Peterson at the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix
14 February 1944|
|Died||11 September 1978
|Formula One World Championship career|
|Teams||March inc. non-works, Tyrrell, Lotus|
|First entry||1970 Monaco Grand Prix|
|First win||1973 French Grand Prix|
|Last win||1978 Austrian Grand Prix|
|Last entry||1978 Italian Grand Prix|
Bengt Ronnie Peterson (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈrɔni ˈpɛtɛˈʂon]; 14 February 1944 – 11 September 1978) was a Swedish racing driver. Known by the nickname 'SuperSwede', he was a two-time runner-up in the FIA Formula One World Drivers' Championship.
Peterson began his motor racing career in kart racing, traditionally the discipline where the majority of race drivers begin their careers in open-wheel racing. After winning a number of karting titles, including two Swedish titles in 1963 and 1964, he moved on to Formula Three, where he won the Monaco Grand Prix Formula Three support race for the 1969 Grand Prix. Later that year he won the European Formula Three Championship and moved up into Formula One, racing for the March factory team. In his three-year spell with the team, he took six podiums, most of which were scored during the 1971 Formula One season in which he also finished as runner-up in the Drivers' Championship.
After seeing out his three-year contract at March, Peterson joined Colin Chapman's Team Lotus in the 1973 season, partnering defending champion Emerson Fittipaldi. During his first two seasons with Lotus, Peterson took seven victories, scoring a career-best 52 points in 1973. After a poor 1975 season, Peterson moved back to March and scored his final victory for the team at the 1976 Italian Grand Prix. After spending the 1977 season with Tyrrell, he moved back to Lotus for the 1978 season as "number two" driver to Mario Andretti. Peterson scored two wins, at the South African and Austrian Grand Prix races, and would finish second in the Drivers' Championship standings despite his fatal first-lap accident at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix.
Peterson was born in Almby in the vicinity of Örebro, Sweden. He developed his driving style at a young age while competing in karting, and rapidly worked his way up to the pinnacle of European karting before switching to cars.
Formulas Three and Two
Superb results from the outset quickly attracted the attention of the ambitious Tecno company from Italy, who signed him in 1968. The pairing produced some fine results, and he won the 1969 Formula Three Championship.
Even after his elevation to F1 status Peterson still drove in lower echelon racing series (which was common at the time), winning the 1971 European Formula Two Championship driving for March.
Peterson made his Grand Prix debut in a March 701 for Colin Crabbe's works-supported Antique Automobiles Racing Team at the 1970 Monaco Grand Prix. The limited budget of Crabbe's privateer team allowed only minimal testing, but Peterson qualified 12th out of 16 cars in the race. He was 10 places behind Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon, both on the front row of the grid in their newer specification 701s, but only just behind the more experienced Jo Siffert in the second works March. Peterson was the only March driver to finish the race, in seventh place. In 1971 Peterson moved up to the full March works team, and made an instant impression. Five Formula One Grand Prix second places earned him the position of runner-up to Jackie Stewart in that year's World Championship. Within that year, Peterson drove in the World Sports Car Championship driving an Autodelta Alfa Romeo to win the Watkins Glen 6 hours. Peterson stayed at March until 1973, when he signed for John Player Team Lotus to partner Emerson Fittipaldi.
Peterson's first Grand Prix win was at the 1973 French Grand Prix, held at Paul Ricard, in a Lotus 72. There were three more wins that year, in Austria, Italy and the United States, but poor reliability restricted him to only third place in the World Championship at season's end.
For 1974, the Lotus 76 was brought forth. The car, however, proved to be a complete failure, disliked by both Peterson and his team mate Ickx. The team therefore opted to let them drive the near-ancient Lotus 72:s. Peterson did well in the old car and yielded three more victories: the French and Italian Grands Prix, as well as the Monaco Grand Prix, the premier event of Formula One.
1975 was a bad year for Lotus. Peterson and Ickx were forced to drive with the now archaic 72 model, whose age was now really beginning to show.
Peterson had signed for Shadow but Lotus owner Colin Chapman convinced him to stay with Lotus due to a promise Chapman made to accelerate the rate of development on the Lotus 77. He drove the first race of 1976 in the Lotus 77 before rejoining March Engineering. Driving the March 761, he won the Italian Grand Prix.
He also continued to drive sports cars, particularly for BMW in 1974 and 1975. For instance, he was paired with Hans-Joachim Stuck in a BMW 3.0 CSL for the South African "Wynn's 1000" in November 1975, where they started on pole but finished in second after a number of stops with engine vibrations, spark plug, and similar problems. Stuck and Peterson together for BMW in Europe, Africa, and also in North America.
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In 1977, he raced for Tyrrell, driving the six-wheel Tyrrell P34B. His only podium finish was a third place at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Peterson surprised many by leaving Tyrrell to return to John Player Team Lotus for 1978. He won the 1978 South African Grand Prix, with a last-lap victory over Patrick Depailler, as well as the Austrian Grand Prix, in the innovative 'ground effect' Lotus 79. His teammate Mario Andretti won the Drivers' Championship with Peterson acting effectively as the Team "No. 2" with the pair scoring four 1–2 wins, all with Mario at the lead. Both of Peterson's wins occurred when Andretti encountered trouble, with Mario winning once when Peterson failed to finish (not including the Italian Grand Prix). Many times Peterson followed Andretti closely home, leading to speculation that 'Team Orders' were in place.
Throughout the 1970s Peterson had the reputation of being the fastest driver in F1 in terms of raw speed. During the 1978 season Andretti would frequently post the faster qualifying time. Perhaps refusing to believe the American could beat Peterson in a head to head contest, many came to believe that team orders extended even to qualifying. Another view, held by some contemporary observers, was that while Peterson may have in fact been the outright quicker of the two, it was Andretti's considerable car development skills that brought the recalcitrant Lotus 78 and 79 to full potential, and Peterson's seeming deference to Andretti was a tacit acknowledgement of this. Despite this, Peterson was offered a seat at McLaren at 1979. To his credit, Peterson refused to contribute to any controversy, and on numerous occasions dismissed the speculation by stating that Andretti had simply turned the faster time.
The 1978 Italian Grand Prix at Monza started badly for Peterson. In practice he damaged his Lotus 79 race car beyond immediate repair and bruised his legs in the process. Team Lotus had a spare 79, but it had been built for Andretti, and the taller Peterson did not fit comfortably inside. The team's only other car was a type 78, the previous year's car, which had been dragged around the F1 circuit that season with minimal maintenance.
At the start of the race, the race starter threw the green light before the field was ready. The cars from fourth row rearwards (Peterson started from the third) were still rolling when the green light came on and got a jump on those ahead, resulting in an accordion effect as the cars approached the chicane, bunching them tightly together. The front four, Andretti, Villeneuve, Jabouille and Lauda, were far enough ahead to avoid any drama, but Peterson had made a poor start from fifth and was immediately passed by Alan Jones, Jacques Laffite and John Watson.
Jody Scheckter and Riccardo Patrese, starting 10th and 12th, had moved to the right across the line that separated the Grand Prix 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 moved back in just ahead of James Hunt, who feinted left and collided with Peterson, with Vittorio Brambilla, Carlos Reutemann, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Patrick Depailler, Didier Pironi, Derek Daly, Clay Regazzoni and Brett Lunger all involved in the ensuing melee.
Peterson's Lotus went into the barriers hard and caught fire before bouncing back into the middle of the track. He was trapped in the burning wreck, but Hunt, Regazzoni and Depailler managed to free him before he received more than minor burns, while track marshals were extinguishing the car. He was dragged free and laid in the middle of the track fully conscious, his severe leg injuries obvious to all. Hunt later said he stopped Peterson from looking at his legs to spare him further distress.
At the time there was more concern for Brambilla, who was hit on the head by a flying wheel and was slumped comatose in his car (he later recovered and drove on in F1 until 1980). Peterson's life was not seen to be in any danger. Sid Watkins and his medical team headed over to Brambilla's car to extract him from the wreckage. The injured drivers along with Peterson were taken to a hospital in Milan and the race was restarted when the track had been cleaned up.
At the hospital, Peterson's X-rays showed he had seven fractures in one leg and three in the other. After discussion with him, Peterson was sent to intensive care so that the surgeons would be allowed to operate to stabilize the bones. There was some level of dispute between the physicians regarding whether all fractures should be immediately fixed or not. During the night, Peterson's condition worsened, he was diagnosed with fat embolism. By morning he was in full renal failure and was declared dead at 9:55am on 11 September 1978. The cause of death was given as fat embolism.
Teammate Mario Andretti clinched the championship at the race. "It was so unfair to have a tragedy connected with probably what should have been the happiest day of my career", Andretti said, "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".
Peterson ran a total of 123 Grand Prix races during his career, winning ten of them.
In 1979, George Harrison paid tribute to him with a song and music video called "Faster".
Peterson's widow Barbro (née Edwardsson) never got over his death and committed suicide on 19 December 1987. She was buried alongside Ronnie in the Peterson family grave in Örebro. She and Ronnie had a daughter named Nina Louise (named after Jochen Rindt's wife) who was born in November 1975.
There is a statue of Peterson in Örebro (), by Richard Brixel. The official Ronnie Peterson museum was officially opened by Ronnie's daughter, Nina Kennedy, in Örebro on 31 May 2008. It closed in October 2009 because it was unable to secure government funding.
Complete Formula One World Championship results
(key) (races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)
- Nyberg, R. & Diepraam, M. 2000. Super Swede. 8W, January 2000.
- "Formula 1's Greatest Drivers – Ronnie Peterson". autosport.com.
- "Forgotten Heroes of Formula One: Ronnie Peterson". bleacherreport. Retrieved 1 August 2008.
- "Ronnie Peterson Profile". grandprix.com.
- Lawrence, Mike (1989) The Story of March ; Four guys and a telephone Aston Publishing Ltd. p.36 ISBN 0-946627-24-X
- "8W – Who? – Ronnie Peterson". 8W Forix.
- "Ronnie Peterson-a future champion". The Glasgow Herald. 31 October 1973. p. 4.
- Thompson, Andrew; Howard, Tony (December 1975). "Zak the giant killer". SA Motor. Cape Town, South Africa: Scott Publications: 33–37.
- "30 years on: remembering Ronnie Peterson". formula1.com. Retrieved 11 September 2008.
- "Ronnie Peterson: Driver Profile". ESPN.
- "Driver Dies After Crash". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 12 September 1978. p. 18.
- "Ronnie Peterson dies from crash". The Morning Record and Journal. 12 September 1978. p. 10.
- "The Death of Ronnie Peterson: What Really Happened at Monza in 1978". atlasf1.
- Larry Schwartz. "Super Mario had speed to burn". ESPN. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
- "The Funeral". www.ronniepeterson.se. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
- The Official Ronnie Peterson Website
- Formula 1 complete – all access F1 – Peterson, Ronnie
- http://f1mv.se/ronnie_peterson_museum.htm (in Swedish)
|Swedish Formula Three Champion
|Monaco Formula Three
|European Formula Two
|Formula One fatal accidents
10 September 1978 (Date of collision)
11 September 1978 (Date of death)