- November 03, 1948
- October 06, 1974
- Not Active
- Scuderia Finotto,Team Surtees
Austrian Helmuth Koinigg was the racing driver who had the most unfortunate and shortest Formula One career. He was killed during the 1974 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, which was only his second Formula One start in career. It was one of the worst accidents ever in F1, as Koinigg was decapitated in a crash.
Prior to his unfortunate end of career, Koinigg competed for a few years in various single-seater, sports car and touring car series, becoming the European Formula Vee champion in 1973.
Helmuth started his racing career with Niki Lauda's Mini Cooper
Helmuth Koinigg was born on November 3, 1948, in Vienna, Austria. Helmuth was a student of engineering and journalism, but he was also interested in car racing. His first racing car was the Austin Mini Cooper S, which he bought from Niki Lauda.
Koinigg competed in some touring car races and hill climbs, including the European Touring Car Challenge round in Aspen where he finished 10th.
Progressing through the Formula Vee championship
In 1970, he entered his first Formula competition, driving in the Formula Vee championship for Team McNamara. He was helped by Helmut Marko, the reigning Formula Vee champion. In 1971, Koinigg finished 3rd in the points of Formula Vee, and after one year, he progressed to the second place.
In 1972, except driving single-seaters, Koinigg participated in 1000 km of Nürburgring, which was the part of the World Championship for Makes. He was driving Lola T290-Chevrolet for Barclays International Racing, alongside Guy Edwards and Richard Scott, and they finished 10th overall.
The season 1973 was Helmuth's most successful
The season 1973 was the most successful for Helmuth, as he won his only championship title. Driving the Kurt Bergmann's VW-powered Kaimann, he won four races and finished first in the points of the European Formula Vee Championship, ahead of two Swedish drivers Freddy Kottulinsky and Kenneth Persson.
During 1973, Koinigg expanded his activities with sports cars and touring cars, driving three different cars. In April, he participated in the 4 hours of Le Mans non-championship race, driving Porsche 911 Carrera RSR for Martini Racing Team. He and Manfred Schurti finished 4th overall and first in the GT3.0 class.
Le Mans debut with Ford Capri RS 2600
Two months later, Koinigg debuted at 24 hours of Le Mans, driving the factory-entered Ford Capri RS 2600 together with Jean Vinatier and Gerry Birrell. The trio didn't finish the race: they retired after 152 laps.
Two weeks after Le Mans, Koinigg again sat in Martini Racing's Porsche to compete in 1000 km of Zeltweg, again with Manfred Schurti. They finished ninth overall.
Racing with Fords across Europe
In July, Koinigg participated in 6 hours of Nürburgring, the round of the European Touring Car Championship and German Racing Championship. It's an interesting fact that Koinigg was driving two Zakspeed's Ford Escort RS1600 cars, but neither one finished the race. His co-drivers were Werner Schommers and Hans Heyer. A week later, Koinigg was alone in Zakspeed's Ford Escort and he won the DRM Division II race at Diepholz Airport.
The last race for Helmuth in 1973 was 24 hours of Spa, which he participated in with Hans Heyer in the Ford Capri RS 2600. They started sixth on the grid but didn't finish the race.
Driving Porsche in the World Championship and Le Mans
For the 1974 season, Koinigg extended the deal with Martini Racing and competed with Porsche 911 Carrera RSR Turbo in the World Championship for Makes. His best result was 7th place at 1000 km of Nürburgring, together with Manfred Schurti.
At the 1974 Le Mans race, Schurti and Koinigg were very competitive and they had 11th starting position but retired after an engine failure.
Unsuccessful Formula 1, attempt at the Austrian Grand Prix
Koinigg's plan to enter Formula One became reality in August, at the Austrian Grand Prix at Österreichring. He bought the seat in Silvio Moser's Scuderia Finotto and drove the #32 Brabham BT42 for the first time in front of his home crowd.
There were two more Austrian drivers on the grid - Niki Lauda and Dieter Quester. Koinigg was one of six drivers who didn't qualify for the race, so his F1 career didn't start well.
Good result in the maiden race at Mosport Park
Despite that, he signed a contract with Team Surtees to compete with their Cosworth-powered Surtees TS16 in North America, in the last two races of the season. The first race was September's Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park, in which Koinigg started 22nd on the grid and finished 10th, two laps behind the winner Emerson Fittipaldi. Koinigg's teammate Derek Bell failed to qualify for the race.
The result in Canada was satisfying and Koinigg was beginning to establish himself as a good prospect for the 1975 season. Unfortunately, his career and his life were over two weeks later, on October 6, at Watkins Glen's United States Grand Prix.
One of the scariest motorsport accidents
Koinigg qualified as 23rd and he was running near the back of the field during the opening laps. On the 10th lap, his car suffered a suspension failure at turn 7 and he went straight to the barrier. The speed wasn't so big, but the part of the Armco barrier decapitated Koinigg and killed him instantly.
The race continued for 49 more laps and Carlos Reutemann took the victory. Surtees' driver Jose Dolhem was pulled out from the race when the team heard of Koinigg's fatal accident. As it was the last race of the championship, McLaren and Emerson Fittipaldi were celebrating the titles, supported by the Brazilian fans, so the death of the promising young driver was quickly forgotten.
Photos: mirandaribeirog.wordpress.com, wired.com.