Jochen Rindt was born in Mainz, Germany, but after his parents were killed in a bombing raid in Hamburg during the Second World War, he moved to live with his grandparents in Graz, Austria, where he grew up and started motor racing.
Despite being very successful in Formula 2 (by winning for instance the 1964 London Trophy
), Rindt kept on choosing the wrong F1 cars. Rindt made his Formula One debut for Rob Walker Racing Team in the 1964 Austrian Grand Prix. It was to be his only Grand Prix
of the year. From 1965 to 1967, Rindt raced for Cooper Car Company, scoring 32 points in 29 races.
In 1968, Rindt raced for Brabham, but Rindt's season wasn't what he had hoped for, due to technical problems. Rindt also raced in the Indianapolis 500 in both 1967 and 1968, but finished no better than 24th. Rindt was noted for being an exceptionally fast driver with superb car control and reflexes, but rarely had a car equal of his talent until 1969 when Rindt moved to Lotus and it was with Lotus that Rindt's career took off.
Rindt clinched the first Grand Prix
victory of his career in the Grand Prix
of the USA in Watkins Glen. Rindt finished that year with 22 points, giving him fourth place in the World Drivers' Championship. Rindt occasionally had a fraught relationship with Colin Chapman
as he preferred a stable technological footing as opposed to Chapman's need to innovate and invent, but the two forged a successful partnership.
Rindt's 1970 season started with a dramatic last corner win at Monaco. Thereafter armed with perhaps the greatest Formula one car of all time, the Lotus 72, Rindt won four more Grands Prix in The Netherlands, France, Britain and Germany that year. During practice for the 1970 Italian Grand Prix
in Monza, near Milan, Chapman and Rindt agreed to follow the lead of Jackie Stewart (Tyrrell) and Denny Hulme (McLaren) and run without wings in an attempt to reduce drag and gain a higher top speed.
The more powerful Ferraris had been up to 10 mph faster than the Lotus at the previous race in Austria. Rindt's team mate John Miles was unhappy with the wingless setup in Friday practice, reporting that the car 'wouldn't run straight'. Rindt reported no such problems, and Chapman recalled that Rindt reported the car to be 'almost 800 rpm faster on the straight' without wings.
On the following day, Rindt ran with higher gear ratios fitted to his car to take advantage of the reduced drag, increasing the cars' potential top speed to 205 mph. On Rindt's fifth lap of the final practice session, Hulme, who was following, reported that under braking for the Parabolica corner: 'Jochen's car weaved slightly and then swerved sharp left into the crash barrier.' A joint in the crash barrier parted, the suspension dug in under the barrier and the car hit a stanchion head on.
The front end of the car was destroyed. Although Rindt was rushed to hospital, he was pronounced dead. Rindt had only recently acquiesced to wearing a simple lap belt, and had slid underneath where the belt buckle cut his throat. He was the second Lotus team leader to be killed in two years, as Jim Clark had been killed in 1968. An Italian court later found that the accident was initiated by a failure of the car's right front brakeshaft, but that Rindt's death was caused by poorly installed crash barriers.
At the time he died Rindt had won five of that year's ten Grands Prix, which meant that he had a strong lead in the World Drivers Championship. At that stage he theoretically could have been overtaken by Ferrari driver Jacky Ickx. However Rindt's Lotus team mate, Emerson Fittipaldi
, won the penultimate Grand Prix
of the year at Watkins Glen, depriving Ickx of the points he needed to win the title, and so Rindt became motor racing's first posthumous World Champion. The trophy was presented to his Finnish widow Nina Rindt nee
Lincoln, daughter of famous Finnish racer, Curt Lincoln. In a tragic twist of irony, it was learned that Jochen had promised Nina he would retire from F1 if he won the world championship.