Ronnie Peterson’s great rival during their formative years, Reine Wisell was already a Formula 3 champion when they locked horns in the category for two seasons. But while his compatriot went on to become the fastest Grand Prix driver of his generation, Wisell’s own Formula 1 ambitions were largely unfulfilled.
Early racing career
He began racing in 1962 with a Ford Anglia and Mini Cooper in national saloon cars. His career started to gather momentum in 1966 with a switch to an F3 Cooper T76. He won the following year’s Swedish title with a Team Baltzar Brabham BT18-Ford.
Peterson burst onto the stage in 1968 and dominated at home while Wisell made an impression in Europe – both driving Tecnos. Wisell also drove a works Chevron B8 in sports cars during 1969 before sharing Jo Bonnier’s mighty Lola T70 Mk3B a year later.
Le Mans accident
Wisell made his Le Mans debut in 1969 and he endured an unhappy race when he returned in 1970. He drove Ecurie Filipinetti’s Ferrari 512S with Bonnier but struggled to see in the rain with his windscreen smeared with oil. Approaching Maison Blanche for the 37th time Wisell slowed to a crawl only for a gaggle of similar Ferraris to arrive doing over 150mph. He was hit by Clay Regazzoni’s works car and Wisell was launched into the barriers with frightening force. He collected the sister Filipinetti entry of Michael Parkes as he and Regazzoni spun down the track. The Englishman’s car briefly engulfed in flames as all three were eliminated.
Formula 1 with Lotus
The 1970 season ended with Wisell driving Sid Taylor’s McLaren M10B-Chevrolet to victories in three of the last four European Formula 5000 rounds and with his GP debut in the United States GP. He replaced John Miles in a Lotus team still reeling from the death of Jochen Rindt. Team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi (in his fourth race) won with Wisell a fine third on debut.
His reward was a fulltime contract with Lotus to race in both F1 and Formula 2 during 1971. Although he won Pau’s annual F2 race, his GP campaign was frustrating as the team struggled to further develop the Lotus 72C-Ford. He finished fourth in South Africa and Austria but was dropped at the end of the season.
Final Grands Prix with BRM, Lotus and March
A move to BRM as an occasional driver in 1972 was a disappointment and he ended the season back with Lotus for two further GPs. Wisell’s F1 career petered out with a final appearance in the 1974 Swedish GP with a works March 741-Ford. That he had talent was amply illustrated by a superb performance in the wet 1973 Eifelrennen – his Team Pierre Robert GRD 273-Ford taking a finely judged F2 victory around the Nürburgring.
He helped Hartwig Bartrams win the 1975 European GT Championship as co-driver in the German’s Porsche 911 Carrera RSR before Wisell soon faded from racing. He later taught advanced driving techniques and continued to appear at historic racing events.