The SuperSwede

05 August 2022

Bengt Ronnie Peterson was a Swedish racing driver. Known by the nickname ‘SuperSwede.’

Peterson Moved to Lotus alongside 1972 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. He took his victory at the French Grand Prix and ultimately won four races to finish third behind Jackie Stewart and Fittipaldi in the championship.

His relationship with Fittipaldi started as cordial but deteriorated over time. At Monza, where Fittipaldi needed a victory to defend his title against Stewart, Peterson refused to let him by and took the win by less than a second, sealing the championship for Stewart. Peterson and Fittipaldi rarely spoke again, and after the season, Fittipaldi left Lotus for McLaren.

In 1976 Mario Andretti joined Lotus following a previous stint between 1968-69.

Peterson and his Lotus teammate, Andretti, had dominated the 1978 season in their ground-effects Lotus 79s. Andretti and Peterson had just come from a convincing 1-2 victory at Zandvoort in Holland.

At Monza, Andretti took pole in his Lotus 79 while Peterson had many mechanical problems and qualified the older Lotus 78 in 5th place. By racing the Lotus 78, Peterson was at risk of being caught up in the middle of the pack.

On the approach to the Variante Goodyear, Riccardo Patrese’s Arrows, which had qualified 12th, touched James Hunt’s McLaren, which started from 10th position. The McLaren spun into Peterson’s Lotus, and the Lotus was gyrated into the barriers on the right-hand side of the track, crushing the front of the car. Peterson’s Lotus burst into flames.

James Hunt leapt from his McLaren and pulled Peterson from the burning Lotus. In all ten cars were involved in the accident.

The Italian Police formed a human wall stopping anyone, including Professor Sid Watkins, the then Surgical Advisor to Formula One, from entering the crash site.

After a delay of eleven to eighteen minutes, an ambulance arrived at the accident scene and took Peterson to the Monza medical centre, then transferred to Ospedale Maggiore; the x-ray showed that Peterson had about 27 fractures in his legs and feet.

The surgeons worked until close to midnight, and Peterson was transferred to the intensive care unit in stable condition.

At close to four o’clock in the morning, Professor Watkins received a call informing him that Peterson’s condition had worsened, and he was diagnosed with fat embolism. By morning he was in total kidney failure due to the embolism and was declared dead at 9:55 am on 11 September 1978

His teammate Mario Andretti clinched the championship at the race.

Ronnie Peterson (1944-1978)