Ronnie Peterson, Wild Rider – Contrasti Magazine
Portrait of a legend, from Pino Allevi’s eyes to us.
Ronnie Peterson died on a late summer night in Milan 45 years ago. Quick and unfortunate, Zero title and ten victories in eight Formula 1 seasons between 70 and 78. Few triumphs, but unforgettable. Very fast among the very fast. The most reckless thing in years, as that Reaper it was always behind the cockpit.
One of the last representatives of a romantic, sometimes wild Formula 1, that of the foot at all costs, even to the detriment of the final goal, but always with chivalrous correctness. An idea of driving that only later survived in the minds of some crazy people, some would call them stupid, like Mansell and Villeneuve. Lover of the limit, of excess on the track, who of Blond They took with both hands and, like him, got far less than they deserved. Finally, a tragic fate related to Monza: between the amazing victories and the sad epilogue.
PETERSON, THE BAKER’S SON
Peterson was born on Valentine’s Day in Almby, a district of the city of Örebro in southern Sweden, a few hundred kilometers west of Stockholm. He has already proven that he is phenomenal on karts, at a time when racing on karts was not as common as it is today. Ronnie, the son of a baker, has already had numerous odd jobs came into Formula 3 at the age of around 23where he won the title two years in a row and thus seized the chance of an F1 contract.
Shady, cold, chaste, far away from the Regazzoni, the Hunts, the gentleman pilots, all with smiles and champagne. Unusually tall compared to his colleagues, with long hair, as was common at the time, and a dazzling blonde, Peterson looked like an alien who had landed on the Formula 1 planet.
“It was a bit abstract compared to the others, it seemed like it came from another planet. He didn’t talk to many people, he wasn’t very nice, he didn’t like contact with the press. He was impenetrable, no one knew him exactly“. Pino Allievi, historical motorsport legend, tells us diary, in a phone call. Testifies the allergy of Blond He then tells the media about an interview attempt with him and his grotesque epilogue:
“Both Ronnie and his wife were very good friends with Count Zanon, who was a supporter of racing at the time. I had tried to interview him a thousand times, he didn’t even answer me, and since at some point I couldn’t talk to him anymore, Zanon, who I was also friends with, said to me: “Come with me, you will see that you will have a good interview. He went to Peterson and said, “Ronnie, look, Pino, a dear friend of mine, needs to ask you a few questions.” He accepted, so I pulled out the recorder, asked two questions, and as soon as Zanon walked away, he let me stand wordlessly. That was Peterson.
The debut in 1970 in Monaco, then the two stays at Lotus, interrupted by two difficult years on board mediocre single-seaters: a tyrrel and a march, on which he despite everything managed to achieve an epic triumph at Monza. In Monza with a march, certainly not a walk. But it is the two moments in Lotus that give shape to the myth Super Swede. The first in 1973 with the first victory at Paul Ricard, the memorable comeback in the Principality and five more triumphs in three years. The second in the year 78, aboard the legendary black and gold spaceship in which he will meet his death at the end of the season. It seemed to be a good year: fast car, Peterson in top shape, only one inconvenience: a second driver contract and Mario Andretti in the garage next door.
“Andretti always spoke very highly of Ronnie as a person to me. Mario told me that he was always very loyal and very correct. In fact he had a contract as a second driver and he actually did it, it always depended on the team agreement. The agreement was that Andretti would win the first world championship and then Ronnie would win it. He did not make it.
“Faster than a bullet from a gun, he’s faster than everyone else. Faster than the blink of an eye, like lightning, you could miss him in passing.” How romantic knights inspired this ChansoniersPeterson’s exploits also inspired George Harrison’s More quickly. The ex-Beatle transformed the Swede into the ultimate driver, “Faster than a bullet” Despite “Nobody knew how he did it.” Peterson didn’t have the right build for a driver, he wasn’t born in a country with a great automotive tradition and as a test driver he was completely ignorant, at Lotus they would have sworn that he didn’t know how to distinguish between oversteer and understeer. Although he was fast, according to some the fastest of his generation, Allievi tells us about his driving style:
“He drove like God: great braking, braking at the limit, overtaking, he was quick in the wet, he was someone who, as soon as he picked up a car, he immediately pushed it to the limit.” He wasn’t a tuning genius, that was Andretti. But the two complemented each other very well. He was very instinctive when driving, not very thoughtful, but had Villeneuve-style control of the car.
An approach to driving a car naive, spontaneous, no frills and no mental superstructure tied to the championship, the race or the conditions of the car and track. Race against others, against yourself, against the mechanical limits of the car. Run for fun and adrenaline to reach the finish line or the wall faster than your opponents. Run because you are a real racer. Everything always in the context of respect and loyalty as a true gentleman, and in this context Pino Allievi tells us, compared to the very first Verstappen: “The first Verstappen was aggressive and unfair, Peterson, on the other hand, always remained aggressive, but with fairness, with Peterson at his side, one could trust“.
All roads lead to Monza Blond. Peterson is still the fourth most successful driver on the Brianza circuit after Schumacher, Hamilton and Piquet and one of the three who lost their lives there. Monza, a track, especially in the old configuration, clean, sharp, no frills, just like Peterson, could only be a nuisance and a joy for him. A carambola at the beginning, which Riccardo Patrese has long been wrongly accused of being the cause of the bang that landed the Scandinavian in the hospital. But it was a twist of fate for someone who was already ready to make the cockpit his grave: it was not the accident itself that led to his death, but rather complications from what was probably incorrect treatment.
“He died the most absurd death in the world. Andretti said the next day: “I’ve never seen anyone die from a broken leg.” In the end he didn’t have any major trauma, he just had a broken leg, and then the embolism that can happen and that with medication and others began means had to be brought under control. It was never understood.
All: Andretti, Chapman, etc. They went to the hospital and were reassured to find that he only had a broken leg, then they called Chapman in the middle of the night and told him he was dead. There was consternation among everyone. Paradoxically, Brambilla’s life was in danger (another pilot involved in the accident) With the head trauma, he was more scared than Peterson.”
An unclear situation that was certainly poorly managed from the beginning after the accident, Allievi continues by describing the excited moments in the first chicane immediately after the accident:
“I got there as they were taking him away. The real mess was the helmet, while everyone had nice helmets with a strap to fasten underneath, he had a French one, the GPA, which had a button to open the chin guard underneath. A simple mechanism that the commissioners knew nothing about. He was therefore semi-conscious and had difficulty breathing as he was “pinched” in the helmet. Fortunately, a colleague of mine, Giorgio Piola, knew this helmet well, he went there, pressed the button and managed to release it. It didn’t save his life, but it was a relief in that situation.”
On his trail Peterson left a void, irreconcilable for Formula 1, which after him has only seen a few drivers like him, irreconcilable especially for his wife Barbro, who committed suicide nine years after the accident. Few victories but everyone’s respect, from Gilles, who was the most similar to him on the track in terms of attitude and driving style, to our Michele Alboreto, who colored his helmet in the yellow and blue of the Swedish flag, to Marcus Ericsson , his compatriot, who honored him in Monaco in 2014 with a helmet dedicated to the 1974 victory in the principality. In Formula 1 there have been 34 world champion drivers compared to thousands of defeated drivers. But how important is a World Cup anyway? Because what does victory mean when a loser like Peterson has put all that behind him? Peterson, gentlemen, wild and immortal.