‘Su­perSwede’ Ron­nie Peter­son’s on-the-limit side­ways style made him the hero of his home­land – and the in­spi­ra­tion for his young coun­try­man, the Sauber racer Mar­cus Eric­s­son

F1 Racing - - HERO'S OF HERO -

Ron­nie Peter­son was, with­out doubt, one of the most out­stand­ing rac­ing driv­ers of the 1970s, nish­ing as run­ner-up twice in the For­mula 1 world cham­pi­onship. And, of course, like me, he was Swedish. He died young, at the age of 34, af­ter an ac­ci­dent on the rst lap of the Ital­ian Grand Prix in 1978. What hap­pened that day set in mo­tion a lot of the safety pro­to­cols that we now take for granted in For­mula 1.

Ob­vi­ously I’m far too young to have seen him race in per­son. But, for me, Ron­nie Peter­son is a leg­end. He’s the big­gest rac­ing hero in Swe­den and, even to­day, peo­ple still know his name. In fact his rep­u­ta­tion ex­tends way be­yond the bor­ders of Swe­den. Ask pretty much any­one in the sport about Ron­nie and they’ll rank him as one of the greats, even though he was never the world cham­pion. What they liked about him, and what they re­mem­ber him for, was his speed and his spec­tac­u­lar driv­ing style. When­ever you read an in­ter­view with some­one who worked with him, like Lo­tus’s Colin Chap­man, or drove against him, like Jackie Stewart, they al­ways say that while he maybe wasn’t the right per­son to de­velop a bad car into a good one, he could get into pretty much any car and drive it on the limit – usu­ally side­ways.

He didn’t al­ways have the best cars, but he drove a lot of in­ter­est­ing ones – the red March with the ‘tea tray’ front wing, the six-wheeled Tyrrell, and he had two stints with Lo­tus when they were at their most cre­ative. The six-wheeler was cer­tainly a funny-look­ing car; Jody Scheck­ter won the 1976 Swedish Grand Prix in it and nished third in the world cham­pi­onship, but by the time Ron­nie got his hands on it for 1977, it had lost its com­pet­i­tive edge.

What­ever car he had, it was al­ways the way he drove that en­deared him to the fans. Even in an era when it was eas­ier to go side­ways – on cross-ply tyres you would al­ways have been ad­just­ing the car to stop

the back over­tak­ing the front – he was re­ally side­ways; it was spec­tac­u­lar. Driv­ers be­hind him would think he’d lost it, but he’d still be in con­trol. You can see it in ac­tion pho­to­graphs; he’s al­ways a bit wider than the guy fol­low­ing.

Out of the car, I’m told he was a nice, hon­est, loyal guy as well, with great in­tegrity. He might have been a lit­tle wild out on track, but he never crashed into any­one de­lib­er­ately. When he was at Lo­tus the sec­ond time, it was in his con­tract that he was num­ber two to Mario An­dretti. Even though he was of­ten quicker than An­dretti he didn’t take points away from him in the races.

In those days, F1 driv­ers didn’t just race in F1; Ron­nie raced in For­mula 2 and sportscars as well, some­times even ral­lies. He did Rally Swe­den in a Porsche 911 once. It must have been a great time, driv­ing dif­fer­ent cars in dif­fer­ent coun­tries ev­ery week­end. If you could do that now, you’d learn so much more. Even though we’ve got a long and busy sea­son now in F1, with 20 races a year, I wouldn’t mind putting on a few other races in be­tween. Bring it on!

When you look back at old pho­to­graphs, you can tell that the rac­ing scene in Ron­nie’s day, in and around the pad­dock, was just a bit more chilled out. There weren’t so many se­cu­rity gates and you worked on your car wher­ever there was a spare space, even if it was un­der a tree. The driv­ers hung out with each other a bit more. If I’d been around back then, I’d denitely have had side­burns!

I come from the same area as him, so to fol­low in his foot­steps is some­thing special. There’s a statue of him in his home town of Öre­bro, which is where I now live – I was born in Kumla, which is only 20km away – and my house is about ve min­utes’ walk from the statue. I’m of­ten asked by mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers to do pho­to­shoots there, and you see plenty of tourists com­ing to look at it. I see his daugh­ter Nina a cou­ple of times a year as well. He’s still a big name in that area and, for me, he’s right up there with other Swedish sports leg­ends such as Inge­mar Sten­mark and Björn Borg – he’s denitely in the top ve.

I did a trib­ute at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2014, wear­ing a replica hel­met in Ron­nie’s colours to mark the 40th anniversary of his win at Monaco in the Lo­tus 72. That was very cool. The hel­met de­sign was proper. I liked that. It went down re­ally well back home, and also with the older peo­ple in the pad­dock who still re­mem­ber him fondly. Above all, Ron­nie was fa­mous and highly re­garded be­cause he was su­per-fast. In my mind, there’s no doubt that if he hadn’t died af­ter his ac­ci­dent, he would even­tu­ally have be­come world cham­pion.

Cer­tainly it’s be­cause of him that F1 be­came such a ma­jor sport in Swe­den, and I think he did a lot to ad­vance the cause of mo­tor­sport there. He made it pos­si­ble for other peo­ple to come through af­ter him. So when peo­ple hear that I’m Swedish, and they men­tion Ron­nie, even just to be as­so­ci­ated with him is a big hon­our for me.

“Out of the car, I’m told Ron­nie was a nice, hon­est, loyal guy as well, with great in­tegrity. It was in his con­tract that he was num­ber two to Mario An­dretti. Even though he was of­ten quicker than An­dretti he didn’t take points away from him in the races”

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