Austrian. He was born on April 18, 1942 in Mainz. His father was German, his mother Austrian. They owned a spice mill. When his parents were killed in a bomb attack in Hamburg in 1943, his grandparents took him to live in Austria. He remained German, but drove with an Austrian racing license. “I feel like a European,” he once said during an appearance in the “Current Sports Studio”.
He made his decision to become a racing driver in 1961 on a trip to the Nürburgring with his childhood friend Marko. He goes to England to find a connection to the international scene. “Our school English was just enough to order something to eat. You need courage, a vision. And a lot of self-confidence,” said Marko in July in the “Red Bull Bulletin”. Rindt rises quickly and becomes a star in Austria. He won Le Mans in 1965. His TV show “Motorama” became a cult. He moderates in a fur coat or interviews his Formula 1 colleagues. In 1965 he organized the Jochen Rindt Show for the first time in Vienna.
Rindt never trusted his car
In his private life he finds happiness in Nina. They married in 1967, daughter Natascha came in 1968. In Formula 1 he has long been missing a car capable of winning. In 1964 he contested his first of 60 races. The chance did not come until 1969: Lotus boss Colin Chapman wanted him to replace Clark. The Briton is considered an ingenious but ruthless designer. “At Lotus, I can become world champion or die,” says Rindt. He signs anyway.
The relationship is difficult. “I’ve never had any confidence in Lotus,” said Rindt after a wing on his car broke and he crashed in Barcelona. But in the penultimate race of the season at Watkins Glen he celebrated his first victory. The following year, Rindt wins in Monaco after a race to catch up through the narrow streets of the principality. He’s starting a winning streak in Zandvoort. But the fire of his friend Piers Courage overshadows the race.
This is followed by first places in Clermont-Ferrand, Brands Hatch and at the Formula 1 debut of the Hockenheimring. In his home race at the Österreichring, he is eliminated. Nevertheless, with 45 points as the leader, he has every chance of winning the title. Then comes the Monza tragedy. Until the penultimate race, Ferrari driver Jacky Ickx can still catch his dead rival. A breakdown and fourth place at Watkins Glen prevent that. The Belgian is relieved. Years later he remembers: “The best thing was to see how the world championship title went to Jochen after all.”