|Bengt ‘Ronnie’ Peterson, earned the nickname ‘Superswede,’ during his time in the higher echelons of motorsport, the popular and gifted racer was a two-time runner-up in theFIAFormula OneWorld Drivers’ Championship, and widely acknowledged by his peers as the fastest diver of his era, particularly when mated with the iconic black & gold JPS Lotus car.|
|Like many of Formula 1′s elite Peterson started out in karts, and wasted no time reaching the pinnacle of European Karting, winning several titles, he quickly moved on to Formula Three in a Svebe, a 1L Brabham-derived Formula car which he co-designed with his father Bengt (a baker by trade!) and Sven Andersson, he caught the eye of the Tecno team in 1968 and won the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix F3 support race during 1969, going on to take theEuropean F3 Championship before Making his Grand Prix debut for Colin Crabbe’s Antique Automobiles Racing Team in a March 701, finishing the highest placed March car in 7th. In 1971 he stepped up to the works team and with five second place finishes among his six podiums Ronnie also finished as runner-up to Jackie Stewart in the Drivers’ Championship. Throughout the 1970s Peterson was reputed to be the fastest driver in F1 in terms of raw speed.
He moved onto Colin Chapman‘s Team Lotus in 1973, to partner defending champion Emerson Fittipaldi. During his first two seasons with Lotus, Peterson was victorious an impressive seven times, but Lotus’s form suffered a slump during the mid 70′s and Ronnie moved back to March and made his comeback complete by winning the 1976 Italian Grand Prix. Although he moved to the previously all-conquering Tyrell team in 1977 driving the outlandish six-wheeled P34b, his only podium finish was a third place at the Belgian Grand Prix, and he switched back to Lotus a year later as Mario Andretti’s ‘number two’ driver. Peterson won both the South African and Austrian Grand Prix races that season. He finished second in the Drivers’ Championship despite what turned out to be a fatal first-lap accident at Monza during theItalian Grand Prix.
The race had not started well when his preferred Lotus 79 had been damaged and Ronnie badly bruised in practice, the team had a spare 79 but it was set up for Mario Andretti, and so Ronnie was to reluctantly take the wheel of the teams ageing type 78.
This fabulous statue of Ronnie sits in his hometown of Almby, Sweden
|The race started in utter confusion after the starter threw the green light before the field was ready. Jody Scheckter and Riccardo Patrese, starting 10th and 12th, had moved to the right across the line that separated the new Grand Prix circuit’s front straight from the approach to the old Monza banking. While Scheckter’s Wolf was able to rejoin the track well ahead of the bunching pack, Patrese squezeed back in just ahead of James Hunt, who was forced left and collided with Peterson. Vittorio Brambilla, Carlos Reutemann, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Patrick Depailler, Didier Pironi,Derek Daly, Clay Regazzoni and Brett Lunger were all involved in the chaos which ensued. Ronnie’s Lotus hit the barriers hard and burst into flames before bouncing back into the middle of the track. James Hunt rushed back from his smashed Mclaren and he along with Clay Regazzoni and Patrick Depailler helped free Ronnie from his burning car and although his leg injuries were severe, he had escaped with minor burns and was fully conscious, James Hunt talking to him throughout. Peterson was taken to Milan hospital, although he was not perceived to be in any serious danger. However, x-rays showed that he had ten leg fractures all together and during the night, bone marrow seeped into Peterson’s bloodstream through the fractures and Fat globules were formed on his major organs including his lungs, liver and brain. By morning he was in full renal failure and was declared dead at 9:55am on September 11, 1978.
After this race Andretti, who went on the win the championship said “It was so unfair to have a tragedy connected with probably what should have been the happiest day of my career…I couldn’t celebrate, but also, I knew that trophy would be with me forever. And I knew also that Ronnie would have been happy for me”. Mario had also previously said: “There is no dishonour to be slower than Ronnie Peterson. Ronnie was faster than me and that’s it”. It’s difficult to imagine a contemporary Formula one driver saying the same about his team-mate.er than me, tt’s it. Hard to imagine today, a first pilot saying that his co
Ronnie was well liked and respected throughout the Formula One paddock
|Ronnie’s death also spelled a turning point in James Hunt’s career as, arguably, he would never be the same driver again, but certainly he never forgave Ricardo Patrese, who he saw as causing the crash, (Patrese would be banned from the following US grand prix, but was later exonerated) and would lambast him at every opportunity in his subsequent commentating career on BBC Television.
The tragedy continued, when Ronnie’s widow Barbro (née Edwardsson), who never got over his death committed suicide on 19 December 1987. She was buried alongside Ronnie in the Peterson family grave in Örebro. Ronnie Peterson ran a total of 123 Grand Prix races during his career, and took the spoils of victory in ten of them, that he never won the championship was undoubtedly not down to talent.
In 1977 Ronnie Peterson piloted the six-wheeled Tyrell P34b without much success, because the front wheels needed special sized tyres, development wasn’t keeping pace.
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