was born on 1944 in Örebro, Sweden, the son of an avid racer of moderate accomplishments. His father's love for all things mechanical was inherited by his son. When Peterson was only eight years old his father built him a car, or at least the young Ronnie considered it a car though it looked more like a tractor. His father along with his friend Sven Anderson would would attend the yearly ice-race in Hjalamaren. By then the elder Peterson had quit racing but this didn't stop his son from driving anything he could get his hands on. In 1962 he started karting and a year later he became Swedish Champion. By 1966 he made his debut in Formula 3 driving a car built by his father.
During this time he developed a friendship with another Swedish driver, Reine Wisell. Moving up to Formula Three he drove a Svebe, a copy of the popular Brabham of the day that he co-designed with his father Bengt and Sven Andersson. His natural talent was recognized by the Tecno team who signed him up for the 1968 season. In 1969 he scored an impressive victory at the prestigious F3 support race for the Monaco Grand Prix, beating his compatriot Reine Wisell after a wheel-to-wheel battle.. This race traditionally displayed the top young talent and often served as a springboard into Formula 1. By the end of the year he was a Formula 3 champion.
Peterson in fact would make his Formula 1 debut
the following year in a customer March entered by the Antique Automobiles team . Gaining the attention of the factory he was soon offered a works drive. In 1971 he had his coming out when he scored five second place
finishes and was runner-up to Jackie Stewart in the World
Championship. That year he would also claim the European Formula 2 crown.
The March team was run on a shoestring budget and it was not until he left for
Lotus in 1973, that he won his first race at the French Grand Prix. Teaming with Emerson
Fittipaldi, the current World Champion, he was proving to be more than a match for the
Brazilian. He went on to win three more races that year and finished third in the World
Championship. Fittipaldi soon left for McLaren and
Ronnie Peterson continued with Lotus as the team leader for the next two years but the Lotus 72 was at the end of its useful life. In 1976 he returned to March but had limited
success. 1977 brought an offer to drive the 6-wheel Tyrrell.
This very complex car was just the opposite of what Peterson needed. Being a disaster as a
test driver he was lost in the Tyrrell. 1977 served as the low point of his career and for
1978 he returned to Lotus as a number two to Mario Andretti.
Mario at first questioned
this arrangement as he well new that Ronnie was no number two. As an indication of his character Ronnie accepted this
position without malice; a far cry from the political intrigue that is Formula 1 today.
Together they dominated the 1978 season in the Lotus 79 with Peterson scoring a pair of
spectacular wins. Peterson acted the loyal number two but there were time when his
brilliance could not be masked. He out qualified his teammate at Brands Hatch even though
he was using hard compound tires, rather than the qualifiers which were held for Andretti,
and a half tank of gas! After his victory at Zeltweg in Austria he trailed Andretti by
only 9 points with 4 races remaining. It was well known that he would be with another team
in 1979 and some suggested that he should just go for the championship with nothing to
lose. Nothing except his word: "I'm going to McLaren next year", he said. "It's not announced yet, but Mario knows, Some of these people," he
sighed, "who say I should forget our agreement now... I don't understand them. I
had open eyes when I signed the contract, and I also gave my word. If I break it now, who
will ever trust me again?"
At the next race Andretti's car broke an exhaust and
lost power yet Peterson followed him over the line. Peterson felt that his time would come
next year, as he had been offered a number one position with McLaren.
All of that ended
before it began when Ronnie Peterson died as the result of an accident
at Monza. In 1978, in Formula One the music had stopped,
more than a man died that day for Formula 1 had lost its innocence. In a tragic postscript to Ronnie Peterson's story, his wife Barbro would also become a victim. Having always struggled to come to terms with Ronnie's death she took her own life in 1987.
Ronnie Peterson: Formula 1 Super Swede
Nicknamed Super Swede, Ronnie Peterson rose from karts to F3 to become European F2 Champion in 1972, and came closest to winning the F1 World Championship in 1973 and 1978. By common consent the fastest driver in Formula 1 in that era, Ronnie Peterson was, paradoxically, a quiet, shy person and an all-round nice guy. Behind the wheel of a car though, he came alive, deferring to no one in his mission to be the quickest. His fans loved him for it, and everyone admired him, from his F1 peers to team owners and mechanics, many of whom testify to this effect in the following chapters. For that reason, he remains an icon of speed, his prowess recalled whenever an ace from the past is required as a benchmark. As Johnny
Tipler's book reveals, Ronnie invariably strove to wring the ultimate performance out of anything he drove. And that, ironically, was probably what cost him the F1 World Championship. Not content with merely winning, he sought to annihilate the opposition and, in the process, subjected cars and tires to stresses greater than they had been designed to accept. If they
didn't break, he usually won, but not often enough to gain the title.