Rivals look back as Rindt's 40th anniversary approaches
The Formula One world will mark the 40th anniversary of the sport's first and only posthumous world champion on Sunday afternoon, the 28-year-old having lost his fight for life following a crash just before qualifying for the 1970 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The German had such a lead in the championship at the time of the accident that he went on to claim the title that year, having missed the final four rounds.
Jackie Stewart, Rindt's chief challenger for the title at the time, remembers the day vividly. "It was very traumatic. Helen (Stewart) went to the hospital with Nina (Rindt) and that's never a nice thing for a wife to do, to look after another wife," he recalled to the Red Bulletin. "After the accident I'd been to Jochen and come back to Nina, who had totally disappeared with Helen. When I went out later to qualify I was in tears.
"But when I had the visor down that was when I did my qualifying time, which was the best lap I had ever done at Monza. I didn't have a death wish, but as I came back in, my best friend John Lindsay, handed me a Coca-Cola, I took a drink and I was so angry I smashed it against the concrete wall that separated the pits from the track. That was my emotion."
Chris Amon, who was driving for March at the time, was one of the last people to speak to Rindt. "I talked to Jochen at Monza just before he went out for his last practice lap," said Chris. "His confidence levels were very high. He was on his way to winning the world championship and he was confident of a good result. A few minutes later he got in the car and never came back. I don't know if we ever saw the best of him."
Rindt's Lotus team had been experimenting with wings around the time of the accident and team-mate John Miles reckons to this day that Rindt may still be alive but for the team's aggressive development strategy. "The Lotus 72 [the title-winning car on which Miles helped the development] was such a troublesome child - every time I got into it something broke," he recalled. "Jochen kind of didn't want to drive for Lotus in one sense because he knew the cars were liable to let him down, but there was engineering rashness with the 72.
"If we hadn't been doing stupid experiments like taking the wings off with zero aerodynamic data to base it on and if the mechanics hadn't pulled an all-nighter to do this stuff, then maybe Jochen would still be alive."
Another of Jochen's team-mates, future triple world champion Emerson Fittipaldi recalls just how had the loss hit him. "It was awful for me. I was only 22 and he was a guy I had looked up to as an idol. He was always very good to me when I arrived in Europe from Brazil and his death was a big shock," said Emerson. "Although Jochen could sometimes seem quite cold if you didn't know him, he was a really warm guy underneath. He was an extreme talent and a fantastic guy."