Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
When I think of Sweden in the 70’s there’s little that stands out as exciting; other than tank proportioned Volvos, a pop group (sorry, I can’t call ABBA music), videos of blonde floppy haired men and women in hot-tubs… and a driver that was adored across the globe.
Gilles Villeneuve idolised him and Michele Alboreto said, “I worshiped him, that’s why my own helmet is blue and yellow.”
Peterson began his racing career in 1962 driving go-karts on ice lakes before switching to permanent tracks; claiming Swedish and Nordic karting championships until he stepped up into Formula Three in 1966.
By 1968 Peterson had attracted the attention of Italian manufacturer – Tecno – who swiftly signed the Swede for their Formula Three team. Three wins from four races secured the Swedish championship and further wins throughout Europe cemented his growing reputation. In 1969 he triumphed in the F3 European Championship; which included a sensational victory in the Monaco Grand prix support race.
1970 was Peterson’s breakthrough year. He made his Grand Prix debut at Monaco that year driving a March 701. He would finish seventh but the actual race is perhaps best remembered for Jochen Rindt’s sensational last corner victory.
1971 proved to be extremely busy for the Swede. He raced in both F1 and F2 with March and dovetailed this commitment with sports-car drives for Alfa-Romeo. He won the F2 title and came runner-up to Jackie Stewart in F1 that year. Sadly 1972 proved to be forgettable in F1 but he helped secure the Gp 5 sports-car title for Ferrari.
A move to Lotus in 1973 brought with it the taste of champagne, the weight of a winners garland and undoubtedly the antipathy of Fittipaldi after Peterson began beating him from mid-season onwards.
Fittipaldi left to join Mclaren for 1974, yet despite the age of the Lotus Peterson added a further three victories in Monaco, France and Italy that year.
The following year – when Ferrari introduced their 312T – Lotus merely updated their 1970 archaic design. In it’s sixth season it failed miserably and Peterson left to join March once again.
Despite winning the 1976 Italian GP, essentially the following two years found Ronnie in the F1 wilderness. In spite of his other-worldly talent it became apparent that he needed a team-mate with development abilities because as he acknowledged himself – he was “a hopeless test driver.”
He left the Tyrrell team at the end of 1977 and rejoined Lotus for what proved to be his final season.
There’s no doubt that Peterson’s sideways style won him an army of admirers the world over, yet this wasn’t conducive to a championship challenge. In the early 70’s he may have been able to hustle a car quicker than anyone but as aerodynamics improved drivers were having to adopt smoother styles.
Jackie Stewart summarised this gentle man best: “I’d follow him into a corner and think, Ooooh Ronnie, this time you’ve overdone it, you’re gone! But he always seemed to get it back somehow. It never surprised me that the spectators loved him – he was exciting to watch from where I was too!”