Mesmeric Skills on the High Wire…

Posted: September 3, 2020 in F1
Tags: , ,


If only Jochen Rindt had rejoined Jack and Ron at Brabham as he had committed to do.

But the Lotus/Ford money was too good to resist and Jack ‘let him off the hook’.

If only he had run with wings.

But Ickx was bridging the championship gap, the Ferrari flat-12 had plenty of punch, Rindt needed more top speed, 800rpm was provided by eliminating wings, his skill would make up for some of the lost corner speed.

If only he’d used the Willans’ crutch straps.

But he had a thing about them.

If only Chapman and Philippe’s slide rules had done a better job.

They didn’t.

If only the car’s Monza Armco angle and point of entry was different.

It wasn’t.

If only Saint Christopher had been aboard Lotus 72C Ford chassis ‘R2’ that 5 September 1970 afternoon fifty years ago.

He was A.W.O.L.

And so, with a horrible confluence of factors, the fastest man of his generation and one of the quickest ever, was killed during the Saturday afternoon session of the Italian Grand Prix.

Jochen’s right-front inboard brake driveshaft fractured under hard braking into the South Curve from about 190mph pitching the car hard left into the Armco safety barrier support staunchion.

Rindt suffered fatal throat wounds after ‘submarining’ forward under his lap belts given the force of the impact.

Lotus 72 being denuded of wings and airbox by Chief Mechanic Eddie Dennis. Other competitors also practiced sans wings. The RHS inboard brake driveshaft which broke is clear. Whether the failing was in component design or subcontractor manufacture is not entirely clear


Jochen and Nina 5 September 1970


Before the off. Jochen found 800rpm by eliminating wings and then fitted a taller 205mph fifth. Airboxes removed but sitting on the rear of the car. Siffert’s works March 701 Ford behind

Childhood formative memories are so powerful.

Somehow, two years before i ever went to a motor race, via Automobile Year 18 in the case of Jochen and via Australian Motor Racing Annual 1970 in the case of Kevin Bartlett, i had my two favourite drivers, both of whom were cut from the same ‘automotive acrobat’ cloth.

The world’s best are a mix of on-board computer and speed, they are not for me though.

I’ve always preferred the balls to the wall types who defy the laws of physics by doing things with cars which are perhaps not theoretically possible- so its Nuvolari, Rosemeyer, Fangio, Moss, Peterson, Villeneuve, Rosberg K, Senna, Bellof- dudes of that ilk who appeal to me most.

I apply a ‘friggin homicidal arsehole filter to this entirely subjective, emotional list- as a consequence Schumacher doesn’t make the cut. Senna was lucky to get through it. Of course both fellas are not sportsmen in the Marquis of Queensberry sense either. I’m a bit traditional in my views in that regard.

It’s entirely debatable of course, but it seems to me that the winged cars of 1968 through to the advent of John Barnard’s carbon-fibre chassis McLaren MP4 of 1981 were amongst the most lethal of all.

With 400-525bhp, and then later towards 1,000bhp, with loads of grip, cornering speeds were far higher than ever.

Drivers were ensconced within aluminium monocoques, which whilst more ‘shuntable’ than the girder/spaceframes which went before, did not have great capacity to absorb the physics unleashed when something went terribly wrong, as it did at Monza.

Very fast road circuits were still part of the 1970 tour, Clermont and Spa to be specific, by 1980 that was not the case, not in their original, more lethal forms anyway.

None of the blokes cited were targets for life insurance salesmen, they did their stuff without a safety net, with minuscule margins for pilot error or mechanical failure.

I don’t propose to rattle off Jochen’s full career summary but lets not forget the 1970 posthumous F1 drivers world title, 1965 Le Mans win with Masten Gregory aboard a N.A.R.T. Ferrari 250LM, countless Brabham and Lotus F2 wins and sheer blinding speed in everything into which he popped his bum.

R.I.P. Karl Jochen Rindt, 18 April 1942-5 September 1970.

British GP weekend, Brands Hatch, July 1970. The dashboard support became a mandated structural element to protect the driver from the commencement of the 1976 season- it was no such thing in any of the cars in 1970


Poor Eddie Dennis absorbing the gruesome reality of it all (unattributed)


Getty Images, Geoffrey Harris Collection


(G Harris)

One of Graz’ favourite sons- the place in which Rindt was brought up and called home is being celebrated on the city trams at present.

(G Harris)


  1. Martin says:

    Hi Mark,
    Bloody Hell mate ….. is it really 50 years ago! Nice what they have done with the trams.
    I do recall watching Jochen win at the Farm, in the rain, nobody else got close to him.
    Have to agree with your two favourite drivers, mine also. For me Keke Rosberg was the last of the “drive the wheels off it” style of driver. It all seems so different now.
    Bugger, I’m showing my age again!

    • markbisset says:

      Forgot Keke- shall add him! Big omission on my part.
      Thanks Martin.

      • Geoffrey Harris says:

        An important anniversary tomorrow. Thanks for the article, Mark. I should point out that the tram photos were not taken by me but were posted from a ceremony in Graz, Austria, on Wednesday. I had intended to attend the event originally planned there for May but then came the pandemic. The photos are on the Jochen Rindt Facebook Fanclub page, which has almost 2500 members. Among those at Wednesday’s ceremony were Jochen’s daughter Natascha, who I had the great pleasure to meet some years ago, Jochen’s step-brother Uwe Eisleben, and Red Bull Racing’s Helmut Marko, a childhood mate of Jochen. A new book has been released on the great man, published in German and English. It is available through Book Depository. (Meeting Natascha was some compensation for not having seen Jochen in the Lotus 49 at Warwick Farm in 1969. Those who did are still spellbound. Natascha was too young to have any memories of her father. Jochen’s widow, Nina, remains a great friend to Helen Stewart, wife of Sir Jackie Stewart and who sadly suffers dementia).

  2. Wayne Giles says:

    Its interesting to try and put some time frames around the various photos. In photo 2 you mention the the 72 was being denuded of wings and airbox on that fateful Saturday. But in photo 1 and 6 (Poor Eddie Dennis) the airbox is attached. The airbox must have been reattached after photo 2 and photo 1 might very well be one of the last of this great driver.

    • markbisset says:

      I am fairly certain the Getty Images photos in the article were all taken on 5/9- some are dated 6/9 but we know Jochen was not immortal.
      I’ve carefully read DSJ’s race report, i can find no photos of Jochen running with the normal 72C setup weekend, but imagine he did just to set a ‘baseline’.
      Plenty of blokes went wingless or part wingless.
      In terms of the Lotus 72’s, John Miles (a Lotus engineer as most of us are aware) found that car was unstable without so ran with wings for Q23.
      Fittipaldi went straight on in the South Curve on Friday and damaged his new 72 beyond repair for the weekend-Q24 and last.
      Graham Hill, typically thorough, tried his car in ‘full aero’, ‘part aero’- sans the middle element of the three tier rear wing and running his front wings with almost no incidence, and sans wings completely. Q22 the result.
      Jochen was Q21 early- 5 or 6 laps into the 3pm – 6.30pm Saturday afternoon session.
      Probably all 3 Lotus entries had more to come in the final session, we will never know, but all of the Lotus DNS given the safety exposure.

  3. grahamedney says:

    Re the causes of Rindt’s fatal accident: Michael Cooper Evans’ book on Rob Walker’s career (Rob Walker,Hazelton Publishing, Richmond Surrey. 1993) relays (page 231) that following the crash. Walker withdrew Graham Hill’s sister car from the race and that the brake shafts were later sent to Vickers Armstrong for crack testing; “… their report described the shafts as “shattered” . I rang them up and asked what this meant in layman’s terms and they told me that the shafts could have broken at any time in the next half-dozen laps at Monza”.

  4. robert king says:

    Mark, your remark that ‘Senna was lucky to get through’ in your estimate of ‘balls to the wall’ drivers caught my intention. I watched him from the outside of Market (forbidden area) in Adelaide qualifying in the Turbo era. To see him blatting through the corner with his unique dab, dab, dab throttle style, is one of my great memories. Even more memorable was standing on the inside of Peters Corner at Sandown during practice, leaning on the railing, looking down on Rindt and Hill nose to tail in the 49Bs. There must have been 18 inches of dirt between the bitumen and the Armco on the outside. Rindt used all of this each lap and I am sure he lent the left rear wheel on the Armco to straighten the car up.

  5. David Wilson says:

    I always believed in Jenks and still do, and Jenks never rated Rindt that highly. On the evidence ,however, the man ,Rindt I mean, was a genius.

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