Thousands of drivers have competed in the F1 Grand Prix races through the long history of this motorsport championship but only 32 of them have gone on to become world champions. Some world famous drivers were never able to add a F1 feather to their caps, for example, Sir Stirling Moss or Gilles Villeneuve. Another prominent driver in this category of top racers who never made it to the very top is Jochen Mass. He started 105 F1 Grand Prixs, was victorious once, achieved 8 podiums and scored a total of 71 points.
German champion with Ford Capri
Jochen Mass is a post-World War II child; he was born on September 30th, 1946, in the Bavarian town Dorfen, so it's interesting that he studied to be a qualified sailor. His motorsports career started in the late 1960s in the German Circuit Championship.
In 1971, he became the champion driving a Ford Capri. The Ford Capri RS2600, which he shared with Hans-Joachim Stuck, was the victorious car at the 1972 24 Hours of Spa. In the same year at 24 Hours of Le Mans, again with Stuck in the Capri RS2600, Mass didn't make it to the finish line.
Formula One debut with Surtees
In 1972, he converted to single-seater racing with Surtees TS15 in F2. He finished second in the European Championship. With two victories in the Swedish Kinnekulle and on the Hockenheimring and three second places, he showed his team boss John Surtees that he is ready for F1. He debuted in Formula 1 with Surtess TS14A at the British Grand Prix on July 14, 1973.
Lacking F1 championship results until the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix
His first and second season in F1 were not so successful, but in 1975, he achieved his first GP victory. Mass was driving a McLaren M23 and he won the Spanish Grand Prix at the Montjuic street circuit. It remains his only F1 victory. Ironically, that was one of the most controversial and tragic races in F1's history, because of the drivers' strike and death of five spectators who were hit by the crashing Hill GH1 car of Rolf Stommelen. It was also the event in which Lella Lombardi became the first and only woman till date to score points towards the World Championship.
Drivers' strike before the race
Before the race, the drivers who were members of the Grand Prix Drivers Association were furious that the barriers were not bolted together properly and they went on strike. Track staff worked overnight to fix the barriers. The defending World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi wasn't convinced that the track was safe. He did the minimum three laps in qualifying, but at a very slow pace, then pulled into the pits. The next morning, Fittipaldi announced he would not participate, and went back home. With two Ferraris (Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni) starting from the front row, the event was very intense and chaotic.
Mass' McLaren was in front when the race was stopped
In lap 24, a tragedy happened when the rear wing of Stommelen's car broke. He crashed over the barriers. Five spectators were killed by Stommelen's flying car with the driver suffering a broken leg, a broken wrist and two cracked ribs. The race continued for another four laps, during which Mass passed Ickx for the lead. In lap 29, the event was halted with Mass being the winner, but because it was stopped before three-fourths of the scheduled distance were reached, only half of the points were awarded.
Frequent team changing
Jochen Mass achieved three more podiums during that season and finished 8th. In 1976 and 1977, he remained McLaren's driver and finished 9th and 6th respectively. In the next four seasons, Mass changed three teams (ATS Racing, Arrows and March) with only one notable result – 4th place at the 1980 Monaco GP.
In his last F1 season, Jochen Mass participated in one more controversial and historically important event – the death of Gilles Villeneuve during the qualifying for the Belgian GP at Zolder, which was the fifth round of the 1982 championship. In previous races, Mass didn't collect points. Villeneuve was the leading Ferrari driver, but in four races he scored only a 2nd place at San Marino, behind teammate Didier Pironi. Some sources said that he desperately wanted to be faster than Pironi at Zolder's qualifying session.
Video : Crash of Jochen Mass and Gilles Villeneuve at Zolder
Gilles Villeneuve hit Mass in a fatal crash
With eight minutes of the session left, Villeneuve's Ferrari came over the rise after the first chicane and found Jochen Mass's March 821 (Cosworth) travelling much more slowly. Mass saw Villeneuve approaching at high speed and moved to the right to let him through on the racing line, but Villeneuve also moved right. The Ferrari hit the back of Mass' car and was launched into the air at a speed of over 200 km/h. It was airborne for over 100 m before nosediving into the ground. Villeneuve, still strapped to his seat, was thrown a further 50 m from the wreckage into the catch fencing. He died in the hospital later that evening.
Mass retired after an accident at the 1982 French Grand Prix
Jochen Mass himself had a serious accident at the 1982 French Grand Prix and after that crash he immediately retired from F1 racing. The accident happened at Paul Ricard, where Mass and Mauro Baldi collided and Mass' car went through the catch fencing into the tire walls, catapulted itself into the crowd and caught fire. No one was hurt, apart from Jochen Mass who had burns on his hands.
Video : Jochen Mass' crash at the 1982 French Grand Prix accident
Le Mans winner in 1989 with Sauber Mercedes
During his F1 career, Jochen Mass also competed with various cars in endurance races and World Sports Car Championship. In 1981 and 1982, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, he was second in class with factory entered Porsche 936 and Porsche 956. He participated eight times at Le Mans with Porsche, but his best results followed in 1989 with Sauber-Mercedes.
After an unsuccessful attempt in 1988 with Mercedes-powered Sauber C9, the second attempt was victorious. Together with Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens, he was the overall winner of the famous race, driving a Sauber C9 with a 5.0 V8 Turbo Mercedes engine. He competed two more times at Le Mans, in 1991 with Mercedes-Benz C11 and in 1995 with McLaren F1 GTR, but didn't finish.
Active even in retirement
Even though he has retired from racing, he has not retired from driving; he can also be seen at historic and show events with racing cars. For example, in the 2004 Mille Miglia, he drove the original Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR that Stirling Moss had driven to victory in the 1955 race.
To raise money for charity, the passenger seat next to him was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Besides driving and racing, Mass was a TV announcer at F1 races on RTL and also played himself in the famous Ron Howard's 2013 movie Rush, which describes the legendary rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt.