Ronnie Peterson (14/02/44 – 11/09/78): The eagle of the NorthWritten by Αναστάσιος Ίσαρης
Translated by Nikos Arvanitis
Bengt Ronnie Peterson was born in Almby, Sweden, in February 14th, 1944.
His father was baker and amateur racing driver and was the man who set the first Kart for the 8-year-old Ronnie.
Date of 1st publication: 12/12/13
The final outcome of the young magician was three championship titles in Karting and two national championships in 1963 and 1964.
He got immediately promoted to Formula 3 (One Liter Engine), with his father always behind him, where after a streak of excellent results he drew attention of the Italian Tecno team which offered him contract for the 1968 season.
The partnership delivered and in 1969 he won the supportive F3 event in Monaco and 6 more races, winning the Formula 3 championship that year.
Despite the fact he got promoted to Formula 1 he kept on taking part to lower races as it had been used at the time and as a result he won the Formula 2 championship behind a March in 1971.
This year he moved permanently to England.
Note: In order to save space and time, the most interesting seasons in his career are selected to be mentioned thoroughly, combined with the most characteristic moments of these seasons.
In 1970 he made his debut in Formula 1 with the private team of Colin Crabbe and raced behind the wheel of a March Cosworth 701 at the Monaco Grand Prix.
The team’s lack of funds did not allow him to test the track a lot and he ranked 12th out of 16 participants in qualifying, only one place behind more experienced Swiss Jo Siffert.
The fact that he finished 7th was surely a big success. Max Mosley already, when saw him told the March Boss: “Remember that, Ronnie is fantastic but don’t tell him that!”
In the following 8 races of the season he didn’t have good results, finishing twice in 9th and once in 11th.
In 1971 he fully integrated to March, with the upgraded March-Ford 711 and Andrea De Adamich as a team-mate, but with an Alfa Romeo instead.
The season would start as usual in South Africa but F1 was mourning already one more Ferrari driver, this time Ignazio Giunti who died 40 days ago at Buenos Aires 1000 Sports Race.
For Ronnie this race was not good because he started 13th and finished at 10th place.
Formula 1’s circus then moved to Spain (Montjuic) with a new remarkable moment, this time at the non-championship Race of Champions in Brands Hatch and the first appearance of the Lotus 56 with the revolutionary Pratt & Withey engine driven by the youngster Emerson Fittipaldi.
To Ronnie this was one more disappointing display because he started 13th and retired after ignition at the 23rd lap.
It looked like things would change in Monaco when after starting 8th, he did a magnificent race, overtaking both Jackie Ickx (Ferrari) and his compatriot Jo Siffert (BRM), finishing in 2nd place behind Stewart.
In Netherlands (Zandvoort) Ronnie started again from the back (13th) but he did no mistakes and took advantage of the leaders’ retirements, managing to finish in 4th.
Next race was held at the new Paul Ricard circuit, where due to lack of Ford engines, Ronnie raced only once with an Alfa Romeo engine.
He started 12th but soon in the 19th lap, his engine… blew up.
At the following race in Silverstone, one more driver was absent.
The popular Mexican Pedro Rodriguez lost his life in a sports car race in Norisring.
Despite that tragic loss, the race was held and Ronnie started in 5th, managed with determination to finish in 2nd, taking advantage of the leaders’ bad luck.
In Nurburgring he started in 7th place but in the race he yielded after the attacks by Francois Cevert and Mario Andretti, finishing finally 5th.
In Austria he started 11th and finished 8th.
In Monza he was in 6th place at the starting grid but in qualifying it looked like the race would be eventful when Jackie Ickx´s Ferrari grabbed pole, but hours later it was revealed that by mistake Chris Amon of Matra had a faster lap so he should start 1st!!
The race had the same undiminished interest from the constant lead changes and Ronnie was first at the last lap, having great performance, but in Parabolica he went wider and as a result he finished 2nd behind Peter Gethin’s BRM by a margin of a tenth of a second!!!
The amazing fact was that the next three drivers (Francois Cevert, Mike Hailwood and Howden Ganley) finished just 0,61 seconds behind the race winner, in an unbreakable record until today.
One more record was set that day in Monza, the record of the fastest race ever, because the average speed reached 150,75 mph, that is 242,72 kph.
The icing on the cake was Chris Amon’s bad luck, who was leading 9 laps before the chequered flag, cruising to his first race victory, when as he wanted to wipe… a tear, he opened his visor a bit and it came away, leaving him with the eyes unprotected in speeds of 320 km/h and despite his heroic effort, he managed to finish 6th.
In Canada Ronnie started in 6th and finished again comfortably in 2nd place.
In Watkins Glen the great news was the comeback of Peter Revson to Tyrrell after 7 years of absence.
Ronnie started 11th and gradually managed to finish in 3rd place, while the winner was for the first time in his career, Francois Cevert.
His first full season closed with unexpected success for Ronnie, because he finished 2nd in the final standings with 33 points behind the world champion Jackie Stewart who had 62.
At the same season he won the European F2 championship, whilst he had 2 wins at sports car, one at the 6 hours of Watkins Glen behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo T33-3 and one in Barcelona at the 2 liter class with a Lola T212.
In 1972 Ronnie’s new team mate in March was the Austrian Niki Lauda, who was son of a wealthy family and bought the race seat by getting a loan from an Austrian bank (according to reports the amount of 100.000 $ was paid by his family).
The season started in Argentina where the main focus was at the rookie Carlos Reutemann with Brabham who won the pole, while Ronnie with March 721 ranked 10th.
In the race he had a terrific start and climbed up to 5th place before finishing in 6th.
In South Africa Ronnie started again from the back (9th) but on race day he rose up to 5th and finished again in 6th place.
In the Spanish circuit of Jarama, he started in 9th and retired at the 19th lap following an accident.
The main characteristic of that race was, for the first time, the participation of two brothers in the same race (Emerson and Wilson Fittipaldi).
In rainy Monaco he didn’t do well starting 15th and finishing 11th, in a race where Jean-Pierre Beltoise with a BRM 160B made the race of his life and won his only race victory in Formula 1.
In France (Clermont-Ferrand) Ronnie started 9th and finished in 5th place, in a race that got marked by the injury of the Austrian Helmut Marko (today consultant in Red Bull Racing) who was hit in the 9th lap by a stone thrown away by Fittipaldi’s Car, got through his visor and hit him in his left eye, causing him permanent damage and forced him to end his career.
In Brands Hatch, Great Britain the Swede ranked 8th in qualifying and throughout the race after a good display he was comfortably in 4th, when in the 75th lap his engine abruptly slowed down and as a result he hit the… retired cars of Hill and Cevert and finished 7th in the final standings.
In Nurburgring Peterson started from 4th place and at the start of the race he battled with Stewart (with a tyre contact) forcing him to back down from 2nd place. He fell in 3rd when Fittipaldi overtook him and on the 9th lap he spun losing two more places, before managing to finish in 3rd.
In Austria (Osterreichring) he started 11th but soon climbed up to 3rd, when problems appeared at his March that forced him to fall back before finishing in 12th.
The next race was in Monza where the circuit characteristics had change with the addition of two chicanes that actually dissipated the repeated slip streaming that used to give in the past speed and spectacle and emphasized in braking.
Ronnie went unnoticed in this race, starting 24th and finishing in 9th, in a race where Emerson Fittipaldi clinched his title.
With the championship already won by the Brazilian, the next race in Mosport, Canada gave Peterson the opportunity not only to start in 3rd place, but also to take the lead until the 4th lap where he made a mistake and Stewart passed him. He remained 2nd until the 54th lap, but when he tried to lap Graham Hill, he didn’t allow him and they crashed, leaving Peterson with a problem at the steering wheel.
The incident happened close to the pit exit and he pushed the car back to the pits to have the damage repaired and returned to the race, but got disqualified by the stewards.
In Watkins Glen he qualified 26th (out of 32 entrants), but on race day he started gaining places, taking full advantages of the retirements of the leaders and finished in 4th.
It was a great race for him.
In the final standings he ranked 9th with 12 points, while his team-mate Niki Lauda had 0 and world champion, Emerson Fittipaldi had 61.
1973 was the turning point season for his career, as he entered Lotus as Emerson Fittipaldi’s team-mate behind the wheel of a Lotus 72D.
In the first race of the year in Argentina he started in 5th and climbed up to 4th when in 66th lap retired due to engine failure.
In Brazil (Interlagos), despite Fittipaldi’s promotion by the team (by doing extra testing) because of his home race, Ronnie shocked everybody winning the pole, with the Brazilian 2nd.
In the race the order was reversed, Peterson fell in 3rd and started battling with Stewart for 2nd when on the sixth lap of the race… his tyre went off and he crashed.
In Kyalami he started from 4th place but lost places at the start and on the 6th lap something that could really end up bad happened.
The local driver Dave Charlton who had climbed from 13th to 7th and tried to pass Carlos Reutemann, lost control and crashed Mike Hailwood’s Surtees.
Everyone passed through the debris, except Clay Regazzoni’s BRM who hit Hailwood’s car and immediately caught fire, with Regazzoni left unconscious after the crash.
Hailwood who had just jumped off his car, rushed through the flames to free his team-mate from the safety belts and drag him out, managing to do so, to everybody’s relief.
For his act of bravery, Hailwood was awarded with the George Medal, while the Swiss got away with slight burns.
Ronnie finished in 11th place.
At the following race in Spain (Montjuic) Ronnie won his 2nd pole position.
In the race he got away with the lead and was comfortably in 1st place while his team mate who had started 7th was now 2nd.
At the 57th lap of the race (out of 75) bad luck struck the Swede again, forcing him to retire because of a gearbox failure.
In Belgium (Zolder) it was his 3rd pole in 4 races, showing that the Swedish had nothing to envy from his great Brazilian team-mate (9th).
In the race though, he fell gradually back and finally retired at the 42h lap.
In Monaco he started in 2nd place and soon took the lead and got away from the rest of the pack when power supply problems appeared at his car, forcing him to fall back and finish 3rd.
In this race, winner Stewart tied Jim Clark´s record with 25 wins.
The next race was at Ronnie Peterson´s home (Anderstorp) and he took care to please his compatriots, winning pole position.
In the race he went ahead and kept the lead until the penultimate lap, when Denny Hulme’s McLaren who was running on a harder compound passed him.
It was the French GP (Paul Ricard) who brought Peterson’s first win.
He started from 5th and with a magnificent start climbed up to 2nd. Although Fittipaldi passed him, the latter crashed with the race leader Jody Scheckter in his attempt to take the lead. These two retired, so Ronnie got his first ever race victory.
In Silverstone Ronnie was full of confidence and won the pole. In the race he started well but at the end of the opening lap Stewart passed him.
At the same time, Scheckter spun off, bounced at the barriers and came back at the middle of the track, where 9 cars in total got involved in a huge pile-up, causing the stop of the race.
At the restart, Ronnie took again the lead until 39th lap, when Peter Revson passed him (first career victory), leaving him in 2nd.
In Netherlands (Zandvoort) Ronnie got his 6th pole in 9 races and got away clean until the 63rd lap when he retired due to gearbox failure.
His team mate Fittipaldi, having destroyed his car in qualifying, retired from the race because he was feeling sick at the second lap.
In Nurburgring Peterson started 2nd but at the start of the race he retired because of mechanical problem.
In Austria (Osterreichring) he was again starting in 2nd place and he took the lead from the very start, in a race without any incidents, winning his 2nd race victory.
In Monza Ronnie got the pole again and with a good race faced no threat but won the race just because Stewart was already the champion so there wasn’t any sense he should give his place to the 2nd of the standings, Emerson Fittipaldi.
It was Lotus first 1-2 finish in 5 years and Peterson’s 3rd career victory.
In Canada (Mosport) Ronnie had once again won the pole but at the 3rd lap of the race he got passed by Niki Lauda’s BRM and at the 17th lap he had a tyre puncture that forced him to retire.
The last race of the season was held at Watkins Glen, where Jackie Stewart would end his career, taking part in his 100th race.
In the qualifying though, his team-mate Francois Cevert went out of track with high speed, crashed onto the barriers and got killed right away.
Tyrrell immediately withdrew Stewart’s entry, quitting the chance to win the constructors’ championship.
Ronnie won the pole and got away with the lead at the start of the race but had to battle hard to keep the lead from the… untamed youngster James Hunt with his Hesketh March, winning for the 4th time in his career with a margin of just 0,6 seconds.
At the final standings, Ronnie was 3rd with 52 points, against 2nd Fittipaldi who had 55 and the world champion Jackie Stewart who had 71 with his Tyrrell Ford.
His reputation had now got a foothold.
The 1974 season started in Argentina.
Ronnie had Jackie Ickx as new team mate, won the pole and got away at the Sunday race, but on the 3rd lap lost the lead by Reutemann’s Brabham and a brake problem forced him to fall back and finish 13th.
In Brazil (Interlagos) Peterson started 4th.
At the start of the race he went up for 2nd and on the fourth lap, passed Reutemann to take the lead.
On the 16th lap he lost time lapping Merzario and Fittipaldi (on a McLaren then) who was behind, grabbed the opportunity to take the lead. After losing pressure on one of his tyres, he did a mandatory pit-stop on the 19th lap and finally finished 6th.
In South Africa a sad incident overshadowed the Grand Prix.
During practice, Peter Revson on a Shadow passed away.
As Ronnie was driving the brand new version of Lotus (76), he had problems and started 16th.
Just at the second lap the gas pedal got stuck, he crashed his team-mate Jackie Ickx and retired.
In Spain (Jarama) Ronnie bounced back and finished 2nd in qualifying.
The race was rainy and he showed great skill, gaining the lead immediately and held a comfortable lead up until the track got dry.
After the switch to slick tyres, he had engine overheating problems and retired on the 23rd lap.
For the record, the race was stopped after two hours and was Niki Lauda’s (Ferrari) first victory.
The following race was held in Belgium (Nivelles) where he qualified 5th and he retired from the race at the 57th lap after a fuel pump failure.
The race in Monaco was dramatic.
Ronnie used the old Lotus 72 and started 3rd. He momentarily lost his place to Jean Pierre Jarier but on the 3rd lap he passed him with determination, while behind them there was a chaos caused by crashes in which 9 cars were involved.
On the sixth lap, Peterson made a mistake at Rascasse and got hit by Reutemann, but managed to continue, falling sixth, while the latter retired. With constant attack and passion, the Swede managed to climb up until the first place, following race leader Niki Lauda’s retirement and won for the fifth time in his career.
In Sweden (Anderstorp), in front of his fans, he started 5th, but he had great start and got 2nd place.
At the 9th lap though, a problem appeared in transmission and he retired.
Next race was in Netherlands (Zandvoort) and it didn’t start with the best signs, because he had a crash in qualifying that left him unconscious and the 10th place at the race start looked reasonable.
He was out of form at the race and finished 8th.
In France (Dijon-Prenois) Ronnie found his form again and started 2nd. At the start of the race 3rd was Tom Pryce who was looking nervously at the temperatures, afraid of engine overheating. When the race started, he stood still and Reutemann crashed him on the rear, sending him to James Hunt, with all three retiring.
Ronnie stayed behind Lauda, but on lap 17 he attacked with determination and passed, celebrating his sixth victory.
In Great Britain (Brands Hatch), despite the fact he was starting 2nd, he fell at 4th and at the middle stages of the races, he touched some debris from a previous accident. He lost tyre pressure, driving cautiously and finally finished 10th.
In Germany (Nurburgring) he couldn’t start higher than 8th.
In the race though, he fought with all his power and took advantage from the retirements, managing to finish 3rd.
In Austria (Osterreichring) he finished a mediocre 6th in qualifying.
In the race he started bad and fell 9th but drove aggressively and managed to climb up to 2nd, when he was forced to retire by transmission problems.
In Monza he had again a mediocre result in qualifying, finishing 7th.
In the race he started gaining places and was in 3rd until the 30th lap, behind the two Ferraris of Lauda and Regazzoni.
On the aftermath, both Ferraris retired in the span of 10 laps and Ronnie got the race lead. After defending well Fittipaldi’s attacks, he finished 1 second ahead of the McLaren to win for the 7th time in his career.
In Canada (Mosport) 3 of the 4 title contenders (Fittipaldi, Lauda, Scheckter, Regazzoni) had captured three of the first four places of the grid, while Ronnie ranked 10th.
On race day the first four places were conquered by the contenders, but on lap 70 (out of 80) only two remained, while Ronnie with a fantastic drive had a magnificent race, reached their back and finally finished 3rd.
At the last race of the season in Watkins Glen, Ronnie had a disappointing effort, finising 19th in qualifying.
The race apart from the coronation of the new champion, was marked by the instant death of the Austrian Helmut Konigg, when his Surtees crashed onto the barriers.
Ronnie went unnoticed retiring on lap 52 due to fuel pump failure.
He finished 5th in the final standings with 35 points against 10th place and 12 points of Jackie Ickx. World champion was Emerson Fittipaldi with McLaren and 55 points (he had three race wins, the same as Peterson).
In 1975 the main topics were Firestone’s decision to quit Formula 1 and its replacement by Goodyear and the launch of single-seaters by Frank Williams.
Concerning Ronnie, Lotus 72E was not competitive and the outcome was a disastrous season.
In 14 races, he had a 4th place in Monaco and two finishes in 5th, one in Austria and another at Watkins Glen.
It is important to note that team-mate Jackie Ickx, because of his disappointment decided to leave the team in the middle of the season after two years with Lotus.
He finished 13th at the final standings with 6 points, nowhere near Niki Lauda’s 64,5 in a Ferrari.
The 1976 season was marked by various incidents.
The fall of Graham Hill’s plane did not only cause his death but the death of his whole group (5 persons), including his driver Tony Brise.
Lord Hesketh was unable to continue and sold his team, while Tyrrell was secretly preparing its six-wheeled car.
Ronnie had a new team-mate, Mario Andretti and drove the new Lotus 77.
In Brazil (Interlagos) there were used for the first time the red light instead of the traditional flag. He had a disappointing 18th place in qualifying and in the race he went off at the 10th lap and retired.
Peterson was frustrated from Lotus’ general image, so he decided to leave the team and signed for March, which had released Lella Lombardi, while Mario Andretti left for Parnelli.
There were also arguments about the legitimacy of McLaren and Penske look, that used plastic “skirts” as a first attempt to introduce the ground-effect phenomenon.
Ronnie qualified 10th and did a good start at the race climbing up to 6th but on lap 15, he collided with Depailler’s Tyrrell and retired.
Unfortunately, the bad luck continued for Ronnie at his new team, having 8 retirements at the 14 remaining races.
The bright exceptions were the following races:
In the Monaco Grand Prix he qualified 3rd.
In the Sunday race he immediately got 2nd and as everything looked like it would go well, on lap 27 he spun off by oil that had leaked from Hunt’s car and crashed.
In Austria (Osterreichring) and in mixed conditions, Ronnie started in 3rd and in the race he managed to take the lead but later lost places and finally finished 6th.
In Monza Ronnie qualified 8th.
At the start of the race he was in 5th, and finally managed to overtake everybody ahead of him. He passed Depailler on lap 4 and Scheckter on lap 11, taking the lead that held until the chequered flag, winning for the 3rd time in his career in Monza and 8th time in total.
That year Ronnie Peterson ranked 11th with 10 points, with the world champion James Hunt with McLaren having 69.
In 1977 Ronnie Peterson moved to Tyrrell Ford and had Patrick Depailler as team mate.
It was a disastrous season on every aspect, because in 17 races he had 11 retirements and 3 finishes outside the top 6. The only 3 races that he scored points were:
In Belgium (Zolder) the qualifying was held at a wet track and Ronnie qualified 8th.
The race had mixed conditions and he drove consistently. When he needed to, he showed determination to pass Vittorio Brambilla and finished 3rd, while his compatriot Gunnar Nilsson in a Lotus won the race for the first time in his career.
In Austria (Osterreichring) Peterson qualified 15th, but on Sunday race drove without taking risks on a wet track that was getting dry and finished 5th.
Shadow got its maiden race victory in that race, so as the Australian Alan Jones did.
In Italy (Monza) he qualified 12th but in the race he climbed up to 6th place, finishing in that position.
The news were the announcement of Lauda leaving Ferrari for Brabham.
So his adventure in Tyrrell came to an end, finishing in 14th place with 7 points, while Patrick Depailler finished 9th with 20 points and the world champion Niki Lauda got 72.
In 1978 Ronnie came back to Lotus replacing Gunnar Nilsson (who unfortunately was later discovered to suffer from cancer) and had Mario Andretti as team-mate, driving Lotus 78 at the start of the season and afterwards Lotus 79.
He also accepted the role of the second driver, which meant that he should help the team leader, as much as he could.
Based on his value, this was his big mistake.
In Argentina, using the old Lotus 78, Ronnie Peterson started in 3rd but at the race he lost places and finished in 5th.
In Brazil, driving again the Lotus 78, Peterson won the pole.
At the race though, Carlos Reuteman in his Ferrari took the lead from 4th place and won his first race victory, while Ronnie fell back and retired on lap 15, following a contact with Jody Scheckter.
In South Africa, Brabham BT46 made its debut, using heat exchangers instead of refrigerators, while Ronnie was starting from 12th place.
At the race he had a clever drive and the retirements helped him take 3rd place on lap 64. On lap 75 (out of 78) he had a thrilling battle with Patrick Depailler for the lead and managed to win the 9th race of his career, half a second ahead of the Frenchman.
In Long Beach Ronnie started from 6th place and made a conservative race that allowed him finish in 4th.
In Monaco he started 7th but at the race despite the fact he overtook Alan Jones, on lap 56 had a gearbox failure, whilst Patrick Depailler in a Tyrrell got the first race victory of his career in 69 races!
In Belgium (Zolder) was used for the first time the revolutionary aerodynamics of Lotus 79, but only for Andretti, while Peterson who was still running with 78 ranked 7th in qualifying.
At the race he took advantage of the leaders’ crashes and took 2nd place, but had to switch tyres and fell in 5th, but did an epic comeback, passing Reutemann and Laffite, before finishing in 2nd place.
Spain (Jarama) followed, where for the first time Ronnie drove Lotus 79 and the British team locked out the front row of the grid, with the Swede in 2nd place.
However, he had a terrible start and fell 9th at the endof the first lap.
On lap 8 he passed Scheckter, took advantage from the retirements of Villeneuve, Patrese and Reutemann, continued his effort overtaking Watson, one lap later he did the same to Laffite and on lap 53 (out of 75) he did the greatest move, passing James Hunt for the 2nd place.
As happened in qualifying, at the race the Lotus finished in 1-2.
In Sweden (Anderstorp) the modified version of Brabham BT46 with the huge ventilator that caused lots of critics, while the team claimed that it had to do only with the… cooling of the engine, in fact it was a pump that removed the air under the car, improving radically its stability.
That system had the… bad habit to launch every stone collected under the car, straight away at the next one.
In qualifying Ronnie started in 4th, with the two Brabhams ahead of him (Watson, Lauda) with Andretti on pole.
At the start of the race he had a tough battle with Watson and Patrese and as long as he had gained 3rd place, he was forced to slow down, because of pressure loss on a tyre. He came back and passed Jones to climb up again in 3rd and finished there, in a race where Lauda and Brabham triumphed.
In France (Paul Ricard), the Swede started from 5th, but soon attacked and passed Watson and Tambay and following Lauda’s retirement, ended up in 2nd, where he finished.
In Brands Hatch Peterson won the pole with Andretti behind him.
At the race the latter took immediately the lead and for 6 laps Lotus was dominant, but on lap 7 Ronnie’s fuel pump failed, forcing him to retire.
In Germany (Hockenheim) it was again a 1-2 for Lotus with Ronnie in second place.
At the start of the race, the Swede got away with the lead until lap 5, when he let Andretti pass, as he was fighting for the title and remained 2nd to protect him for the drivers behind him.
Everything looked perfect until lap 37 (out of 45), when the Swede suffered a gearbox failure.
In Austria (Osterreichring) Ronnie took again pole position ahead of Andretti.
The race started with the rain threat and Peterson remained on top but later a storm burst and the race stopped.
At the restart the drivers (those who had… survived) took the place they had before the start of the race.
Ronnie led again the pack even after the switch to slick tyres, winning for the 10th time in his career in a persuasive way.
The margin was 9 points away from his team-mate who was leading.
In Netherlands (Zandvoort) the two Lotuses again locked out the front row of the grid, this time with the American on top.
At the race, the order did not change and they finished as they started.
Peterson was just 12 points behind Andretti.
Lauda, who was third in standings was 28 points away and did not have any hope to win the title even if he could win the last three races (27 points available).
It was in Monza where the premature end came.
Since the qualifying everything went wrong when he exited the track and crashed the barriers, his legs were bruised and the car desperately needed repair. An extra Lotus 79 was available but fitted better to Andretti and Ronnie was too tall to feel comfort.
There was only an old 78 and with this Peterson entered qualifying, finishing 5th.
The race started wrong too when the green light turned on, and the cars hadn’t come to a complete stop at the grid, and as a result, chaos was caused.
The first four (Andretti, Villeneuve, Jabouille and Lauda) did not have any problem but the speed the following drivers caused combustion at the middle of the pack, when almost all of them approached the first corner.
Ronnie Peterson in particular started badly and lost three places, when young Patrese in an Arrows (who had started 12th) opened himself to the edge of the old oval circuit and tried to turn from the inside staying ahead of Hunt, the latter left no space and consequently these two crashed and afterwards Hunt fell onto Ronnie and his car bounced on the air and landed outside the track.
But Peterson crashed head onto the barriers, his car was torn in two pieces and caught fire, while right behind him there was a pack of cars that included Reutemann, Regazzoni, Stuck, Pironi, Depailler, Brambilla, Daly and Lunger.
Hung ran along with Regazzoni and Depailler and drag Peterson out of the burning car before he could get severe burns, but it was clear that, despite he was still conscious, he had serious injuries in his legs and Hunt took his eyes away from the disappointing look his legs had.
A few meters away Brambilla was lying unconscious in his car, when he was hit in the head by a… flying tyre and next to him Stuck was suffering a concussion because of the same reason.
It should be mentioned that the medical care arrived 20 minutes later and priority was given to Vittorio Brambilla.
Despite the controversial opinions of some doctors if it should be wise to act fast, because it was discovered that bone marrow had entered to his blood, the same night he underwent surgery to reset his leg bones.
Unfortunately a thrombus was created in his blood that left him in coma and he died from embolism the next morning at the age of 34 years and 209 days.
It was a really unexpected death that could be evaded if he had instant health care, according to doctors.
Champion Andretti said:
It is so sad to see such a tragedy at the best day of my life.
I couldn’t celebrate, but the trophy will be forever with me and I know that Ronnie would be happy with that”.
Before the race, it had been known that he had signed contract with McLaren for the next season (waiting reasonably to see equality), taking the place of James Hunt who on his behalf had accepted the huge contract that Walter Wolf Racing offered him.
Peterson left behind widow Barbro (who committed suicide 9 years later) and his 3-year-old daughter Nina-Louise.
Despite the fact his statistics don’t prove that, it is true that in the 1970 he was considered to be one of the fastest and most charismatic drivers in F1.
His daring slides on track and his aggressive approach to the races made him extremely popular to the crowd.
In conclusion, he was never given the opportunity to prove he could win a World Championship, because he was “unlucky” and drove always non-competitive cars (except for the first and the last season, where he had agreed from the very start that he would be No2 driver).
At his funeral, in order to pay tribute, Ken Tyrrell, Colin Champan, James Hunt, Jody Scheckter, John Watson, Emerson Fittipaldi, Gunnar Nilsson and Niki Lauda carried his coffin.
In 2003 his bust was revealed at his hometown Almby.
His nickname was Super Swede.
February 14th, 1944 – September 11th 1978
Active years in Formula 1: 1970 – 1978
Teams: March, Tyrrell, Lotus
Pole Positions: 14
Fastest laps: 9
- Ronnie Peterson
- Jo Siffert
- Andrea de Adamich
- Alfa Romeo
- Ignazio Giunti
- Emerson Fittipaldi
- Jackie Ickx
- Pedro Rodriguez
- Francois Cevert
- Mario Andretti
- Peter Gethin
- Mike Hailwood
- Howden Ganley
- Chris Amon
- Jackie Stewart
- Niki Lauda
- Carlos Reutemann
- Wilson Fittipaldi
- Jean Pierre Beltoise
- Red Bull
- Graham Hill
- Dave Charlton
- Jim Clark
- Denny Hulme
- Jody Scheckter
- James Hunt
- Peter Revson
- Tom Pryce
- Frank Williams
- Lela Lombardi
- Jacques Laffite
- Patrick Depailler
- Gunnar Nilsson
- Alan Jones
- Walter Wolf Racing