Monaco 1970: Brabham’s pain is Rindt’s gain
The effect of the drama that unfolded in the dying moments of the third round of the 1970 World Championship around the streets of Monte Carlo – then and now the last bastion of motorsporting madness – has ensured that the race will go down as one of the great races in Formula 1 history.
For the final 52 laps of the 80-lap race, former double world champion Jack Brabham effortlessly guided his self-built Brabham BT33 to what looked like a superb victory to add to his season-opening triumph in South Africa. That Brabham was 44-years-old and in the twilight his illustrious career made the laconic Australian’s performance all the more commendable.
Control of the race had come Brabham’s way after polesitter and early leader Jackie Stewart began to suffer a misfire in the Cosworth engine of his Ken Tyrrell-run March. A trip to the pits, where the mechanics treated the Scot’s misbehaving V8, meant that the battle for the lead now featured Brabham and the March of Kiwi Chris Amon.
The Antipodean racers then left the field for dead in their quest to win this prestigious event. When Amon suffered his customary cruel luck on lap 60, Brabham was, it seemed, home and dry. Fooled temporarily into thinking that the afternoon’s action was done, the crowd was soon on its feet. Further back Jochen Rindt had assumed the mantle of man possessed. The Austrian was scything through the field in the Gold Leaf Lotus 49 and, if the amateur mathematicians were correct, would be on Brabham’s tail just before the end…
Acknowledged as the new golden boy of F1, Rindt was desperate to build on his maiden success in the US GP at Watkins Glen the previous Autumn. Now, in Monte Carlo of all places, he was justifying the hype. The crowd bit its nails to the quick in the final 20 laps, as Rindt threaded the Lotus between the barriers under lap record pace. When would he catch the leader? Would he be able to get past him? Would the young charger outfox the old master?
Lap 80 came in an instant. Brabham rounded Tabac for the last time and approached the final right-hand corner. There was Rindt, just a few feet from the BT33’s gearbox. Keen to stop Rindt diving underneath him, Brabham positioned his car in the middle of the road. Inexplicably and instantaneously, Brabham appeared to forget to brake at the correct moment. The car, with its Goodyears locked in protest, slid ungraciously into the barriers, its race apparently over. After 52 laps of calm, measured, rythmical driving, it was game over for Brabham as Rindt sailed past his stricken rival to snatch the win.
Small consolation for Brabham was that he and Rindt had been so far ahead of the opposition that there was time for the Australian to extricate his car and get across the line in second place and into the lead of the world championship.
Despite revealing that his car had been plagued with brake trouble towards the end of the race, Brabham was gracious in defeat and quick to point out that he had made a simple mistake and lost the race fair and square. This was an era, don’t forget, when racing drivers’ excuses had yet to make their mark.
Monaco had never seen anything like it and may not again.