Jochen Rindt was born in Mainz, Germany in 1942. His parents were spice manufacturers but after a bombing raid in Hamburg in 1943, Rindt was orphaned and swiftly adopted by his maternal grandparents, in Graz Austria. He was a headstrong child, looking for speed and danger. He broke his legs twice in skiing competitions and was known for either crashing out or winning races on his moped and motorcross bikes. His grandparents despaired after various expulsions from schools, so he was sent to England to learn English. It was here Rindt learnt to drive cars although he was still too young to obtain a licence. His hero and mentor at this time was Wolfgang Von Trips, an aristocratic German driver, who lost his life at Monza in 1961. This did not dampen Rindt’s ambitions and he raced in his first race in the same year, only to be black flagged for dangerous driving.
Rindt had great success in Formula 2, winning 29 times, most famously in 1964, when he beat the illustrious Graham Hill at Crystal Palace. The race was documented “His car was sideways throughout the race. It went around the corners at unbelievable angles and always looked as if it was about to go off the road”. This was to become his trademark style of driving.
During this era, drivers often entered for different race formats. In 1965 he became the youngest driver to win Le Mans, he worked himself up to become known as the ‘King of Formula 2’ and signed a three year contract with Cooper to race in Formula 1.
In 1967 Jochen married Nina Lincoln, a glamourous Finnish model and daughter of racing driver Curt Lincoln. The press coined them “Beauty and the Beast”. They were adored both on and off the racetrack.
After three years with Cooper and a year with Brabham, Rindt joined Lotus in 1968 under the watchful eye of legendary team boss Colin Chapman. He replaced Jim Clark who had been tragically killed at Hockenheim. Chapman and Rindt had a frosty relationship, Rindt didn’t trust him or his car designs and Chapman had always favoured Clark, but both wanted to win.
Rindt’s defining moment in his F1 career was winning at Monaco in 1970. He came up behind Jack Brabham at such speed that Brabham crashed on the last corner and Rindt took victory. After this race, Rindt went on to win four consecutive F1 races; the Dutch, French, British and German. His daughter was also born this year, and this, coupled with the loss of life of his great racing friends, Bruce Mclaren and Piers Courage people thought Rindt was considering retirement. He later denied this.
“Nobody knows how long he will live. Because of this fact you have to do as much as you can, as fast as you can.” Jochen Rindt knew the risks. During the practice at Monza, Italy on September 5th 1970, Rindt’s Lotus inexplicably left the track and ploughed into a guardrail. Although the drivers had five point straps, Rindt never wore his crotch strap for fear of burning alive, and this was his undoing; he submarined in the cockpit and suffered fatal throat injuries from the seat-belt buckle. He died at the age of 28 years. This was the same spot that Von Trips had died nine years earlier. With only four races remaining in the season, no other driver overtook his point tally, and therefore Jochen Rindt became motor racing’s only posthumous World Champion. For his coronation as Formula 1 World Champion, Jackie Stewart handed the famous trophy to his widow Nina.