1970 Monaco Grand Prix
When they passed the finish line for the final lap, Jack Brabham’s mechanics cheered their team leader on, while the Lotus mechanics did the same for their leading man, the Austrian Jochen Rindt. The old Lotus had been repainted red, white and gold, while their old and classic colour livery was now featured on the car Rindt was chasing. After all that had gone wrong that weekend, second place already felt like victory, but it would be sensational if he could overtake veteran Brabham!
Round three of 1970 season saw the Formula One family mooring at Monaco’s docks. The first round of the championship had been held at Kyalami, where triple World Champion Jack Brabham won for his eponymous team. His former teammate Denny Hulme (driving for fellow-Kiwi Bruce McLaren’s squad) finished second, while reigning World-Champion Jackie Stewart only managed third having planted his March on pole the day before. Six weeks later, the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama only saw five drivers finish the race: Stewart won with a lead of more than a lap over Bruce McLaren and privateer Mario Andretti, who managed to finish a race for the first time in his young career.
In contrast to earlier in the week, the sun was shining gloriously in Monaco come race day. The front row was occupied by the two Marches: Jackie Stewart in the Tyrrell-March, alongside Chris Amon in the works team March. Denny Hulme and veteran Jack Brabham filled up the second row, from Ferrari’s sole driver Jacky Ickx. Matra was well represented in sixth (Jean-Pierre Beltoise) and seventh (Henri Pescarolo), who were going to be teammates in next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Up until then, Lotus was having a dismal weekend: with the new and revolutionary Lotus 72 proving too difficult to drive with its anti-squat and anti-dive, Jochen Rindt and John Miles reverted to the old 49 chassis. Rindt only managed eighth in qualifying due to engine problems. Graham Hill, still recovering from his accident at the Glen in late 1969, had entered the Grand Prix with a Rob Walker Lotus 49, but he crashed it in Friday practice at Casino Square. Rob Walker and Lotus’s team boss Colin Chapman then agreed to let Graham Hill take over Miles’s Lotus for the race, which meant Hill had to start from 16th and last on the grid. He shared the eighth row with Pedro Rodriguez in the BRM P153: its powerful V12 engine wasn’t exactly optimal for twisty Monte-Carlo, which left him and Jackie Oliver at the back of the grid.
While the cars behind him were lining up for the start of the race, Jackie Stewart clumsily stalled his engine, but was thankfully able to restart it before the Monegasque flag fell. Stewart and Amon lead the field through Saint Dévote, followed by Brabham, Ickx and Beltoise. Denny Hulme had a slow start and dropped to sixth. On lap two, Beltoise made a move up Jacky Ickx’s inside into the final hairpin and took fourth place from the Belgian driver. Rindt had passed Pescarolo at the start, but on lap three the Frenchman overtook him in the final hairpin and reclaimed seventh place. Jackie Stewart was building up a comfortable lead, while Chris Amon was holding up a large group of drivers from Brabham in third to Rindt in eighth.
Jacky Ickx and Jean-Pierre Beltoise were soon forced to retire from the race, while Jack Brabham finally overtook Chris Amon on lap 22 of 80. Shortly afterwards Jackie Stewart’s DFV engine began misfiring: he stopped at the Lotus mechanics, who installed a new ignition box. Stewart was sent back out on track, but eventually retired from the race. Rindt finally began making progress by first passing Henri Pescarolo, and then Denny Hulme for third place, behind Brabham and the still struggling Amon. In contrast to Chris Amon, Jo Siffert did have pace in his works team March: he had made some steady progress by first passing Piers Courage’s De Tomaso (driving for Frank Williams’s racing team), then Pescarolo and Hulme. On lap 60 of 80, Chris Amon’s rear suspension failed, which meant that all his defending driving had been in vain. Rindt inherited second place, from Jo Siffert. But the unlucky Swiss (who didn’t even qualify for the Spanish Grand Prix) started having fuel ignition problems and began falling through the field. This handed the final spot on the podium to a young and bearded Henri Pescarolo.
But the real battle was for first place: Jochen Rindt was reeling in Jack Brabham by mere seconds a lap. With four laps to go, the gap had come down to just nine seconds. Jo Siffert, who by now was running very slowly, held up Brabham at Casino square (Siffert retired two laps later when his March ran out of fuel), which further reduced the gap to five seconds. At the start of the final lap, Rindt was right on Brabham’s tail, as they went up the hill to Casino Square. In front of them were Denny Hulme, who was running fourth, and Piers Courage, who was more than 20 laps down. Through the tunnel they went, Rindt putting more and more pressure on the experienced Jack Brabham. Tabac corner, Jack Brabham was gaining on Courage’s De Tomaso rapidly. The English racing driver kept to the outside of the final hairpin, forcing Brabham to go down the inside. But disaster struck: Brabham misjudged his braking on the marbles and ended up in the barrier, nearly taking out Hulme’s orange McLaren in the process! Jochen Rindt was through and won the Monaco Grand Prix, which was greeted by a joyous leap from Colin Chapman.
Jack Brabham quickly reversed his car and crossed the line in second place. Henri Pescarolo took his one and only podium in his Formula One career – today he is best known for holding the record for most 24 Hours of Le Mans entries: 33. Denny Hulme was fourth, from Graham Hill in John Miles’s Lotus. Pedro Rodriguez, who also started from the last row, took the final point for BRM in sixth – their first point of the season.
When the revised Lotus 72 was re-introduced at the Dutch Grand Prix (during which Piers Courage sadly passed away), Jochen Rindt would win four races in a row. During practice for the Italian Grand Prix, Rindt’s car suddenly swerved to the left under braking for the Parabolica, and followed the same fate as Jim Clark two years earlier. Jochen Rindt won the Monaco Grand Prix in a weekend where everything seemed to go against him, he never gave up, made up the gap to Brabham, put him under pressure and, with some luck, he was victorious. It was a real boost for Team Lotus and in particular Colin Chapman, whose team was in a downward spiral with the failed introductions of the 63 and 72, and of course with Clark’s accident in memory. I’d say Colin’s leap was more than justified.