Almost a month after Jochen Rindt’s sudden death at the Italian Grand Prix in 1970, the Austrian was still in contention for championship victory. On this day, October 4th, Rindt won his title, becoming the first and only posthumous champion in history.
Rindt was the ‘nearly man’ for much of his career but soon found momentum at the hands of his Lotus 72C when the illustrious team began their title campaign in South Africa. The Lotus was a successful racing challenger, taking the German-born driver to five victories, four of which were consecutive, to lead the championship in style.
Rindt did not start the Italian Grand Prix at Monza after a crash in Friday practice cost him his life, just as title pendulum swung in his favour. The championship was now out of his control as Formula 1 made its way to Watkins Glen to race in the United States.
It was a race won by Rindt’s team mate Emerson Fittipaldi in the leading Lotus-Ford. The Brazilian had inherited the lead with eight laps to go after Pedro Rodriguez was forced to pit for further fuel. A staggering thirty-six lead grew in those remaining minutes, gifting Lotus boss Colin Chapman with the constructors’ and Rindt the drivers’ championship. It was also the team’s seventh win in North America and Fittipaldi’s first in his rookie season.
That weekend, all eyes were on Jackie Stewart as he looked to secure his first win of the season but the focus quickly switched to the fallen racer, a man who won against all the odds. Arguably, title has not been won in such emotional circumstances before or since. The world of Formula 1 stopped momentarily, in a state of humility, to grieve and celebrate the championship who never knew.
On this day – October 4th – in 1970, Formula 1 history was made, a story we all hope will never be repeated.
“I took the lead and, going over the finish line, I saw for the first time Colin [Chapman] jumping and throwing his hat, something I’d seen him do for Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jochen. I kept saying to myself, ‘he’s doing that for me. I won the race. I won the US Grand Prix!’ It was unbelievable.