Ronnie Peterson

Personal Information

Full Name
Bengt Ronnie Peterson
Place of Birth
Örebro, Sweden
CountrySweden Sweden
Place of Death
Milan, Italy

About Ronnie Peterson

Ronnie Peterson F1 Career Overview

A driver whose legacy was arguably never fully realised following his untimely death in 1978, many consider Ronnie Peterson to nonetheless stand as one of the greats from an era best-remembered for the likes of Niki Lauda, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart.

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Ronnie Peterson F1 Career Overview

A driver whose legacy was arguably never fully realised following his untimely death in 1978, many consider Ronnie Peterson to nonetheless stand as one of the greats from an era best-remembered for the likes of Niki Lauda, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart.

One of only three Swedish drivers to have won a race at the pinnacle of the sport, Peterson remains comfortably the Scandic nation’s most successful with ten victories and could have been World Champion the very year he succumbed to injuries after a startline accident during the 1978 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. 

Twice runner-up (which includes posthumously in 1978), Peterson won ten races and 26 podiums between 1970 and 1978, passing away aged 34.

Ronnie Peterson F1 Career - Team-by-Team

March: 1970-1972

Making a name for himself at a domestic level prior to F1, Peterson won the Swedish Formula 3 Championship in 1968 and 1969 to catch the attention of Colin Crabbe, who placed him in the works-supported (but ageing) March for the 1970 F1 season.

Debuting in the Monaco Grand Prix, Peterson failed to score in any of his 1970 outings but still impressed with a trio of top ten results in what was an inferior version of the March 701 compared with the machinery being pedalled by Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon out front.

It was enough to earn him a full-factory berth with the STP March Racing Team for 1971, an opportunity he grasped to notch up six podiums and finish runner-up behind the otherwise all-conquering Jackie Stewart in the Tyrrell. Dovetailing his F1 commitments with a stint in the European Formula Two Championship, Peterson confirmed his burgeoning talent with a dominant run to title glory, once more with March.

A more troubled campaign followed in Peterson’s final season with March, landing only a single podium to his name en route to seventh in the overall standings.

Lotus: 1973-1975

A switch to Lotus brought Peterson arguably his best-ever season in 1973 and might have stood a chance at defeating Jackie Stewart for the title had he enjoyed a better start to the year in the John Player-backed car.

A failure to score in any of the opening five events due to poor reliability left him playing catch up but after returning to the podium at Monaco and on home soil at Anderstorp, Peterson landed his maiden F1 win in France at Paul Ricard before reeling off three wins from the last four races (Austria, Italy and the United States) to lift him to third overall, 19 points shy of the top spot.

Again misfortune would plague Peterson in 1974 when the Swede spent three non-finishing races frustrated behind the wheel of the new Lotus 76, before reverting back to the 72E and rediscovering his form, landing wins at Monaco, Paul Ricard again and Monza to lift himself to fifth.

With Lotus slipping down the hierarchy as Ferrari, Brabham and McLaren came on strong instead, Peterson cracked the points on only three occasions in 1975.

March: 1976

Planning a switch to Shadow Racing, Peterson was convinced to remain with Lotus for 1976 but lasted only a single race before he returned to March. It was an erroneous decision with Lotus proving podium contenders in 1976, whereas the March was only good for occasional points, even if he did claim the team’s final GP win at Monza.

Tyrrell: 1977

A switch to Tyrrell in 1977  driving the updated six-wheel P34B didn’t bring the step forward desired and while the wacky-looking machine was competitive the previous year, its benefits of grip were less pronounced as rivals out-developed it.

A modest season followed before his campaign was blighted at the final round in Japan when a collision between himself and Gilles Villeneuve killed a spectator and a photographer, who had been standing in a prohibited area.

Lotus: 1978

A return to Lotus for 1978 allowed Peterson a return to his best form and the season quickly established an engrossing title fight between himself and team-mate Mario Andretti, this despite his counterpart having a clear steer on car development and held No.1 status in the team.

Returning to winning ways in the South African Grand Prix, a run of four podiums mid-season kept the American honest at the top of the standings before a win in Austria and a rostrum in the Netherlands narrowed the margin further with three races to go.

Ronnie Peterson Death - 1978 Italian Grand Prix

Coming to the 1978 Italian Grand Prix just 12 points off Andretti, Peterson - already contending with painful legs as a result of a crash in practice - started fifth but the combination of his poor start up front and a premature green light before cars lining up at the back of the grid had come to a halt (thus giving them an effective rolling start) bunched the busy pack as they tightened towards turn one.

James Hunt was dicing with Ricciardo Patrese, but an instinctive jink to the left in defence of the Brazilian instead clippedPeterson, who flicked into the barriers head-on, his Lotus catching alight as it did so. The following melee took out another seven cars, including Vittorio Brambilla, who was knocked unconscious after being struck by an errant wheel.

Peterson remained conscious, thus wasn’t the priority over Brambilla as medical teams rushed to their aid, but had clearly suffered serious leg injuries and burns. Taken to hospital, Peterson remained conscious and even discussed with doctors how best to operate on his legs but overnight his condition suddenly worsened and he was diagnosed with a fat embolism. This led to kidney failure and come the next morning Peterson had passed away.

Poignantly Andretti went on to be crowned champion in Peterson’s absence at Monza, a title he said he thus found difficult to celebrate in the circumstances. Despite there being two rounds of the season remaining, Peterson went on to posthumously secure second in the standings.

Ronnie Peterson - Beyond F1

As well as his F1 racing exploits, Peterson was a regular in non-championship events throughout his career and racked up podiums in events as the Brazilian Grand Prix, the BRDC International Trophy and the Race of Champions.

He also made starts in the World Sportscar Championship, most notably in 1974 when he won two events in Argentina and the Nurburgring at the wheel of a Ferrari.