The unlikely Swedish GP winners: an F1 race that bucked the form book


There was little shortage of drama whenever the F1 circus visited Anderstorp. From unconventional polesitters to six-wheeled winners, Matt Bishop looks back on the chaotic history of the Swedish Grand Prix

Tyrrell P34 Brabham BT46B

The Tyrrell P34 and the Brabham BT46B — both one-time winners, both in Sweden

Grand Prix Photo

If you are reading this column on or shortly after the date on which it was published — Tuesday June 18, 2024 — you may or may of course not be interested to know that I am in Sweden, enjoying a long weekend of ‘R and R’ with my husband. We have based ourselves in Stockholm, which is a beautiful city, and we have enjoyed very pleasant day trips to Uppsala and Gävle, taking advantage of the clean, comfortable, and punctual Swedish high-speed railway system so to do.

We will not be visiting Anderstorp, since that small and apparently nondescript town is 251 miles (404km) south-west of Stockholm. However, its circuit, Anderstorp Raceway, is far from nondescript, and I always think of it at this time of year, because it hosted six championship-status Formula 1 grands prix in the 1970s, all of them taking place in mid-June. I will refocus on Anderstorp in a moment or two but, if such arcane details are your cup of tea, I can tell you that four other circuits hosted races that rejoiced in the title of Swedish Grand Prix, or Sveriges Grand Prix to be more accurate: Norra Vram (1933), Skarpnäck (1949), Råbelövsbanan (1955, 1956, and 1957), and Karlskoga (1967).

They may have been grands prix by name, but they were not grands prix by nature, and none of them was of F1 championship status. The races at Norra Vram and Skarpnäck took place before the F1 world championship had been inaugurated, the races at Råbelövsbanan were endurance events for sports cars, and the race at Karlskoga was a Formula 2 sprint. Nonetheless, F1 stars Juan Manuel Fangio (Mercedes-Benz; 1955), Phil Hill and Maurice Trintignant (Ferrari; 1956), and Jean Behra and Stirling Moss (Maserati; 1957) all won at Råbelövsbanan, and three more F1 greats stood together on the Karlskoga F2 podium in 1967: Jackie Stewart (Matra; first), Jochen Rindt (Brabham; second), and Jim Clark (Lotus; third).

Juan Manuel Fangio Stirling Moss Mercedes 1955

Mercedes’ Juan Manuel Fangio leads Stirling Moss at Råbelövsbanan in 1955

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Anderstorp was an unusual circuit, and it still is, for its layout has changed very little since it was opened in 1968. In addition to its having hosted six F1 grands prix, it has staged Formula 5000 races, Formula 2 races, Formula 3 races, Formula 4 races, Formula Renault races, European and World Touring Car races, FIA GT races, and top-tier motorcycle races, but it is now used predominantly for club racing and road car testing. A fast, clockwise racetrack of 2.501 miles (4.025km) comprising eight challenging turns, in its F1 heyday it tended to churn out results that bucked the form book, a consequence of its long straight, which doubles as a runway for the nearby private airport, its complete lack of elevation changes, and the fact that most of its corners are banked, including a notoriously tricky 210-degree right-hander, Karusell.

A championship-status F1 grand prix was first run at Anderstorp in 1973, its organisers patriotic Swedes who were keen to ride the brilliant success of Ronnie ‘SuperSwede’ Peterson, who had finished second to Jackie Stewart in the 1971 F1 world championship, had posted a few good F1 points finishes in 1972, both years for March, and for 1973 had bagged himself a Lotus F1 drive alongside reigning world champion Emerson Fittipaldi. Peterson put his gorgeous black-and-gold Lotus 72E on the pole for that historic first championship-status F1 Swedish Grand Prix, and he led almost all of it, dropping to second behind the wily Denny Hulme (McLaren M23) only on the 79th and penultimate lap, a victim of excessive tyre wear, which was always a problem at Anderstorp owing to the many banked turns. Hulme had chosen Goodyears of a harder compound. It had been the right decision.

The next year, 1974, Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler dominated the race in their Tyrrell 007s, having sewn up the front row in qualifying. It was the first time that the Swedish Grand Prix had bucked the form book, for neither man had scored an F1 grand prix win at that point and the previous six rounds had been won by McLaren, McLaren again, Brabham, Ferrari, McLaren yet again, and Lotus. Tyrrell had accumulated points, yes, but they had not looked like winning until the F1 circus had rolled into Anderstorp.

Tyrrell 1974 Swedish Grand Prix

Tyrrell returned to winning form at Sweden ’74

Grand Prix Photo

In 1975 the form book was well and truly bucked before the race had even taken place, for Vittorio Brambilla (March 751) took the pole, which he had never done for an F1 grand prix before and would never do for an F1 grand prix again. On race day the fiery Italian was undone by tyre wear then a broken UV joint. Niki Lauda won for Ferrari, which did not buck any form books, to be fair.

In 1977 the form book was bucked yet again when Jacques Laffite scored his, and Ligier’s, maiden F1 grand prix wins, despite their having failed to notch up even a single point in any of the season’s previous seven grands prix; and in 1978 not only the form book but also everything else was turned upside down by Bernie Ecclestone’s and Gordon Murray’s rogue deployment of the Brabham BT46B ‘fan car’, which Lauda drove to an easy win, although the car was never seen in a championship-status F1 grand prix again.

The 1979 Swedish Grand Prix never happened. Why not? Because, tragedy upon tragedy, the country’s two F1 drivers, Ronnie Peterson and Gunnar Nilsson, had both died in late 1978, and the organisers feared that attendance levels would be decimated by the absence of that much loved home-grown talent. So that was the end of the Anderstorp F1 dream, and no Swedish Grand Prix has been run since, nor is one likely to be.

Ligier and Laffite celebrate maiden F1 victory in 1977

Laffite celebrates maiden F1 win (1977)

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1975 Swedish GP

Brambilla leads from pole in 1975

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You may have noticed that I missed out 1976. I was saving the best till last. The bookies would have offered long odds to anyone who might have wanted to have a punt on Jody Scheckter, Mario Andretti, and Chris Amon qualifying first, second, and third; and for many reasons. Despite his undoubted skill and pedigree, Amon was by then seen by many as yesterday’s man. Moreover, he was driving an Ensign: one of F1’s perennial mid-1970s tail-ender teams. Andretti had just rejoined Lotus from Parnelli, but Colin Chapman’s once-dominant outfit was at its then-lowest ebb: in 1975 it had scored just nine points, a dire total even in old money, and in 1976 Andretti’s three pre-Anderstorp outings for Chapman had resulted in three retirements. And Scheckter’s Tyrrell had six wheels.

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On race day Andretti jumped the start, although he was not aware of that at the time and he disputed it afterwards: “Man, I tell ya, I didn’t jump that start. This is Formula 1. You don’t fool around.” It was academic in the end because, although he had been leading comfortably, posting the race’s fastest lap on the way, his engine gave up after 45 of the 72 laps. Amon had been running comfortably in fourth place, behind Andretti, Scheckter, and Scheckter’s Tyrrell team-mate Depailler, whom he had been catching when sudden steering failure under braking for Startkurvan, a fast 170-degree right-hander, caused his Ensign to careen straight on through two rows of catch fencing into the guardrail behind. To the surprise of the nearby photographers and marshals, he was unhurt. “I sat still in the car for a few seconds, sort of taking in the fact that I wasn’t dead,” he said that evening. “It was a massive impact, the most frightening experience I’ve ever had.”

So Scheckter and Depailler finished one-two for Tyrrell, as they had two years before, but this time it was a 12-wheeled Tyrrell one-two rather than an eight-wheeled one. The Tyrrell P34 would never win an F1 grand prix again, and now no six-wheeler ever will, because the FIA long ago mandated that all F1 cars must have four wheels. Jody hated the car. “We’d have been better off if we’d junked the six-wheeler and carried on with the 007 [the four-wheeled Tyrrell in which he had won F1 grands prix in both 1974 and 1975],” he once told me. “But Patrick quite liked the six-wheeler. He was always enthusiastic like that, whereas I looked at things more dispassionately. I didn’t like the way it behaved under braking. When you braked hard, you’d have six wheels that could lock up, not four. So you had a 50 per cent greater chance of a lock-up. And when you lock up a wheel like that, you have to ever so slightly ease up on the brake pedal to get the locked wheel turning again, and that compromises your braking. It happened a lot with the six-wheeler, obviously. I was very happy to be back on four wheels the following year, in a Wolf.”

Jody Scheckter Tyrrell 1976

Scheckter scores first and last victory for a six-wheeled F1 car in 1976 at Anderstorp

Grand Prix Photo

More than 20 years later, in January 1997, I interviewed Ken Tyrrell in his eponymous F1 team’s famously ramshackle headquarters in Ockham, Surrey. We talked mostly about the season ahead, for Tyrrell was still an F1 entrant at that time, but I could not resist chucking him a question about the P34. “Did that car give you a lot of pleasure?” I ventured.

“Oh yes,” he replied, with his trademark hearty guffaw, “and you’ll like this story. After Sweden 1976, when we finished one-two with the six-wheelers, Luca di Montezemolo, who was the very young team manager at Ferrari, came up to me after the race, went down on his knees, and clasped his hands together. ‘Ken, that was absolutely fantastic,’ he said. Two years ago, at Imola, I was talking to him in the pits, I reminded him of it, and he said he didn’t remember it. But I reckon he did. It was just a bit difficult for the now president of Ferrari to reminisce about going down on his knees to praise Ken Tyrrell, I think!”