Ronnie Peterson

Full Name:
Bengt Ronald "Ronnie" Peterson
Born:
14th February 1944
Orebro, Narke
Died:
11th September 1978 (Aged 34)
Milan, Lombardy (I), following Italian GP accident
Nationality:
Swedish
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Ronnie Peterson was the fastest driver of his generation. Perhaps he lacked the consistency, mechanical sympathy, finesse or just plain luck to win the world championship but no one could touch him over a single lap or on his day. He was quite simply fast and spectacular. His rise to Formula 1 energised a nation not previously known for circuit racing and his death was a bitter blow to the sport as a whole for Ronnie was F1’s most popular star.

Spectacular in karts and cars

He began in karting and finished third in the 1966 World Karting Championships at Copenhagen. He built on that success in Swedish Formula 3 with his father as mechanic and Team Manager. They bought a Tecno for 1968 and turned promise into national success – winning the Swedish title for the next two years with a near-perfect record. International recognition also followed in 1969 with Peterson winning the prestigious Monaco F3 race although he was hospitalised for a week when he rolled his new March at Montlhéry.

Peterson stepped up to Formula 2 a year later driving the wheels off Sir Malcolm Guthrie’s March 702-Ford. He crashed often but his raw pace was there for all to see – the "Super Swede" converting pole position at Hockenheim into a third place finish on a day that did not end in the barriers for once. He also made his Grand Prix debut during 1970 when seventh at Monaco and Peterson completed the season in Colin Crabbe’s Antique Automobiles March 701-Ford.

Breakthrough for March Engineering

Now part of the works STP March team for 1971, he again raced in both F1 and F2. Peterson was within 0.1 seconds of winning the Italian GP only to be beaten on the line by Peter Gethin’s BRM P160 in a blanket five-car finish. That was one of four second places that season as the youngster finished as runner-up behind Tyrrell’s Jackie Stewart in the F1 World Championship.

Clearly the quickest driver in F2, that campaign was one of frustration and near-misses until his March 712M-Ford won at Rouen-les-Essarts. That was the first of four victories as Peterson won the 1971 European F2 Championship. A most promising and full season also included sports cars for Alfa Romeo and victory in the Watkins Glen Six Hours with Andrea de Adamich and a T33/3.

Formula 1 winner for Lotus

Although he continued to win in F2 and sports cars, 1972 was a major disappointment as he struggled to sort the troublesome March 721X-Ford. However, Colin Chapman recognised Peterson’s talent and signed him for 1973. Nine pole positions that season were testament to his raw speed but a first GP win remained elusive at first.

He lost his home race when his Lotus 72-Ford suffered a puncture two laps from victory but his luck changed next time out at Paul Ricard. Team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi and McLaren’s Jody Scheckter clashed during the closing stages of the French GP and Peterson inherited victory. That was the first of the four wins as Peterson finished third in the world championship.

The new for 1974 Lotus 76 proved an uncompetitive backward step so Peterson reverted to the venerable Lotus 72 to win in Monaco, France and Italy but he could work no such miracles in 1975.

March success and six-wheel frustration

Lotus introduced the type 77 for 1976 but the relationship between Chapman and his star driver was now strained. Peterson crashed into team-mate Mario Andretti in the opening race in Brazil and promptly left the team to return to March for the balance of the season.

The combination grew ever-more competitive – on pole position at Zandvoort, Peterson won the next race at Monza to give March its third victory as a constructor and his first in two years. However, his 1977 move to Tyrrell was disastrous as the revolutionary six-wheel Tyrrell P34-Ford proved bulky and uncompetitive in its second season. He finished third in the Belgian GP but was generally out-performed by team-mate Patrick Depailler as he struggled to adapt to the car.

Winning return to Lotus ends in tragedy

He needed to rebuild his battered reputation and turned to Lotus once more to do so. Chapman had unearthed another design gem with the "ground effect" Lotus 78-Ford and subsequent 79. In rejoining the team, Peterson accepted being number two driver to Andretti and dutifully followed in the American’s wheel tracks as he raced towards the world title. Peterson did win twice – a thrilling last-lap victory in South Africa and in the wet in Austria – but tragedy halted his return to form.

Ironically, Peterson was killed at Monza – a track on which he had won three GPs. His intended race car had been damaged during practice and Peterson only qualified in fifth position. The start was a ragged affair and Peterson’s backup Lotus 78 was one of those to crash with the Swede suffering from severely broken legs.

There was concern for Vittorio Brambilla’s condition but Peterson – who had just signed to lead McLaren in 1979 – was thought out of danger. However, complications set in during surgery and the popular Swede died before the night was out.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1978 F1 World Championship
John Player Team Lotus
14 3 7 2
15% win rate
2nd 51
1978 World Championship of Makes
McLaren North America
5 0 0 0 4
1977 World Championship of Makes
BMW Alpina
5 0 0 0 13
1977 F1 World Championship
Elf Team Tyrrell
17 0 1 0
0% win rate
14th 7
1976 European F2 Championship
March Engineering
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1976 World Championship of Makes
BMW Motorsport
Schnitzer Motorsport
4 1 0 0 14
1976 F1 World Championship
John Player Team Lotus
March Engineering
16 1 1 1
7% win rate
11th 10
1975 European F2 Championship
Project 3 Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1975 World Championship of Makes 2 0 0 0 0
1975 F1 World Championship
John Player Team Lotus
14 0 0 0
0% win rate
12th 6
1974 European F2 Championship
March Racing Team
1 0 1 1
100% win rate
0
1974 F1 World Championship
John Player Team Lotus
15 1 4 3
20% win rate
5th 35
1973 European F2 Championship
Team Lotus
5 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1973 F1 World Championship
John Player Team Lotus
15 9 7 4
27% win rate
3rd 52
1972 John Player British F2 Championship
March Engineering
3 3 2 2
67% win rate
2nd 27
1972 F1 World Championship
STP March Racing Team
12 0 1 0
0% win rate
9th 12
1972 World Championship of Makes
Scuderia Ferrari
8 4 8 2 124
1972 European F2 Trophy
March Engineering
6 2 3 1
17% win rate
0
1971 International Championship of Makes
Autodelta
1 0 1 1 8
1971 European F2 Trophy
March Engineering
10 4 6 4
40% win rate
1st 54
1971 F1 World Championship
STP March Racing Team
11 0 5 0
0% win rate
2nd 33
1970 International Championship of Makes
Scuderia Ferrari
1 0 0 0 0
1970 European F2 Trophy
Malcolm Guthrie Racing
6 (1) 1 1 0
0% win rate
4th 14
1970 F1 World Championship
Antique Automobiles Racing Team
9 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1969 1969 Swedish F3 Championship 1st -
1968 1968 Swedish F3 Championship 1st -

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