‘Like war reporters’ Journalist Helmut Zwickl recalls Rindt’s French Grand Prix weekend in 1970
What was it like for journalists working in Formula 1 in 1970? It was an adventure. I shared a car with the photographer Alois Rottensteiner.
We drove all the way from Vienna to Clermont-Ferrand without taking a break. It took 16 hours. Maybe more.
dangerous We knew, of course, how dangerous the circuit was.
It was a mini Nürburgring. Deaths were commonplace during those years.
Did people just accept them as part of the sport? Yes, we were like war reporters.
It felt as if someone died at every other race.
Before the editor of the sports section of the Kurier newspaper went on holiday, he left two obituaries for Formula 1 drivers with the editorial department: one if they died in a fire,
dangerous the other if they didn’t. We would just have to fill in the names.
How did Rindt deal with that? You could see he was under a lot of pressure.
He knocked the camera out of Alois’s hand in ClermontFerrand because he didn’t want to be photographed with a fish-eye lens.
“I look stupid,” he said.
But he apologised afterwards. The interaction between racing drivers and the media was quite different back then.
Did Rindt have that natural authority at the time that we ascribe to him now? As Jim Clark’s successor at Lotus, he could afford to take some liberties, even with team principal Colin Chapman.
When his steering broke in practice, he summoned the whole Lotus team and tore a strip off them. Chapman stood there very quietly.
The atmosphere at Lotus that year was electrifying. Because Rindt had seen what was possible that year? Exactly. He’d already won at Monaco and Zandvoort.
He said Lotus would either make him a world champion or kill him.
As it turned out, it did both. What were his emotions like after he won in France? I would say it was relief combined with a degree of satisfaction.
He knew how good he was. The most important thing was that he’d got to the finish line in one piece. That time, at least.
What was the last thing you watched on Netflix? I’m watching ‘The Last Dance’ (a documentary about Michael Jordan’s final NBA season).
What was the first car you owned? BMW M3.
What are your hobbies away from the track? Working out, gaming, chilling with friends.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a racing driver? I would say… To pursue it professionally, probably not until I was 16.
If you had a time-travelling DeLorean, when and where would you want it to take you? One of my big regrets was leaving school to do online home schooling.
In hindsight, I’d rather have finished high school while still racing – if possible
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