50 years on: Fittipaldi pays tribute to F1 legend Jochen Rindt

Fifty years on from the day Jochen Rindt was killed in practice for the Italian Grand Prix, two-time world champion Emerson Fittipaldi recalls a wonderful friendship with F1’s only posthumous title winner.

50 years on: Fittipaldi pays tribute to F1 legend Jochen Rindt

Rindt died from injuries sustained when his Lotus crashed at Monza’s Parabolica during Italian GP practice on September 5, 1970. He had made 60 Formula 1 World Championship starts, winning six races and taking 10 pole positions – as well as winning the 1965 Le Mans 24 Hours in a Ferrari.

Fittipaldi first encountered Rindt before he got to Formula 1, but it was a day at Silverstone – when Emerson was getting his first taste of a Lotus 49 F1 car – that left his strongest memory of a friend as well as racing rival.

“Jochen was always extremely good to me in Formula 2,” recalls Fittipaldi. “He was always nice to me, always helping me. 

“On my first F1 test in Silverstone, before I did a few laps in the Lotus 49, Colin [Chapman, Lotus founder] asked Jochen to go out and get it ready for me to drive. Jochen did a few laps, came back and said: ‘It’s all OK, Emerson can go.’

“I tried the car for 10 laps, came back to the pits and said: ‘The car is understeering a little too much.’ Jochen was there at the cockpit with Colin and heard my comments. I asked Colin for some more front wing, and Jochen says ‘no, no, no, just use more throttle. That will get rid of the understeer, don’t worry, the balance of the car will come back to you’.

“I went out and went much faster, did a very quick lap time. And Jochen was so happy, he was giving the pitboard to me! I could see him smiling on the pitwall as I went past. Incredible! He was very good to me.”

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Fittipaldi had already made his mark in selected races in 1970 driving a Lotus 49C, and was entrusted with a 72 for the first time at the ill-fated Italian Grand Prix weekend.

“The Lotus 72 was very advanced in terms of unsprung weight,” explained Fittipaldi. “Colin designed the inboard brakes, front and rear, and it created its own problems, like too much heat inside the car. 

“The driveshafts [including those for the front brakes] were different materials, needing different heat treatments, and exactly this problem happened in Monza, my fourth grand prix, and it was the car I was going to drive. 

“I’d crashed Jochen’s new car on the Friday [Chapman had entrusted it to Emerson to bed it in], and then Jochen had to drive my car on Saturday, and that’s the one that broke. We suspect the brakeshaft failed when he was braking for Parabolica, so he only had brakes on three wheels. 

“He went sideways and under the barrier, and that was his fatal crash.”

In our gallery below are photos from Motorsport Images and Rainer Schlegelmilch, who was in the Lotus pits ahead of the practice session in which Rindt was killed.

Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
1/11

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Eddie Dennis and chief mechanic Dick Scammell prepare the Lotus 72C-Ford in the pits
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
2/11

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

With team boss Colin Chapman, Lotus
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
3/11

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Eddie Dennis stands over his Lotus 72C Ford
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
4/11

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Lotus boss Colin Chapman with wife Hazel and family in the pits
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
5/11

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Dick Scammell of Lotus stands over the wingless Lotus 72C Ford, Rindt can be seen behind, close to the cockpit of team-mate John Miles
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
6/11

Photo by: Motorsport Images

In his Lotus 72C Ford, looking across at François Cevert, March 701 Ford as he drives down the pitlane
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
7/11

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Eddie Dennis prepares the Lotus 72C-Ford in the pits
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
8/11

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Prepares the leave the pits for the final time in his Lotus 72C Ford
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
9/11

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Prepares the leave the pits for the final time in his Lotus 72C Ford
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
10/11

Photo by: David Phipps

In the final laps before the fatal accident in his Lotus 72
Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt
11/11

Photo by: David Phipps

In the final laps before the fatal accident in his Lotus 72

 

Although it’s often stated that Rindt’s dislike for using the crotch straps on his safety harness led to his fatal injuries, there’s little doubt that the way the crash barrier reacted to the car’s impact contributed as much to his demise as the right-front brakeshaft failure that caused him to lose control.

His car also had its wings removed ahead of the accident, and although teammate John Miles labelled it “undriveable” in this setup, Rindt had actually come up with this idea to gain straightline speed.

The wreckage of Jochen Rindt's Lotus 72 is carried away after his fatal accident

The wreckage of Jochen Rindt's Lotus 72 is carried away after his fatal accident

Photo by: David Phipps

In his obituary in Autosport, Rindt was quoted as once saying: “If a car is going to break, it will break anyway. It’s got very little to do with going quickly or not, so once you’ve made the decision to sit in the car you might as well go quick. I mean, it’s not going to break any earlier or later because you go quick or slow.”

Rindt had already won five of the 10 grands prix that season, and his 45-point tally was such that when Fittipaldi – who inherited his number one spot at Lotus – claimed his maiden grand prix win at the Watkins Glen finale it ensured Jacky Ickx didn’t overhaul him.

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