THE FIRST OF THE VIKINGS
>That man seems to live really and to be happy in his mind, who is, involved in a great task, looking for the glory of excellent behaviour or of perfect performance < Gaius Sallustius Cripius 86 - 34 BC
The patient in the sick-room at the Niguarda Hospital of Milano looks like only being asleep. Both on the left and the right side of his bed such candles are burning, being known from the Vatican. In Italy, maybe the most Catholic of all countries, this means the end of all hopes in this world. Ronnie Peterson had survived the burning hell of the starting lap of Monza 1978, but not not the following operation of his legs.
Chlorine gas is a bestial substance. In World War I it had been used as a warfare agent and it also produced by carbon fibre, polyester and petrol sharing a common fire. Only one deep breath of it can kill a man immidiately, otherwise it enters the blood circulation very quickly to destroy the kidneys even after decades. Niki Lauda had to experience that fact at the Nuerburgring in 1976.
In contrast to Lauda two years before, Peterson kept his helmet on and also the Life Support System, bringing oxigen into the driver`s helmet in the case of the car catching fire, was allright. But they had not to take him to an operation under general anaesthetic that night being the only way to bring the gas to itīs fatal effect, that alone would not have been concentrated enough for doing so. The surgeons at the Niguarda Hospital must have known that fact, because it is standard medical knowledge since the beginning of World War II. In Monza of those days the medical treatment of crashed drivers was not taken too serious. The ambulance, that had taken Jochen Rindt to the same hospital eight years ago, had run out of fuel on itīs way, because itīs driver had forgotten to enter a filling station before starting his work. But in contrast to Rindt, whom only God had been able to save, Peterson had a 96 per cent chance to survive, because the risk to die of such injuries was only 4 per cent.
In spring 1978 Professor Sid Watkins had begun to establish a standardized rescue service for Grand Prix Racing. At the beginning the battle against incompetence, sloppiness and national egoism of the local medical profession had been much more intensive than that against the dangers of the sport. It were the Carabinieri, by the way being no policemen, but soldiers, who prevented Professor Watkins from entering Petersonīs place of accident by the threat of using rubber truncheons and bloodhounds. As it was shown later by the X-rays, the Swede suffered under total 27 fractures of both his legs. In spite of these injuries, he was put onto the asphalt surface, not far away from his wreck, then he was dragged around on a stretcher for hundreds of metres, before the ambulance came. Later the hospital became a lunatic asylum, television and radio stations were reporting live from the operation theatre and on the floor there were so much cigarette ends like otherwise in a beer tent. The end of Ronnie Peterson was the public execution of an innocent.
Formula One is a business of high interdependence, both technological and economical. Petersonīs death produced a chain reaction of individual fates never to be seen before.
There was Riccardo Patrese, from the very beginning of his career in 1977 connected with the reputation of extreme regardlessness, who was considered guilty of having caused the catastrophe of Monza. But this time the Italian only was the scapegoat really, because when, many months later, the pictures taken out of the helicopter had been evaluated, it became clear, that James Hunt was the origin of the mass collision. In the moment of the accident Hunt became aware of this fact suddenly, he pulled Peterson out of the burning wreck of the Lotus, was rewarded a gold medal by the Royal Swedish Automobil Club, but the real facts of the case he hid. Meanwhile a lot of dirt was thrown onto Patrese by the press and his driver collegues did the same way. The stigma of being a killer should remain for Patrese until the end of his career.
James Hunt had never been able to get over Monza 1978. In fact he switched to the Wolf team for the following year, but more and more he went into depressions. After the Grand Prix of Monaco 1979 he retired from active competition, a decision he suddenly wanted to revise some days later, because under strict secrecy he expressed his wish to buy one of the that time very successful Ligier Ford JS11, but the French team refused his offer. Later Hunt became also a very popular star, when entering the BBC as a television commentator, but this sensitive and complicated personality with all his problems fell by the wayside. James Simon Wallis Hunt died in the night to the 19th June 1992 at the age of only 45 years, poor and very, very lonely.
Vittorio Brambilla, absolutely not the blockhead many people considred him sometimes, after crashing into Petersonīs Lotus hit by one of his own front wheels and therefore receiving not minor injuries, a long time accused himself of having caused the accident very bitterly, because he had been the one to crash into the car of the Swede. But he was victim, not offender. In 1978 Brambilla did, in addition to his driving for the Edenbridge based Team Surtees, a lot of testing for Alfa Romeo. John Surtees was not very amused about that, but the job was absolutely legal. When the Milanese team came back in 1979, the reconvalescent Vittorio Brambilla became the number 2 driver, but John Surtees very sadly had to retire his team from Grand Prix Racing. After Patrick Depaillerīs fatal crash at a 1980 Hockenheim testing session, Brambilla once again drove 2 races for Alfa Romeo. But after the Italian Grand Prix the same year he was forced to retire by the management. He suddenly died in May 2001 as a pensioner near his hometown of Monza.
When Brambilla had ended his career, in Milano a young man had started it in Formula 3, for whom Ronnie Peterson became his idol for lifetime. The young man was Michele Alboreto.
Petersonīs left free 1979 cockpit at McLaren took John Watson. And there he had a good, but not brilliant career until he had to leave the team in winter 1983/84 for the surprisingly coming back Alain Prost. Peter Warr of Team Lotus gave him an offer, that every sensible man had accepted, but Watson did not. Meanwhile Barbro Peterson, Ronnieīs widow, had become his girl-friend and there were rumours about a scheduled wedding. For this reason Watson did not want her to see him in a black and gold Lotus and signed up with Toleman, who were out of the business for a while because of difficulties with the tyre companies. After that John Watson competed in only one Grand Prix: The European round at Brands Hatch in 1985, in a McLaren and as a replacement of Niki Lauda having hurt one of hands before. But all that did not cope with the situation. Barbro Peterson did not ever get over the inferno of Monza 1978. There was a life without any perspective, without hope, but full of fear. When she commited suicide in 1987, nearly a decade after the catastrophe, the affair was treated as an open verdict by the authorities for many months, then John Watson grew older at highspeed. From that time on he looked older than he really was. Great misfortunes not rarely have such an effect.
Gunnar Nilsson, Petersonīs friend and fellow countryman, ironically both his successor and his predecessor at Team Lotus (where he won the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder with the Mk78), a strong character with sufficient self-confidence, not the Muhammad Ali of Formula One, but much more sick, fought a whole year for staying alive. At the beginning there had been a lot of rumours, what the whole problem was about, but when Nilsson (who had switched to Arrows meanwhile), attended the 1978 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, it became clear, that he suffered under cancer, when the traces of a chemotherapy could be seen exactly. At that time he was optimistic to survive, but after the 10th October he obviously had given up. You must not be neither a surgeon nor a psychologist to know, how decisive psyche is on the matter of such heavy illnesses. During the last weeks of his life he became able to organize a cancer foundation of his own, the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Treatment Campaign, supported by George Harrison and ABBA, and especially established for children. On 20th October 1978 Gunnar Axel Arrid Nilsson had lost all his power. Sweden, with their own Grand Prix at the Scandinavian Raceway of Anderstorp, both race track and air-field, had stopped existing as a Formula One nation.
Since the beginning of professionalism in rally driving, about the year of 1960, it were the Scandinavians dominating this sport, because they were driving in another world. Men like Bjoern Waldegaard, Stig Blomquist, Hannu Mikkola, Simo Lampinen (who once had suffered under polio und was hardly able to walk) and many, many others were on top on the tracks from the North Cape to East Africa. Only one of them also drove in Formula 3: Gunnar Palm. Whose brother Torsten some times drove a Hesketh Ford In Formula 1 at the side of James Hunt.
The long, cold winter nights, icy roads, thick with snow, sometimes an elk or a reindeer: There you can learn car control very, very fast.
In spite that, only one Scandinavian had won a Grand Prix, before Peterson succeeded in the 1973 French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard. Joakim Bonnier, polyglot and married to a niece of Alfred Nobel, was considered the aristocrat of Formula One. After a decade of sadest troubles and deepest disappointments it was the Swede to give the maiden victory to the all-British B.R.M. team at the 1959 Dutch Grand Prix held at Zandvoort. But to repeat this success, he was never able to do so. In 104 Grand Prix he only scored 39 worldchampionship points. When he retired after the 1971 United States Grand Prix of Watkins Glen, he fixed his private McLaren Ford M7C on the wall of the living room of his Lake Geneva house. Meanwhile he had become a respected businessman in Switzerland, imported Lola race- and sports cars to that country and drove them in the races of the worldchampionship of makes. The man, who was so busy involved in the struggle for more circuitsī safety as the president of the GPDA for many years, died a lonely death in the trees of the Indianapolis curve of Le Mans during the 24 Hours Race of 1972, because an amateur driver in a lot more slow GT Ferrari had not seen him in the rear view mirror.
As a pupil he had hated ball games and the English language: Bengt-Ronnie Peterson, the oldest of two sons of a baker in Oerebro in the Eastern part of Mid-Sweden, who once had constructed and driven Formula 3 cars ( with a 500 cc motor-cycle engine), was a child of the middle-class, not a war-baby, because Sweden is a neutral country not being involved in armed conflicts for centuries. He left school at the age of 16 to become an elevator mechanic, but in the technical aspects of his sport, he never showed real interests in. From Bengt, his father, baker as an educated profession (he once had to take over the business of his own father), but engineer as a vocation, he could have learnt a lot, if he had wanted to do so. But young Ronnie presumably was only too lazy for that.
The go karts once German Ferrari driver Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips had brought as a hand luggage from the United States of America to Europe. His friend, radio commentator Guenther Isenbuegel, first had put the first two models into the cellar of his Hamburg flat for a while, before they found a company to construct the space frames. Then nobody was able to stop this sport. Very close to Horrem Castle, the residence of the Trips dynasty, some years later the bricklayer Rolf Schumacher installed the engine of a lawn-mower into the pedal kart of his oldest son Michael ...
This way father and son Peterson did a lot more professional job. Their karts had got magnesium wheels and also disc brakes very soon. Ronnie Peterson won whereever he wanted to, but ironically at the worldchampionship, he was beaten, suffering under a misfire, by a young lady: The Italian Suzanna Raganelli won the title on her home ground.
That time Scandinavia was on the way to come nearer to the top of international road racing. Very near to Petersonīs home town of Oerebro the Karlskoga circuit had been constructed and in Finland Curt Lincoln ran the track of Keimola. This man was not only an excellent racing driver and businessman, but also the father-in-law of Grand Prix driver and Formula 2 star Jochen Rindt.
Formula 3 races of the Roaring Sixties were a real exciting thing. The pretty small cars had engines of 1.0 litre cubic capacity, in most cases no wings, but also unlimited tyres. Many of those battles were fought in the slipstream. The climax of each year was the "little" Grand Prix of Monaco, whose winner normally was able to enter Formula One the following year. There Clay Regazzoni, one of the young wilds of that time, did the sensational job of driving under the armco barrier of the harbour without getting seriously hurt, because he had drawn in his head the right time. Ronnie Peterson had given his Formula 3 debut in a Svebe, that once again had been constructed by his father, but this mashine became so expensive, that they decided to switch to a Brabham they had bought, later to a Tecno. This Italian company, owned by the Pederzani brothers from Bologna, had become famous by their excellent go karts, and also their Formula 2 and 3 cars were of high quality, before they disappeared so sadly by their domestic made Grand Prix project at the end of 1973. Ronnie Peterson dominated the international Formula 3 scene like nobody else until 1969, and also disappointments, unavoidable in motorsport, did not bring him to resignation. Peterson meant professionalism from the very beginning. At the Lottery Grand Prix of Monza he gave his Formula 2 debut in a works Tecno the same year and Alan Rees made him temporarily join the famous Winkelmann team. The crew of US-American businessman, but also criminologist and CIA agent Roy Winkelmann had got worldwide reputation by the uncountable Formula 2 victories of Jochen Rindt.
Rindt, not the famous train robbers, was the man, who originally had taken the initiative for the foundation of March, in spite Leatherslade Farm, their well disguised hide-out of the year 1963, was pretty near to the March headquarters in Bicester. It had been the initial idea of Rindt to construct a works Formula 1 car of his own, designed by his adored engineer Robin Herd, with the aim of winning the driversīworldchampionship finally, but without facing the dangers of being a Lotus driver anymore. But Herd, both in business and diplomatic affairs unexperienced, maybe also a little weak of character, had not been able to resist the idea, making the whole project a commercial racing car manufucturer like Brabham or Lola, when suddenly with Max Mosley, Alan Rees and Graham Coaker men from outside had become involved in that business. Rindt, as a manager nearly the same genius that he was as a driver, became aware of the problems the right time and retired from the project consequently, but for that reason, March was out of drivers. And of course, out of sponsors, before Andy Granatelli, inspired by Mario Andretti and the former GI McNamara, who constructed his Formula 3 and Indy cars in Bavarian Lenggries, brought the STP dollars to Bicester.
The wild dogs of the Formula 3 year of 1969 had become mature for Grand Prix racing. Emerson Fittipldi, Clay Regazzoni, Tim Schenken and Howden Ganley were looking for Formula One cockpits, they partly found by tragic circumstances very quickly. For Ronnie Peterson, the Monaco winner, Alan Rees had planned a future at March for a long time. Already in autumn the presented, what first nobody had dared to imagine, the first Formula 3 car of their own with the model designation 693. Peterson nearly had won itīs debut race at Cadwell Park, if there had not been a puncture making him drop down 3rd place. In French Monthléry he turned over in the chicane, the wreck of the 693 caught fire and Peterson escaped it with great difficulty covered with some burning injuries.
Peterson had got a thing, at that time only a few novices had to show: A great personal sponsor, Vick, advertising for their pharmaceutical products (in Swedish: Halstabletter) on his helmet, overall and also on the car - making their subsidiary company Smog the same time getting involved.
In the slipstream of Peterson a second Swede had entered the international scene of single-seater racing. Reine Wisell, born in 1941 and therefore about 3 years older than Peterson, was a more open, more communicative character than his fellow countryman. The better driver he was not. Actually he gave a sensentional debut with a 3rd place at Watkins Glen 1970 after Rindtīs death and John Milesīretirement, but this result should remain the best one of his career. While Fittipaldi and Peterson were able to cope with sporting, technical and human difficulties, Wisellīs career was torn in the great Lotus crisis of 1971, before it really had begun.
As it could be experienced many decades later, the March Ford 701, making the Bicester factory giving their Grand Prix debut at Kyalami 1970, was a low budget design. But at the presentation of the car in February 1970 nobody had knowledges about that fact. Max Mosley was excellent in hiding the reality, that money always was short in the dark-brown brick building in Murdock Road from their very beginning, in spite there were permanent rumours going the other way round. STP Oil Treatment payed the construction of the 701s of Chris Amon and Mario Andretti, Porsche that of the one for Jo Siffert, to prevent their Swiss star driver of Fribourg from switching to Alfa Romeo, or even worse, to Ferrari. Ken Tyrrell, divorced from Matra by the politics of international car companies, bought two mashines, but the car drove the reigning world champion Jackie Stewart into deep disillusion in spite a victory in the Spanish Grand Prix held at Jarama very early the season. Later that year, German Hubert Hahne also bought a 701 to put it into silver livery. When Hahne, BMW works driver for touring cars and Formula 2, did not qualify for the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, he took legal action against Mosley, lost that battle and retired from active competition.
But at the beginning of the year 1970 no car was available for Ronnie Peterson and the works team had no cockpit left in the near future. For this reason the Swede had to be parked somewhere, but, if possible, not in a rival team. Anyway at Tyrrell the second driver traditionally always was a Frenchman because of title sponsor elf, a fact, that also did not change of Johnny Servoz-Gavinīs non-qualification in Monaco followed by his surprising retirement: From Zandvoort on Francois Cevert entered the blue cockpit. A fact, that was not known by anybody at that time: For months Tyrrell had got a car of theirown, the Tyrrell Ford, under construction, making itīs debut appearance in the Monza practice. And so Mosley, lawyer, but also physicist, always being full of clever ideas, cared out the plan to give Peterson a semi-works car to transfer him to the team of Colin Crabbe. This man was an automobile enthusiast, but above all, the owner of the company named Antique Automobiles Ltd., under their sponsorship a car had been entered for Indian face Vic Elford back in 1969 - first a Cooper Maserati, then a McLaren Ford, that the Briton had damaged totally just in the starting lap of the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring. The budget for Petersonīs first season was as poor as his equipment, only one chassis with a single engine were available. In spite that, the debut at Monaco was promising scoring 7th place. But in Zeltweg Peterson was not on the grid, because of the lack of a spare engine after a blow up in Hockenheim before. In Mexico the organizers refused the entry of Peterson as well as that one of his Australian friend Tim Schenken in the Williams de Tomaso: Semi-works teams were not welcomed in Mid-America. It had been a hard, but promising year of learning with at least no points scored.
Since Jochen Rindt no driver ever had shown such a car control and after him only one: Gilles Villeneuve. Ronnie Peterson drove extremely sideways with all cars, also with the ground effect ones, and in spite that, he was the absolute fastest driver of his time. Together with Tim Schenken he drove sports cars for Ferrari, with Hans Stuck jr touring cars for BMW. One time at the Nuerburgring-Nordschleife, German home secretary and sports minister Professor Maihofer had been invited for a demonstration lap in the BMW 320 turbo, an affair of enormous prestige covered by running television cameras. But Peterson had crashed the car at high speed to damage it nearly totally. "I am afraid of the minister missing his ride," was his only comment about the very big moment. To be excited he was much too lazy. To set up his car with scientific methodology as it had been done by Jackie Stewart, and later much more intensively by Niki Lauda, was not his business. Freedom imperatively left by Peterson at March, first in Formula 2, since 1972 also in Formula 1, the Austrian used to establish a career of his own, when becoming the indispensible test driver of the Bicester team. Peterson and Lauda, number 1 and number 2, that was a partnership without any problems, but full of admiration for each other. Like Jo Siffert, Peterson had only friends in this sport, a fact, that is more or less the exception in that business full of rivalry.
Decision making was not the strong side of his character. Concerning this matter he was very, very similar to Clark, but while the Scotsman had been a shy, nervous guy, Peterson was a quiet, stoical person with a certain tendency to apathy. Alan Rees, always more a manager than a driver, Rindtīs blood brother at Winkelmann, then the A and R of March, later the same of Arrows, in the time between, in a responsible position at UOP Shadow, had noticed that for a long time. With pleasure he would have been for him in the same role, that Chapman had been in for Clark. But the Briton had hard financial interests doing so, there had been no possibilty of being realized at Rindt before. At the beginning of 1975 it was not a very good idea, to lure Peterson from Lotus to Shadow, when the glory of the Lotus Ford 72 slowly faded away in era of sporting and financial troubles, to survive itīs not less revolutionary successor Mk76 with itīs 4 pedals, the double rear wing and the semi-automatic gearbox.
Ronnie and Barbro Peterson completed each other perfectly. She was not only his greatest fan, but also the driving force, when he was not able to make up his mind in things concerning the banality of daily life. For that reason it is no wonder, that they have got married only in April 1975, in spite having met each other for the first time in an Oerebro discotheque back in 1969, in the Formula 3 days. In contrast to liberal Sweden, in England it was connected with a lot of difficulties living together as a couple, but being not married. You could hardly buy a house, not to talk about renting one, and Maidenhead in Berkshire is, in spite of being geographically very close to the capital of London, a cultural backwater. There the Petersons lead a middle-class life until spring 1975, modest and discreet, absolutely in contrast to the aristocratic Fittipaldis, Emerson and Maria Helena, who, as a part of a dynasty, did not look especially for the great appearances, but then to enjoy them more. Some months before their daughter Nina Louise was born, the Petersons had bought, absolutely not typical for them, a flat in Monaco. At that time the days were completely over, when Ronnie Peterson was payed in kind for advertising appearances. Once he had been handed over 6 used suits free for a photo shooting. Peterson was a thrifty character, no doubt. At the beginning of his career he only went by air-craft in the case of going to an overseas event. An old Mercedes-Benz, of course with a Diesel engine, had been much, much cheaper, long before the first energy crisis took place. When Barbro had lost an expensive stop watch in the hectic of a Formula 2 race, the air had been burning. During the 1975 German Grand Prix practice on the Nuerburgring-Nordschleife Peterson had to stop out of fuel at the section of Breidscheid, 12 kilometres away from start and finish, because he had not seen the pit signal for re-fuelling. But that part of the circuit leads through the middle of a village, the next car park is some steps down the bank, where a BMW driver took out his spare fuel can of his trunk, to make the once best racing car in the world, the Lotus Ford 72, continue going. Of course, Peterson had to pay nothing and you can be sure, the man is telling this story until today.
If two drivers of single-seater racing cars are going into close combat, it is necessary, in contrast to sports and touring car racing, to have absolute confidence in their competitors. Open wheel driving is an art, only a few drivers in the world can do with perfection and itīs learning has got certain limits. At the 1972 French Grand Prix in Clermont Ferrand, on the Circuit Charade, the French Nuerburgring, Ronnie Peterson was under great pressure. There was the brandnew March Ford 721G, modelled on Mike Beuttlerīs private car, based on the Formula 2 chassis and already the 3rd Grand Prix car from Bicester that year. Only 3 worldchampionship points at mid-season were not that, the world had expected of a vice champion and European Formula 2 champion of 1971. Started 9th position, he used brute force already in the opening lap to come forward, when overtaking several cars on the rim of the track. But at that time in Clermont Ferrand the sides of the track did not consist of well-tended grass, but were covered with lava stones and looked like a landscape on the moon. In the 8th of 38 laps Peterson overtook the Marlboro B.R.M. of Austriaīs new star, Dr Helmut Marko, like Jochen Rindt coming from Graz, once visting the same school and also sharing the same infamous clique of teenagers. In the battle for 6th position there were only some centimetres of space left, and Marko was sensible enough, to give way, because for the first time of his young career he wanted to come home with points. But Peterson drove, as it was his nature ever, flat out, but without an understandable reason over the dirty side, fired up a lava stone, big like the fist of a child, onto Markoīs vizor, making that break through to hit his left eye. The medical treatment in France was a scandal and when Marko returned to Austria some days later, the doctors had to say him, that he would have lost his left eye and with it, his career. For the first time in life Peterson had been confronted with the risks of his sport directly. After that he became more realistic, loosing some illusions, and that was really good. Some years later, when Colin Chapman wanted to foist the original version of the Lotus Ford 77 on him, he was a lot more critical. And when Gilles Villeneuve rammed him from behind during the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix, the Ferrari went off like a jet-fighter, to kill two people standing in a safety zone when landing, he reacted with the souvereign coolness of a man having experienced all that before, while the Canadian only was able to say nonsense, caused by the shock.
The series of accidents of spring 1971, where he had been involved, in which car ever, in non-stop troubles, in most cases caused by material breaks, had not got the effect of making him reflecting things so early in his career. When he scored his first worldchampionship points, exactly one year after his debut, in the Monaco Grand Prix, coming home 2nd behind Jackie Stewart in the Tyrrell Ford, to bring good results regurlarly and to dominate the Formula 2 events with the March Ford 712, like only had done by Jochen Rindt before in this formula, the maiden Grand Prix victory seemed to be a question of a very, very short time. That it should take more than 2 years in reality, was not Petersonīs fault.
The March 711 was a very own, really bizarre car. Robin Herd had taken the inside disc brakes and the lateral radiators from the Lotus Ford 72, but not the aerodynamics. The bodywork had been designed by Frank Costin, whose brother Mike had been the >Cos< of Cosworth. He had drawn smooth, round lines like at his Vanwall, that had won the first ever constructorsīworldchampionship back in 1958, or his Costin Protos Formula 2 of 1967, that had been driven by Pedro Rodriguez. The March 711 had a front wing like a surfboard, engines made by Ford Cosworth or Alfa Romeo, tyres from Firestone and was driven by Ronnie Peterson, Andrea de Adamich Nanni Galli, Alex Soler-Roig, Mike Beuttler and once by Niki Lauda. Frank Williams for Henri Pescarolo and US-American Skip Barber for hisown bought private models. But Peterson drove the March Alfa Romeo only once, at the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, where he retired of a blown engine, the only Grand Prix of his career, he had not competed in with the Ford Cosworth V8 unit.
For the first two races of the 1972 season Robin Herd built the interim type 721 for Peterson and Lauda, who had become the second works driver by buying into the team with a loan of the Austrian Raiffeisenbank. In reality the 721 was a in lot of details modified 711, but Max Mosley managed it, to sell 2 models of it. Frank Williams bought one, again for Henri Pescarolo, the German Eiffelland team also got one chassis, Berlin designer Luigi Colani, who also constructs toilets, rowing boats and computer keyboards, developed a revolutionary bodywork for (thatīs main parts had been taken away again very soon, because water and oil temperatures became much too high). When Peterson saw the Eifelland March for the first time at Kyalami, his comment was short:"Team Dream". No interpretation is necessary, what he wanted to say.
The March Ford 721X had a sports car nose very similar to that of the Tyrrell Ford, a roll bar cage like a touring car, a domestic made March gearbox with Alfa Romeo parts inside in front of the rear axle for better weight balance, spring/damper units lying on top of the gearbox and revolutionary triangle formed rear wishbones. The original version of the 721X also had got high, under the rear wing mounting exhaust pipes to give additional downforce by the accelerating hot gases. But early in 1972 the times were not mature for such solutions. Peterson drove the 721X for the first time in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, was full of compliments for the car, but finished only 11th place. That the 721X was a bad design in reality, he did not understand. Niki Lauda, after several failed design changes at the 721X engaged with testing at March, diagnosed immidiately, where the problems were hidden, considered them incurable and for that reason, he carried through the 721X project being stopped after the Belgian Grand Prix at Nivelles. Laudaīs worldwide reputation as a brilliant engineer had been founded. Peterson, in the year before celebrated as a coming world champion, in 1972 only fighting for a handful of points, became more and more frustrated. Colin Chapman of John Player Team Lotus did not only have enough money available for 1973. His best argument for making Peterson changing his team was Lotus Ford 72.
In Monza 1971 he had missed his maiden Grand Prix victory only by some 40 centimetres. It had been, Monza even without the chicanes, the last great slipstream battle in the history of Grand Prix Racing, when the 4 drivers Ronnie Peterson, Peter Gethin, Francois Cevert and Mike Hailwood, lying within half a second, in the Parabolica curve had started their final sprinting to the finish line. Gethin, son of British champion jockey Kevin Gethin, himself of dainty build and an Eddie Irvine character, called Shorty by many girls in his area, switched off the rev limiter of his B.R.M. , stayed inside at the pit wall, like John Surtees in the Honda had done back in 1967 , and beat Peterson by 1/100th of a second. Because of the differences in the time keeping systems, it is not clear until today, which race had a closer finish: Monza 1971 or Jerez 1987, when Nigel Mansell in the Williams Honda was also beaten on the finish line by Ayrton Senna in the Lotus Renault by 0.014 seconds.
The Lotus Ford 72, thatīs design had been finished in November 1969 by Maurice Phillippe, was considered as the most modern racing car of that time. Since itīs appearance in spring 1970, accompanied by massive childrenīs deseases making necessary a partly re-design, the other competitors were deeply shocked. Jochen Rindt, for Ronnie Peterson an admired idol, became world champion in 1970, but before reaching the aim of his life, he was killed, because the right front brake shaft of the Lotus Ford 72 had broken during the 1970 final Monza qualifying. Fittipaldi and Wisell were expected too much in 1971 because of their lack of experience, when fundamental problems returned to the Mk72. These problems could be solved over the winter, Emerson Fittipaldi was matured, free of difficulties of private nature, won the worldchampinship with the car now in the black and gold livery of cigarette brand John Player Special. JPS, belonging to the same tobacco company as Gold Leaf before, paid Ronnie Peterson that Ģ 100.000 salary per year and gave him the equal number 1 status to Fittipaldi at Team Lotus for 1973. Together Peterson and Fittipaldi won 7 Grand Prix with the Mk72, thatīs E-version gave itīs debut at Barcelona-Montjuich because of stronger safety regulations, and they also won the constructorsīworldchampionship for Team Lotus. But driversīchampion became Jackie Stewart in a Tyrrell Ford, in his last Grand Prix season, with his 3rd title of his career and a new world record in Grand Prix winning. Like in 1967 with Clark and Hill, and 1969 with Rindt and Hill, Colin Chapmanīs idea of two number 1 drivers, having got equal status, did work only in theory.
At least Ronnie Peterson had won his first ever Grand Prix in 1973 at Paul Ricard after being prevented from doing so only by technical failures both in Montjuich and Anderstorp before. Three further victories, in Zeltweg, Monza and Watkins Glen followed. The fastest man of that period sat in the best car, and all the rival teams, completely with new cars on the grid, considered Peterson to be their favourite for the following yearīs title, in spite he finished only 3rd in the worldchampionship in his first Lotus year. After Fittipaldiīs systematically mobbing out of the team at the end of the season, Chapman only partly fulfilled his promise, to sign up with a real number 2 for the second car. He engaged Belgian Jacky Ickx, being sacked as Ferrariīs number 1 under spectacular circumstances the year before and for that reason not considered as a number 2 driver so far. The Lotus Ford 76, with itīs complicated technology giving itīs debut far away from the factory exactly in the 3rd round of the worldchampionship, the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, became a complete desaster without an end during 1974 season, in spite of itīs design revised several times. The good the Mk76 was looking, the bad itīs performance was. While Emerson Fittipaldi with the McLaren Ford M23 won his second title, Ronnie Peterson finished only 5th place in the worldchampionship finally. But together with the Brazilian and Carlos Reutemann from Argentina, he was one of three drivers winning 3 Grand Prix that year. Chapman had taken back 2 Lotus Ford 72 from his museum, he had stopped the development of the Mk76 finally and began to design a completely new car on a white sheet of paper, for the first time for years absolutely alone without the support of an employed designer. It should take more than a year to bring out the Mk77, and until that time Peterson and Ickx had to be troubled with the Mk72, meanwhile being 5 years of age (and of that had been built only 9 models of overall).
In Europe the first energy crises had caused a deep recession in winter 1973/74, the times of the Economic Miracle and of nearly endless prosperity were over. No exception was made for motorsport, and so a lot of sponsored reduced their budgets or retired completely. At the end of 1974 Colin Chapman and his team manager Peter Warr received a letter of their main sponsor John Players & Sons and this message was extraordinary bitter some days before Christmas: It was the termination of their contract existing since 1968. Three months before the start of the 1975 season Team Lotus was confronted with a real desaster, no sponsor, but an old car, a bad design, but 2 star drivers, fearing of their salaries as well as the engineers and mechanics. The selling of the road cars with the James Bond or Grand Prix image temporarily came to zero. To avoid the threat of bankruptcy, Chapman and Warr had got the idea to exchange Peterson by Welshman Tom Pryce of the US-American UOP Shadow team. Such a nonsense, this idea seemed to be on the first sight, it was not in reality. Being a Briton, Pryce surely was a psychological advantage to make John Player & Sons revise their decision, and his wages were low, to make Team Lotus reduce their costs. UOP Shodow, who had lost their number 1 Peter Revson in spring 1974 during a pre-season testing session at South African Kyalami, were in the need for a new winning driver, giving them their maiden Grand Prix victory. Nolens volens, Chapmanīs idea succeeded, in spite of never being realized. John Player & Sons intervened, because after the loss of Fittipaldi the year before, they did not want to let the Swede also go to a rival team, and so they decided even to increase their investment into Team Lotus. Only Jacky Ickx, winning the 1974 Race of Champions for Lotus, because long time leading Niki Lauda had suffered under a defect damper shortly before the finish, did not know at that time, that he would haven fired until mid-season. From the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix at Zeltweg the Scot Jim Crawford and the Englishman Brian Henton alternatively drove the 2nd Lotus Ford 72E at the side of Ronnie Peterson, while both of them had competed in Silverstone, but had had to hand over their cockpit to experienced Ulsterman John Watson on the extremely difficult Nuerburgring-Nordschleife. John Player Special had found their British drivers, but Peterson sank deeper and deeper.
Like as it had happened at Alessondro de Tomaso, the Hemingway of automobile creators, before, periods of absolute creativity regularly exchanged by those ones of a lack of interest and depression. Money never played an important role, there had been only a real problem with it, when the purse was empty. Then hectical negotiations were started with a lot of possible partners and not rarely terrible outbursts of rage could be seen.
For 1976 Chapman developed the Lotus Ford 77, for the first time for years alone and without the assistance of an employed designer, because he had been bitterly disappointed by Ralf Bellamy, being at McLaren and Brabham before, with the Mk76. The Mk77 had got an adjustable width of track, with brakes being neither in- nor outside, but in the middle of the wishbones. The wheel-base was also adjustable by a special frame, but the front section was so fragile, that the slightest accident would have ended with heaviest leg injuries. For the first time in his career Peterson feared a racing car. For a long time between Chapman and Peterson each passion had gone. A second driver to sign a contract with, they had not been able at the beginning of the 1976 season, because of the budget being too small. At the opening round at Interlagos Mario Andretti, whose US-American Parnelli team also was in financial trouble, helped out. Therefore Ronnie Peterson and Mario Andretti had become team mates much earlier, than today many people know and their ranking within the team had been the contrast of that of 1978. To stop the break was absolutely impossible. So that amazing agreement between Lotus and March, between Colin Chapman and Max Mosley, was made to exchange Peterson with the March works Formula 3 driver Gunnar Nilsson. When the Parnelli team had gone bankrupt finally after the US West Grand Prix, Mario Andretti entered Team Lotus as new number 1 driver in the Spanish round at Jarama, while in Long Beach and Kyalami Briton Bob Ewans had driven their 2nd car. Tony Southgate, coming from Shadow and joining them again after about one year, had modified the Lotus Ford 77 into the direction of the layout of the McLaren Ford M23. At least Mario Andretti won in Fudji at the end of the 1976 season. Team Lotus had come back to the victory lane.
To integrate Ronnie Peterson into the March team was a much more difficult task. With Vittorio Brambilla, Hans Joachim Stuck, Arturo Merzario and Lella Lombardi there were 4 drivers, no main sponsor, but with Beta, Theodore, First National City, John Day Model Cars, Jaegermeister, Ovoro and Lavazza a long list of relatively big sponsors, partly changing from race to race. So very often the cars changed their livery. To give a cockpit to Peterson, Lella Lombardi, who is the only woman driving into the points (in 1975 at Barcelona) until now, had to go. The Italian, whose real name Christian name is Maria Grazia, had been supported by the coffee company Lavazza, that is owned by the wife of Italian Count Zanon, for many years. The count should play a lot more important part later, when Petersonīs return to Team Lotus became relevant. Lella Lombardi also did not grow old. In 1992 she died of cancer at the age of only 48.
Max Mosley had hoped to make March Engineering Ltd. sign up with a great international sponsor by the engagement of Peterson, but at mid-season all the budgets were spent. When Merzario changed to the common team of Walter Wolf and Frank Williams to make the 4th car disappear, the chaos in Bicester became a little smaller. In September Peterson won his first and last Grand Prix for March with the 761, a triumph he should have enjoyed earlier in 1971 or 1972. When the team had been in a position to make profit out of this victory, it was much too late, because the return to March only had been a short intermezzo for Peterson. Some weeks before, a transfer to Ferrari for replacing the at the Nuerburgring inferno very seriously hurt Niki Lauda, had only gone wrong by the fact, that the Commendatore had temporarily withdrawn his team from the worldchampionship being very angry about FOCA and F.I.A. because of some political quarells. Peterson left March without any illusions, because only 1 further point could be added to the 9 winner ones of Monza. Mosley later was very disappointed about his own decision of Peterson bringing back to his team.
Ken Tyrrell, the woodcutter from Ripley, Surrey, had discovered them all to make world stars out of them, no matter, if they were John Surtees, Jackie Stewart, Jacky Ickx, Francois Cevert, Patrick Depailler, Stefan Bellof or Michele Alboreto. But for the first time, with Peterson he signed up with an established driver for the 1977 season. His traditional title sponsor elf was added by the First National City Bank. The Tyrrell Ford P34 sixwheeler had won a Grand Prix the year before also scoring some good results the same time. The US-American physicist Dr Karl Kempf, his ancestors once had come from Germany, installed a computer system in the P34, that was able to record 8 different parameters on a simple music cassette. Without anybody knowing, this way the total age of computers had begun in Grand Prix Racing. Peterson was not very happy about such scientific methodology. He, who always loved order and bourgeois values more than everything else, showed only minimum cooperation and made his jokes about this new technology, when he simply asked: "When will I hear the Beatles?" When Tyrrell and Peterson had signed their contract, they had not known, that the future of the Tyrrell Ford P34 already had been over. The concept of 4 small front wheels, hidden behind a sportscar nose to reduce air resistance according to a performance of 40 additional horse powers, was only of theoretical nature. At mid-season the team was forced to increase the front track onto the normal size to cure the chronic understeer. More clearly the defeat could not been declared and when Goodyear stopped the expensive development of the special tyres for only 2 cars on the grid, the Tyrrell Ford P34 was only an odd thing in history. Tyrrell and Peterson were devorced after only one common year, and under the aspect of their high expectations, the disappointment following was very deep.
Since 1975 Ronnie Peterson had gone down continuously in the result table of each worldchampionship. But since 1972 he had been the hottest candidate for the title. He was the fastest driver of his era, but Emerson Fittipaldi, and later Niki Lauda were the best ones.
After the 1977 season, he had finished 14th with only 7 points, his value on the driverīs market had sunk such a way, that no great team would have signed him as a works driver. Conte Zanon, a patron in the traditional meaning as known from art and music, not a commercial sponsor wanting to get something in return, suggested Colin Chapman to make Ronnie Peterson come back to Team Lotus and promised financial support for that case. Gunnar Nilsson had preferred, as told before, to change to the newly found Arrows team together with the renegades of Shadow (Jackie Oliver, Alan Rees, Tony Southgate, Dave Wass and Franco Ambrosio). Only his desease prevented him from driving there, too. At the first sight, Chapman was not very happy about the suggested transfer, he hesitated, as he had done often in business affairs, than he made his o.k. depend on that of his number 1, Mario Andretti. Being a US-American he decided absolutely pragmatical and made Chapman write Petersonīs number 2 status into the Swedeīs contract. Andretti, who once had immigrated very poor into the USA (their citizenship he had received in 1964) from the later Yugoslavian part of Italy, had experienced the quality of the Lotus Ford 78. And he also knew, that the Mk79 was ante portas. For this reason his personal ambitions for winning the title were absolutely natural.
The idea of the ground effect car with their wings integrated into the sidpods, had come to Lotus engineer Peter Wright very early at the end of the sixties. Robin Herd had taken this concept for his March Ford 701 of the year 1970, but without the hypothetical effect of increased downforce becoming reality. It took a lot more time to make Colin Chapman realize the complexity of the problems to be solved. That happened during some of his rare holidays in his house on the Spanish island of Ibiza. He wrote a scientific working paper consisting of 27 pages, where he expressed clearly, that the wing profiles had to be laterally sealed up for a correct air-flow under the car. For our todayīs circumstances very amateurish, he first tried to create this effect by a fence of brushes at the original version of the Mk78. Later he invented the flexible skirts going up and down and he designed the models of Mk79 and Mk80 around that concept. As the first Grand Prix car ever the Mk79 had got a very slim monocoque carrying only the driverīs cockpit and the fuel tank behind. Everything else were added parts and for that reason Vienna journalist Helmut Zwickl called it pretty cynically a Throw Away Racing Car. But if Peterson had sat in that one instead of the Mk78, when having his accident at Monza, it had been pretty sure, the car had not caught fire and so the Swede had survived. Later the F.I.A. fixed the fuel tank position of the Mk79 in their technical regulations, a rule, that is relevant until today.
Peterson, Team Lotus, Number 2: Full tanks also in qualifying, hard tyres anyway, added by a team order, but most disappointing, no equal spare car, when technical defects forced him into a break for repairing. Also for the service in the pits Andretti had got priority. But until Monza he had got chances for winning the worldchampionship, after victories in Kyalami and Zeltweg and further 4 second places. Then he suffered under a dramatically escalating chain of incidents: First a blown engine, then a clutch defect, in the warm up a complete collapse of the brakes in the Variante Ascari, caused by the mistake of a mechanic. Petersonīs Lotus Ford 79, only 3 models were existing at that time, could not be repaired 1500 kilometres away from the factory, on the other side of the Alps. To enter Andrettiīs second Mk79 was not allowed for contract reasons and so the incidents no.4 and 5 became a fatal trap.
Since Ronnie Petersonīs debut in the year 1970, Sweden has created 7 Grand Prix drivers, Denmark 3, Finland also 7, but Norway not single one. As the first Scandinavian Keke Rosberg became world champion in 1982, in a Williams Ford and like Briton Mike Hawthorn back in 1958 with only one victory. Keke, Sohn of a dentist, was born in Swedish Stockholm, had started his career in Formula V (on a Volkswagen base) not in England, but in Austria and Germany. Married to German Sina, Rosberg stopped his Formula One career in 1986 at McLaren after 5 victories overall to compete in sports and touring car racing a little later for many years. At that time he had founded a team of his own, for touring cars and later also for Formula 3, became a Grand Prix commentator for the broadcasting companies ARD and RTL and personal manager for his fellow countrymen Mika Hakkinen and Jyrli Jarvilehto. When Rosberg shortened the name of the last one to J J Lehto for marketing reasons both in Europe and America, the father of the man from Espoo was near to a heart attack. But while for Lehto the great career was not available, maybe because he had to suffer under a very bad testing accident in winter 1994 as Michael Schumacherīs Benetton team mate, nearly getting paralyzed by that, Hakkinen became the star of the millennium change and double world champion of 1998 and 1999.
In the 8th century the maritime people of the Vikings had conquered half of the world, in the Middle Ages they had laid the foundation stone for Europeīs modern societies, now in the 21st century they are winning on the Grand Prix tracks all over the world, in spite nobody really can remember names like Leo Kinnunen, Miko Kozarowitsky (from Finland), Tom Belso, Jac Nelleman, Jan Magnussen (from Denmark), Bertil Roos and Conny Andersson (from Sweden). More famous are Mika Salo, since 2001 at Toyota and like Hakkinen coming from Helsinki, and the Swede Stefan Johansson, in the eighties scoring a lot of points for Ferrari and McLaren, but never winning a Grand Prix.
For one man Ronnie Peterson was the very, very great idol: Michele Alboreto, father coming from Italy, mother Libyan, driven 194 Grand Prix and won 5 of them. Like Peterson also Alboreto had been supported by Conte Zanon, when his career changed into the direction of relegation. The colours of the helmet of every driver is a part of his individual biography. Alboreto had chosen the Swedish ones of blue and yellow. When he was struck dead by his Audi sports car at a high speed testing session for the Le Mans 23 Hours at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz near the German capital Berlin on a lonely evening in April 2001, caused by a puncture, only a few people became aware of it: Ronnie Peterson had lived once, but died twice.
Đ 2001 by researchracing
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