Whilst the names of Clark, Hill and Stewart are frequently mentioned in connection with the era of cigar-shaped cars and Cosworth DFVs, Jochen Rindt was very much their equal. An incredibly gifted driver and one who evokes a misty-eyed response from all those who saw him race, he had only just broken through to the winner’s circle in Formula One and was on the cusp of the World Championship when a violent accident at Monza robbed the world of his talent. In a decade where the torch passed from continental manufacturers to British garagistes, to the extent that every champion of that era spoke English as their first language, Jochen was the first ‘foreigner’ to get behind the ACBC-badged wheel full-time.
Following on from his labour-of-love masterpiece The Lost Generation, David Tremayne has provided us with another lavishly-illustrated tragic tale, this time of the German-born Austrian who shook the motor racing world as the unknown who beat Graham Hill at Crystal Palace before forging a career at the pinnacle of the sport that ended with the unfortunate honour of being the only posthumous World Champion.
Starting with that famous F2 victory that made his name, the author explains that it was not entirely unexpected, for it came on the back of similar success at Mallory Park the same weekend but of course the headlines of the time said it all: “Unknown Austrian beats Hill at Crystal Palace”. This introduction leads onto his formative years – orphaned at an early age his family is no stranger to tragedy – and early racing exploits, plus his friendship with fellow racer Helmut Marko, now found in the Red Bull garage at most Grands Prix and mentor to many a driver.
On the subject of Marko, it’s remarkable how many familiar faces in today’s paddock were touched by Jochen’s life. Many are aware that Bernie Ecclestone was his manager and the plans that they had to form their own team (who knows how powerful Rindt would have been had he lived?) but he was also key to the rapidly-ascending career of Ron Dennis, his mechanic during the turbulent years at Cooper – themselves on a declining curve – and later Brabham. Jochen’s good relationship with Jack probably fuelled much of the tension at Lotus, especially since it almost seemed that he’d joined them at the wrong time and one when Formula One was subject to a lot of experimentation, culminating in a terrible accident at the Spanish GP in 1969, caused by a wing failure. Rindt was highly critical of this development we learn, and rather prophetically lamented the turbulence caused by the devices, a common complaint these days. However, this was communicated via an open letter to the press that was equally as critical of Chapman – Mark Webber bemoaning a lack of support from his team seems innocent in comparison!
If there is a criticism of this book it’s one that’s similar to many others of the genre – the early results come thick and fast and this makes for heavy going at first. However it’s worth the effort as not only are the chapters interspersed with focus on significant events such as the impossible Le Mans win with Masten Gregory in 1965 or the exploits at Indianapolis but it all unfolds beautifully approaching those final two seasons at Lotus. At this point Rindt was the king of Formula Two and it’s funny to note that some had written him off in the top echelon, including legendary journalist Denis Jenkinson.
Rindt’s relationship with Chapman was famously fractured and it’s explained in detail here. The breakthrough win at Watkins Glen leads onto early troubles with the 72, then the great win at Monaco in the now-elderly 49, before the first of a run of victories but there was no time to celebrate as it coincided with the death of his good friend Piers Courage. It’s at this point that the author portrays so well the sense of tragedy that made The Lost Generation such a compelling, if sorrowful, read. The early pace gives way to a feeling as though time is stopping, which for the unfortunate Rindt, was.
The story of the spectacular driver who was every bit as safety-conscious as his friend Jackie Stewart was crying out to be told. With this book it has found the perfect author in Tremayne.