The Sun was low when Trident British Airways, flight 062, landed at Milan Linate airport on Thursday, September 3, 1970. It was hot and humid, as it seems that this is still the case in Italy. I took a look in the cockpit bathed in darkness where the pilot and the co-pilot were filling their flight plans back. They'd be at home tonight, the lucky men.
Jochen Rindt was at the top. He ruled the World Championship. His confidence was steadfast. He had just scored a fantastic series of victories that had started in Monaco on a Lotus 49C, then his new 72 had begun to fly. Victories at Zandvoort, charade, Brands Hatch and Hockenheim. Jochen Rindt seemed indestructible, seen from the outside. But you mustn't rely on appearances. I had the feeling that we had too many failures. Constant changes and updates – coupled with the overload of a third car for Emerson Fittipaldi – were a sign of frenetic activity and caused too much fatigue in the mechanics. It seemed to me that we were not practicing like this at our competitors. An intuition trotted in my head, telling me that things might not happen as well during this weekend.
The 72 had begun its career with two basic faults: an excessive anti-dive which was acting on the brakes by blocking them, and also a too pronounced anti-skating causing too low traction. Once the "anti" systems were removed, the car really worked well – because the rest was perfect. But, my God, she was fragile! We were all over the patch. Moreover, the fact of not being able to keep an engine intact frustrated me (we knew after there was a lubrication defect). On the Österreichring, two weeks before Monza, a brake axle had broken on my car, lacking a bit of rushing against a tree. A horrible vibration was triggered at the start of the race. When I was braking, the car was unannounced on the right and sent me to fight with the corners – Fortunately my guardian angel was watching. That was enough. Every time I climbed in 72/R1, the engine was running off or something was breaking.
I had asked the wonderful Trish, from Team Lotus, to book me a quiet room at the back of the City Hall, in order to finish with the lights of the traffic lights and the mopeds all night long. Yet I did not stop looking at Bruce McLaren, piers courage and Paul Hawkins. Piers had just overpassed me when it crashed. And now I'm in Monza, theater of battles of Titans, fief of Tifosis. I don't like this place. Is it a car circuit or a tank arena, Ben Hur style? What's the difference?
Friday morning. There was a superb chandelier in the dining room and a lot of old woodwork. Not having seen Jochen for breakfast, I went to the circuit, alone. The Tifosis were already at work, attempting to climb the fences. One had blood on his hands. No gold leaf Team Lotus truck was in sight. No chief mechanic Gordon Huckle, nor Dave "Beaky" Sims, nor Eddie Dennis. All the others were there, however. Graham Hill had tried his Lotus 72 Rob Walker earlier in the week; I noted its aerodynamic specifications: front fins flat and Center section of the rear wing with three planes removed.
The Lotus truck arrived at the Paddock shortly before the first test session. The guys had just sent 48 hours of non-stop drive. They looked exhausted. They had provided a large amount of work since the Austrian GP, in addition to a 72 to assemble for Emerson. The guys were adjusting the mirrors, installing Emerson's seat and doing the full. "A funny way to win a World Championship," says McLaren's team manager Phil Kerr as he passes by me. I'm summoned to the Medical Center. Typical Italian absurdity: they make me put on one leg, arms spread, eyes closed. I never understood why. Crazy about that thing.
Jochen seemed in shape. He knew the Championship in his pocket. Nina, his wife, was there as usual. Around Jochen floated permanently as an air of urgency. He exploded very quickly. He hated trials; I loved it. As far as I was concerned, my conception of paradise was to turn to Silverstone to improve a car. A well-tuned car goes fast without having its driver take a lot of risks. Jochen and I were late after the first test session: in the 1:28 while Jacky Ickx was at 1:24.6 in the company of clay Regazzoni and Jackie Stewart in the 1:25 on his Tyrrell 001 which was the first outing. But it was in the second session that things were seriously spoiled.
Jochen and I worked on the top speed and we were more or less at the same conclusions as Graham Hill: flat front and rear fins, Central flap of the rear spoiler removed. There were about half an hour of testing left. The Ferrari was in front in 1:24, we were two seconds behind. Jochen stops at the booth to claim more advanced speed. He had almost won here last year on a Lotus 49 without fins. He demands that we take his fins off. "This is the only way to go fast on this track," he said to Eddie Dennis, his mechanic.
I had wasted a crazy time in the second Lesmo because of the exit that is blind and that controls the stretch leading to the ultrafast curve Ascari (a Chicane now) and to the long straight line that goes towards the parabolic. That's when I spotted Jochen in my mirrors. It was about half an hour left to turn. There was something changed on his car. I slowed down. It is passed under the bridge of the speed ring in the usual environment of noise and turbulence. In Ascari his car was like crazy: the rear zigzagging, she used the whole track, even the tarmac where the junior circuit joins the big circuit. We both stopped at the booth. Jochen had made 1:25.7,
me 1:26.5. It took 500 to 600 rpm more in straight line without ailerons. He now wanted a very long 5th speed to exploit at best the Super DFV at 10 500 laps that would be installed for Saturday.
The vision of his car very unstable without fins had convinced me to keep mine. A conversation that I will never forget ensued then. Before I could say anything,
an order from Colin: "remove the fins from John's car"! I replied in the negative.
Colin insisted, "get his fins out!" Confronted with this kind of situation, I always rely on my instinct. The slowest method is often the most effective, likes to say Jackie Stewart.
I had an idea of what would wait for me without ailerons, because even with his support, my car was very nervous. In the first bend,the Curva Grande, the rear was leaving, as well as in Lesmo. There was no adhesion. For the first time, I was scared in a race car. The tests were completed. Jochen and I were 6th and 11th respectively. Emerson was in 1:28 but his 72 was down somewhere on the runway. Another glitch. At that time, Team Lotus's workforce was 12 people. We had not yet heard of motor-homes; the debriefings took place at the back of the truck.
"The only way you can do a good job is to remove these fins," Colin said, "which I objected to. "We were building cars before the fins appeared," he tried to reassure me of Colin. Yes, but I need time to set the car, "I replied," to which Colin, stubborn, replied: "you will turn tomorrow without fins – I do not want – it is an order, you will do it!" And the dialogue stopped there.
I felt bad. To disagree with the man who had helped me so much would not lead me anywhere. However I knew my days counted at Lotus. Jochen was optimistic. He had managed to adjust the car without fins in less than an hour and he felt able to control the instability. For my part, I felt the risk too big. We did not have any idea of the aerodynamic behavior of this private car of its fins. I did not like this thoughtless approach to the problem.
I had abandoned Dave at his Checklist: seat adjustments, gearbox reports, etc. I had reminded him of my formal opposition to the Suppression of my fins, but I was expecting the worst. I left the paddock, had a good night, and the next day I stumbled upon Jochen and Peter Gethin taking their breakfast. We've spoken wings. Stewart had been pretty darn quick without his own, I'm sure he'd done some testing here even in the week. Most of the other pilots were shooting with support.
"Don't worry, John, it's going to be okay," makes me Jochen. So there was only one test session left? I suspected. I wanted to do things my way. On Saturday morning, the Lotus team seemed more serene. Of course, we had removed the fins from my car. "Sorry John, the old man gave me orders," apologized Dave.
I had lost control of my risk-taking. The day was beautiful. Jochen took the lead from the beginning of the trials. Dave was finishing up to fill my car. He had changed my seat, as I had asked him. Ten minutes later, dissatisfied with my fate but comfortably strapped, I left the Paddock by rolling in the direction of the stands. These DFVS were so flexible, docile. Before leaving the pit line, I realized that the engine noises had ceased, only a few Cosworth borborygms suffocating at the foot of the mechanics disturbed the silence that had fallen on Monza. bizarre. Suddenly, Colin, the engineer Maurice Phillippe and Dick Scammell materialized in front of me, rising from the crowd that clutted the stalls. "Jochen had an accident. Go see what happened»! threw Colin.
My god! What happened? What can I do? I wanted to get into a MouseHole. I was relieved when the Commissioners refused me to take the lead. Bernie Ecclestone,Jochen's Manager at that time, followed by Eddie Dennis, have been running like crazy to the parabolic. Jochen had been extracted from the wreckage of his car when they arrived there. A Commissioner gave them a sign that indicated the worst. They felt that his mind was no longer there, that he had flown away. Eddie picked up a piece of brake disc, and swung it off. He found one of Jochen's shoes and also his helmet. All the front of the car was gone. The car had left the runway on the left, struck the rail and exploded on it. Jochen was not attached. He was found so depressed in the cockpit that the buckle of the safety harness was wrapped around his neck. Everyone froze. Even the Tifosi had been silent. Another catastrophe for Lotus in Monza, where they seize cars and drag people to court.
Graham and Rob Walker returned their car to the garage; Dick Scammell and I followed their footsteps, closing the curtain almost completely behind us, so as not to allow a thin line of light to be filtered from the outside.
There was nothing left of the front of Jochen's car. "Let's face it, he's dead," whispered Dick. He already knew because he had seen Jochen's body transported in the ambulance. I was terribly upset, but also somewhere relieved, as if I had played Russian roulette and had survived. Graham had often been good advice to me.
I liked his sensible and sensible approach to this sport, analogous to mine. But there, in this gloomy light, he seemed elsewhere; He asked Rob when the tests would resume.
Of course, there will be no departure to Monza for Team Lotus. At around five o'clock, Jochen's death was official and all the 72 were boarded in the trucks. I went back to the hotel where I saw Nina Rindt in a disarray, backed by her father, Curt Lincoln, and by Helen Stewart. I wanted to say something, but I did not.
I had dinner that night in town with Emerson and family members. Then I called Chris, my wife, and I went to bed. Piers courage, Bruce McLaren, and now Jochen Rindt.
Not to mention the lesser-known pilots who died during this period and were no less important to me. This is a sport that I had always dreamed of practicing, being a kid, and that was changing today into a story of love turning in vinegar.
We will never know what really happened. We found the front-right brake shaft broken. A clear break would tend to suggest that the piece yielded in the shock against the rail; a twist fracture would be to be carried to the account of the brake shaft itself, which by releasing, would have unbalanced the car on the left, as mine had been on the right during my troubles in Austria. Denny Hulme testified that the Lotus had wobbled on the runway before turning to the left. Did a piece break, which would have instinctively forced Jochen to give a flying stunt while braking? He had ridden used tires, and on the other hand, he had new inserts. It can also
be imagined that the brake balance had not been adapted to the low adhesion of the rear train caused by the absence of fins, which could have sent it directly into the rail when it braked. It was also said that Jochen was warned by members of the Lotus team who relied on my statement, of the risk of turning without ailerons.
Mechanic pieces break on race cars. I think that is what happened. I can't imagine that Jochen made a foul, even on a car too difficult to carry out. I took the bus to the airport, the day of the race, with Bernie Ecclestone. It was both very experienced and angry. He seemed to want to designate. A week later, team manager Peter Warr and Maurice Phillippe, disguised as mechanic, broke into the enclosure where the Lotus hilly was stored and took in the engine, which was not involved in the investigation. The DFV was installed in the 72 Emerson and won USA GP four weeks after.
I met Colin shortly after the drama. He was obviously very affected and told me that Lotus would miss the Canadian GP to reorganize. He gave me his agreement to go to Le Mans to take a few shots (John miles had collaborated on the film Le Mans). Two weeks later, I received a call from Peter Warr informing me that Reine Wisell was replacing me. I was very upset about it, but in retrospect Colin was probably right. The team needed new heads, not someone whose confidence was at its lowest. In the Glen, Emerson and Reine did a good job, arriving first and third. The Lotus 72 had begun to repay its debts. One of my best decisions was
to decline, this same weekend, the wheel of a Lotus 70 F5000 factory at Brands Hatch. Alan Rollinson drove him and the car broke, sending him into the grass a little before Hawthorn.
As for 72/R2, Jochen's car, rumors claim that it would be owned by an individual in Switzerland. I hope, for my part, that what is left
is gone where its real place is – in a crusher.
Edited by Tomy AFX, 29 April 2019 - 03:36 AM.