Jochen Rindt becomes the first posthumous champion
Jochen Rindt was leading the World Championship for Lotus when he lost his life at Monza, but the popular Austrian became the sport's first posthumous champion. In a dark year, Bruce McLaren and Piers Courage were also killed.
The big story of the winter was the arrival of March Engineering. Seemingly out of nowhere, the British company appeared at the first race with no fewer than five DFV-powered cars. The works March team had strong drivers in Amon and Siffert. Ferrari looked well placed with the all-new 312B, and Ickx returned to drive it. BRM attracted backing from Yardley, and produced the much-improved P153.
Brabham had not won since the 1967 Canadian Grand Prix, but he started the year with a fine win in South Africa with his new BT33. At Jarama Stewart gave March a win in the marque's second-ever race. He was hounded by the rejuvenated Brabham, until Jack's engine broke. Brabham was to the fore at Monaco, holding off Rindt in a fine battle for the lead. But the Aussie slid off at the last corner, allowing Rindt to win. Tragedy struck before the next race in Belgium when Bruce McLaren was killed while testing a CanAm car at Goodwood. He had been a mainstay of Formula One since 1959.
BRM had not won since Monaco in 1966, but at Spa Rodriguez gave the team a sensational victory after holding off Amon's March. Zandvoort saw the delayed appearance of Chapman's slick new Lotus 72, and it scored a debut win in the hands of Rindt. Alas, Piers Courage perished when the De Tomaso crashed and caught fire. Another new face was dashing young Frenchman François Cevert, who joined Tyrrell when Servoz-Gavin abruptly retired. Rindt and the 72 won at Clermont-Ferrand, and then again at Brands Hatch after Brabham ran out of fuel, while leading rookie Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi drove a works Lotus 49C to eighth.
Ickx was having a bad season, with just four points on the board. He fought back with second in the German Grand Prix, held at Hockenheim, while Rindt took his fifth win. In Austria Ickx gave Ferrari a much-needed victory, heading home new team-mate Clay Regazzoni.
Tragedy struck again in practice at Monza when Rindt crashed fatally after a mechanical failure; he was just 28 years old. The race went ahead without Lotus, and Regazzoni scored a fine win in only his fifth start. Ickx led Regazzoni in a Ferrari one-two in Canada, finished fourth in Watkins Glen and then won in Mexico. It was not enough, but even he really did not want to win by default. Canada saw the first appearance of another new marque. Ken Tyrrell had built his own car to replace the March. It showed promise in Stewart's hands, but would have to wait until 1971 for its first success.