Lotus’ F1 Cars Were So Fragile That Drivers Feared For Their Safety
Racing is dangerous. That will never change, and though the tracks, cars, and proceedings become safer each year, unforeseeable danger tends to rear its ugly head from time to time. These days, strange circumstances have taken the lives of a few drivers, but back in the ’60s and ’70s, the cars themselves were often more than suspect.
Formula 1 has long been a cooperation between the talented engineers and mechanics who build a car and the driver who risks everything in order to pilot the car along the line in first. Austrian-German racing driver Jochen Rindt was one of the best, a calm, quick, strategic driver who excelled in long-distance racing—even winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans behind the wheel of a Ferrari 250 LM.
Once he joined Lotus’ Formula 1 team, Colin Chapman gave Rindt the cars to win. And he did, until a number of factors led to his death. See, Champman’s cars were constantly evolving, and in the early days of aerodynamics, experimentation often led to crashes. In Rindt’s case, the crashes weren’t often his fault, but that of parts failures—including the one that initiated his deadly crash in Monza in 1970.
The ever-amazing Letters of Note posted a letter from Rindt to Chapman sent a year earlier, just after Rindt had a heavy crash following rear wing failure at the treacherous Montjuic, Barcelona Circuit.
“I have been racing F1 for 5 years and I have made one mistake (I rammed Chris Amon in Clermont Ferrand) and I had one accident in Zandvoort due to gear selektion (sic) failure, otherwise I managed to stay out of trouble,” Rindt wrote. “This situation changed rapidly since I joined your team, Levin, Eifelrace F2 wishbones, and now Barcelona.”
He continued: “I can only drive a car in which I have some confidence, and I feel the point of no confidence is quite near.” Rindt’s fatal crash, investigators found, was caused a failure of his cars’ right front brake shaft. The improperly-installed crash barriers were found to have been the cause of death, though Rindt’s habit of leaving the anti-submarine belt undone on his 5-point harness saw him slide under the belts and suffer his fatal throat injury.
Later in 1970, Rindt became the only posthumous World Champion.
H/T to Letters of Note