On this day in 1970 Jochen Rindt (pictured with Jackie Stewart) lost his life in an accident during qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
The Austrian driver went into the race with a 20-point lead in the world championship. As none of his rivals were able to exceed his total of 45 points by the end of the season, he became the sport’s first and only posthumous champion.
The 1970 season was a bleak chapter in the history of Formula 1. June saw the death of McLaren team founder Bruce McLaren while testing a Can-Am car at Goodwood.
Later that same month Piers Courage perished when his De Tomaso, run by Frank Williams, crashed and caught fire during the Dutch Grand Prix.
After the death of Courage the drivers became especially vocal in their criticism of the safety standards at some tracks – particularly the Nurburgring Nordschleife.
Although Stewart has rightly been lauded for his tireless efforts to improve safety, Rindt was heavily involved in the effort to cancel that year’s race at the Nurburgring. The race was moved to the Hockenheimring while efforts were made to improve safety facilities at the other track.
Driving for Lotus, Rindt had already won a memorable race at Monaco early in the year, chasing down Jack Brabham and passing the Australian who went off at the final corner on the final lap.
Rindt claimed that win in a 49C, then took a quartet of wins in Colin Chapman’s revolutionary new 72C. The first was a joyless win at Zandvoort in the aftermath of Courage’s death, then three more at Clermont-Ferrand, Silverstone and Hockenheim.
That year’s Italian Grand Prix was the penultimate F1 race held on the chicane-less version of the track. It had only five corners worthy of the name – the fast Curva Grande sending the cars up to Lesmos one and two, then a long left at Ascari leading on to Parabolica.
These were the early days of wings in Formula 1 and teams often removed them at Monza to ensure maximum straight-line speed. Rindt was running his 72 in such a configuration when he crashed at Parabolica.
Denny Hulme, who was following close behind Rindt at the time, saw the car swerve right, then left – an investigation later showed a brake shaft had failed. The Lotus 72 ploughed into a barrier which gave way, driving the car partially underneath the barrier, violently tearing its nose off. Rindt had left the crotch straps in his harness undone, as was his habit, and slid down into the cockpit on impact, suffering terrible neck injuries.
The Lotus team left the track immediately and stayed away from the next race at Mont-Tremblant in Canada too. They returned for the following Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
There Emerson Fittipaldi, driving in only his fourth Grand Prix, won the race. In doing so he prevented Ferrari’s Jacky Ickx from being able to score enough points to overhaul Rindt in the championship – not that Ickx wanted to take the crown from a dead man.
Rindt’s championship trophy was presented to his widow, Nina.
Thanks to Red Bulletin for permitting the reproduction of the images above. See their latest issue for an article on Rindt.