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Ronnie Peterson: Formula 1’s original Super Swede

Dina-Art-ronnie peterson lotus f1 march tyrrell

On February 14, 1944, in Örebro, located north of Stockholm, a child was born to Bengt and his wife Maj-Britt Peterson. They named him Bengt Ronnie Peterson.

Today, the racing world remembers him as Ronnie Peterson – the Super Swede. Ronnie was quick from an early age, from racing bicycles around the family house and as evidenced by getting several tickets on his moped.

After winning karting championships in Sweden and being competitive on the continent, he drove his father’s Mercedes Diesel to Karlskoga track to qualify for his racing license.

Man who issued the license to Ronnie was Reine Wisell, the two Swedes would go on to be rivals on the track. The student famously holding off the teacher to win the prestigious Monaco F3 race in 1969.

“It was actually my only chance. Instead of changing down, I kept going at full speed and overtook,” Ronnie, as quoted in the book The Viking Drivers by Frederik Petersens.

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That performance in the principality – and winning the European F3 championship – earned him a three-year deal with Max Mosley’s March team.

It was in the streets of Monte Carlo the following year, 1970, where Ronnie raced in Formula One for the first time. His March was entered by Colin Crabbe’s

Antique Automobiles and finished just outside the points in seventh. His debut finish was his best result in nine starts that season.

Highlights of the 1971 season were his first Formula 2 victory at Rouen-les-Essarts, and four second place finishes; Monaco, Britain, the epic five-car dash to the chequered flag at Monza, which made England’s Peter Gethin one-hit wonder, and Canada. Ronnie was second in the championship behind Jackie Stewart.

Ronnie took his second championship in three years by winning the Formula 2 series over another driver who would go on to be a Grand Prix great, Carlos Reutemann.

His third and final year in 1972 with March saw Ronnie finish ninth in the championship. Third at the classic 14.2-mile long Nürburgring was the only podium of the season. 

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Ronnie became gem of the JPS Lotus team at the end of the season after signing a three-year contract with Colin Chapman. In the previous season, the team had taken Emerson Fittipaldi to the world championship.

Emerson and Ronnie were the strongest driver pairing of the day just like Alonso and Hamilton at McLaren in 2007. In similar fashion, they both won the battle but lost the war. 

The emergence of Ronnie Peterson as the fastest and most exciting driver to watch in Grand Prix racing led to the inaugural Swedish Grand Prix in 1973.

The homeboy did not disappoint. Ronnie took pole position and led 78 of 80 laps before a slow puncture robbed him of a certain victory. 

Ronnie’s first win came at Paul Ricard, after his teammate Emerson Fittipaldi collided with new kid on the block, Jody Schechter.

The Super Swede’s second victory came in the Steiermark region of Austria at the fast Österreichring. Going into the Monza round Jackie Stewart was looking good for his third championship, but Emmo still had a fighting chance.

Peterson vs Fittipaldi needed special management by Chapman

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Before the race, Ronnie agreed with Chapman and Emmo that in the later stages of the race if he is leading the race, he will give up the position to Emmo when given the signal by Chapman.

As it turned out, Lotus cars were running one-two with Peterson leading. Like Emmo, he kept waiting for the signal from Chapman which never came. Ronnie won the race and Stewart the championship.

“I changed my mind during the race,” was the response Emmo got from Chapman when he inquired why he did not show the slow sign to Peterson.

It was right there and then that Emerson decided to leave Lotus and moved to Marlboro McLaren, where he re-claimed his title in the following season.

Ronnie’s fourth and final win of the season came at Watkins Glen in upstate New York, and he finished third in the championship.

In 1974, victories were scored at Monte Carlo, Dijon-Prenois and Monza. His third and final year at Lotus in 1975 was winless. There were only three races where he scored points; fourth in Monte Carlo was the best result of the season.

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Ronnie started the 1976 season at Interlagos with Lotus. He then switched back to his first Formula One team March. The season saw him score ten points, nine of which came from his third and final success at Monza and the other point was scored in Austria.

Another change of team and two additional wheels on the Tyrrell P34 resulted in three points- scoring finishes. Third step on the podium at Zolder in the Belgian Grand Prix was the best result.

He went back to Lotus for the 1978 season as teammate and number two to Mario Andretti. Ronnie’s first win of the season came at Kyalami when Patrick Depailler’s Tyrrell ran out of petrol in the closing laps.

Ronnie’s second and final win of his career came at the Österreichring. Earlier in the season friends had advised him to forget the #2 status in the team and go for the win as this was his best opportunity to win the championship.

Ronnie’s response was, “My eyes were open when I signed the contract.” Super Swede had no intention of breaking his contract and he had shown similar loyalty at March.

In an ironic twist of fate, Mario Andretti became the second American world champion, unfortunately, in similar circumstances as the first American world champion Phil Hill.

Both lost their teammate and only challenger to the championship at Monza. (Nasir Hameed is Historical Corespondent of F1Weekly)