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Super Swede



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Pedro Rodriguez, Ronnie Peterson, Jackie Oliver


BRM P153, Colin Crabbe Racing March-Cosworth 701, BRM P153


Monte Carlo


1970 Monaco GP


The man in the leading car in the picture was one of the true sportscar greats and a competent if not very talented Grand Prix driver as well. Normally we would devote an entire page on Pedro but for a change let's focus on the second driver in the picture. He is celebrating a special occasion in his own right, since we see Ronnie Peterson in his first F1 Grand Prix!

It was the spring of 1970, the beginning of new decade. These were turbulent times with the Vietnam war in full swing, anti-war rallies in the streets of virtually every capital of the world. We had a multitude of airliner hijackings, but we also had Woodstock and "All You Need Is Love". And JFK had finally got the first man on the moon before the decade that had just been waved goodbye was over. Sadly he wasn't to witness the achievement. Formula One racing was again growing in popularity with stronger grids once again. 15-16 cars on the grids were de rigueur in 1969 with the French GP attracting a mere 13 entries. 1969 World Champion Jackie Stewart left the Matra team because he felt the Cosworth DFV was superior to Matra's own V12 which they intended to use in 1970.

One major factor in bolstering the grids in 1970 were four young british lads. They were behind the new March marque which entered the scene in 1970 with their distinctive 701 chassis. The March name was an acronym of the names of the founders. M stood for Mosley as in Max Mosley, a young lawyer whose father had been an infamous nazi-leader in Britain. AR stood for Alan Rees a former racing driver who had competed at F2 level. C stood for Graham Coaker, who was the workshop manager. And finally H stood for the brilliant engineer and designer Robin Herd. Now, three decades later, we all know that Max Mosley is the head of FIA and having missed out on the final spot in Formula 1 Inc., Robin Herd is once again headed towards America and Indy-style racing, which the March marque had dominated during the 1980s.

Jackie Stewart's team manager Ken Tyrrell was among the first to order the March 701 and took delivery of three cars. Thanks to the money from Andy Granatelli, the head of STP, March themselves were able to enter a works team with Chris Amon and Jo Siffert and Andy's man Mario Andretti. Also, March's own young hopeful Ronnie Peterson, who had done well in F3 in the March 693, the marque's very first design, was provided with a car. This was run by Colin Crabbe's Antique Automobiles stable.

Bengt Ronnie Peterson was born to be racing driver, his father Bengt already putting him in a self-built device when Ronnie was 8 years old. Ten years later in 1962 people began to notice young Ronnie. He took second place in the Swedish FK championship and subsequently won the championship in 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966. 1965 had also seen him plunge onto the European Karting scene. He was the best individual driver at the Team Euro Championship in Paris.

Already aged 22 Ronnie finally made his car-racing debut late in 1966. He was entered in the Brabham inspired Swebe F3 car designed by Sven Andersson and Ronnie's father Bengt Peterson. He soon graduated from the copy to the original when Ronnie bought Kurt Ahrens' fast Brabham. Due to self-admitted inexperience he crashed the car in the first race when he misjudged the entry into a corner on the Karlskoga circuit. He braked to late and ran over the rearwheel of a competitor. He somersaulted into the woods. Luckily before the race an overzealous scrutineer has deemed the roll-over hoop to be too low and ordered it to be raised. And when the car ended upside down after the crash this might have contributed to Ronnie being extracted from the wreck without injury.

He soon learned to master his F3 and now the great battle with compatriot Reine Wisell began. During 1968 and 1969 he fought vigorously against Reine in SMOG-sponsored Tecno cars. Ronnie netted 12 wins in 1968 and in 1969 he won 15 races out of 19. His worst score was a 4th place! Five of them were international wins. The most important was of course the Monaco GP prelude. In 1969 he also had outings for Roy Winkelmann's F2 Lotus team and for the factory Tecno team. Late in 1969, on October 5, Ronnie drove the new March 693 at Monthléry. Coming into a strawbale chicane Ronnie was blinded by the sun and hit one of the bales, the car somersaulted and caught fire. Ronnie was hospitalized with severe burns.

So now we are back in 1970 with Ronnie making his GP debut in Monaco. The 701 turned out to be quite a difficult car and Ronnie wasn't renowned for his car-sorting skills - not then and not ever after. He never managed to get the 701 to his liking. Even Jackie Stewart had problems with his 701 but still the wee Scot managed to get a win out of the car, whereas Ronnie drove it like he always had: he took the car by the scruff of its neck and drove it as fast as it could possibly go. His debut was rewarded with a 7th place, just out of the points. And as Martin Brundle later said, "P7 is nothing", a point would have been much more memorable. After the race Robin Herd said to some reporters: "Please write that Ronnie was fantastic but don't tell it to him…"

As the year progressed Colin Crabbe's single DFV became more tired and wary and duly lost power. Ronnie never got close again to scoring any points. During 1970 he also raced in the Euro F2 Trophy and ended up 4th in the final standings. So in his sophomore year in the big league Ronnie got his big break. He remained faithful to March and their new 711 design with the famous "tea-tray" front wing was showing some real promise. Ronnie scored four second places and also ended up second in the drivers championship that year. Jackie Stewart remained the dominant driver of the day and scored 6 wins in his new Derek Gardner-designed Tyrrell chassis.

In the race of the year Ronnie lost out in the fantastic slipstreaming battle of Monza against Peter Gethin's BRM and this time victory eluded him by only a tiny fraction of a second - 0.01s… For the first time Ronnie had a DFV Series 11 in his car and this helped him to first lead a GP race when he took the lead on the lap 4. He held the lead for four laps until Regazzoni overtook him. On lap 10 Ronnie slipstreamed ahead of "Regga". This time his lead lasted for five more laps before Regazzoni and Cevert overtook him into the Parabolica. On lap 18 Regazzoni's Ferrari expired and Ronnie was back in the lead. Meanwhile Mike Hailwood had stormed through the field from his 14th starting position. And on the 25th lap Mike took the lead - a first for both Hailwood and Surtees - but on lap 28 Siffert slipped past Mike. On lap 30 "Seppi" developed gearbox trouble, so now Ronnie was back in the lead yet again. Then Chris Amon entered the fray and passed Ronnie. The Kiwi held on to it until lap 48 when his visor blew off and he had to slow down. Gratefully, Peterson took the lead for the fourth time running. On lap 51 Ronnie was still leading but on lap 52 Hailwood slipstreamed through and on the next lap - with two laps to go - Peter Gethin was ahead. As the final lap began Ronnie retook the lead once more, followed by Cevert, Hailwood, Gethin and Ganley. Then Cevert took over into Lesmo and charged through to the Parabolica. Into the Parabolica Gethin braked late with one of his wheels on the grass. To counter this strange attack Cevert changed his line, forcing to take a less favourable line into the final Parabolica. Still he managed to get into the slipstream of Gethin to throw his car besides that of Gethin. Pulling closer and closer both approached the finish line but it was too late. Amazingly, the top five cars were all within 0.6 seconds of each other! After the race March discovered that one of the exhaust-headers had broke and maybe the small loss in horsepower had cost him the race…

1971 was really a busy year for Ronnie. While getting on with the business of finishing runner-up in the F1 championship, he won five F2 races as well, and took the Euro F2 crown in a March 712M. He also drove for Autodelta Alfa Romeo in the World Sports Car Championship, winning the Watkins Glen 6hrs with Andrea de Adamich in their Alfa 33/3. Ronnie once again remained loyal to the March team for 1972 and this time the 721 and 721X failed horribly. It was not until the F2-based 721G came along Ronnie again began to show his mettle. (The G in the 721G designation stood for Guinness Book-of-Records because the car was built in a record nine days.) This car took Ronnie to the podium at Nürburgring, his only of the season. For Ferrari he took two wins in sportscars with Tim Schenken.

Now the time had come to move on. Late in 1972 he signed for Team Lotus. He was to partner newly crowned World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi in the now mature Lotus 72D. It looked to be a wise move. In France Ronnie took his maiden GP win. He was to score three more late in the season, the most controversial of them being the Monza win. Ronnie finished third in the championship. Emerson won three races and Jackie Stewart took his third and final crown with a tally of four wins to his name.

Ronnie was now generally regarded as the fastest man in Formula One. But once again a revolutionary car would destroy the season for Ronnie. He started out the year in the Lotus 76 with biplane rear wing, twin brake pedals and an automatic clutch. Designed as a lighter version of the venerable 72D, the car ultimately was a failure. Team Lotus had to revert to the old 72D once more, now in its fifth year of competition. Ronnie squeezed the last drops of spirit from it and won three more GPs with the car. Lack of finances for Team Lotus meant that for 1975 Ronnie struggled on in the 72 but now time had finally taken its toll. He was only rewarded with six meagre points for his efforts.

Actually, after the first race of the year Ronnie had signed for Shadow but Colin promised they would accelerate the development of the new 77 and this convinced Ronnie to tear up the contract. For 1976 Ronnie began the year with Team Lotus but when the new type 77 was developing slowly Ronnie split with Colin Chapman and returned to the March team. With hindsight probably not a good move. Indeed he took a famous win at Monza with the 761 but that was about it for the season, whereas Mario Andretti was able to win the end-of-season Japanese in the Lotus 77 and looked to be on a roll.

For Ronnie, 1977 was going to be even worse in the recalcitrant Tyrrell P34 six-wheeler. In 1976 the P34 had shown some promise and won the Swedish GP in the hands of Jody Scheckter. But for 1977 Goodyear had stopped development of the small front wheels and the new, more aerodynamical P34s were never competitive. For a few races Tyrrell reverted to the 1976 body and they experimented with wider front track but despite the continuous development the car failed to respond. Once again Peterson's lacking ability as a test driver let him down and he had to drive the car as fast as he could despite it being a dog of a car.

The success of the Lotus 78 during 1977 meant that Ronnie was once again headed for Team Lotus. His first test of type 78 left him ecstatic and he deemed it the best car he had ever driven. But for the first time in his career he had to accept a contract which meant he was the number two driver, with Mario Andretti being the clear number one. For most of the year Ronnie shadowed Mario and showed who was the fastest man on the track. Two wins were added and with four second places behind Mario this meant that Ronnie once again finished second in the Drivers Championship. This was of course posthumously because Ronnie's career and life were ended in the starting line accident at Monza in September 1978.

Reader's Why by Don Capps

  1. The first F1 race for Ronnie Peterson.
  2. The Colin Crabbe March 701 had been ordered early on and was promised to the team in time for the Race of Champions in late March. It was not until late in the week prior to the Monaco race that chassis 08 was finally delivered to the team shop. The team scrambled about and despite the little time it had to prepare the car for the race, the team had 08 in the pits ready for practice on Thursday morning.
  3. In 1970, there was an agreement (of sorts) brokered by the Constructors Association that allocated 10 spots to nominated drivers and the rest of the grid had to qualify for what was left. The original idea the organizers of the Monaco race had was a trophy dash style qualifying race on Saturday. When it was politely pointed out that the CSI didn't allow a driver to compete in another race within 24 hours of a Championship round, they dropped the idea. The six open spots would be determined by adding an additional 30 minute session on Saturday open only to those having to qualify. As Ferrari was not a member of the Association, they felt they were not bound by the deal. There would be 11 cars vying for six places - and thanks to no-shows it was reduced to 11 from a possible 15. Making it as one of the 16 starters was going to take some doing.
  4. This all went back to the previous race, the Spanish Grand Prix. After making a complete shambles of what qualifying criteria was - with Ferrari queering the deal by loudly reminding all concerned that it was NOT a member of the Association, everyone was treated to the scene of four cars who thought they were in the race being pushed off the grid and the police attempting to pull Graham Hill from the cockpit of his car with the benefit of undoing his seat belts! The still recovering Hill was wedged under the steering wheel and his legs - still tender from the accident at Watkins Glen - were subjected to unwarranted abuse. His sin? Arriving late on the grid because the cars were being shoved off the grid and he was blocked getting his car into place….
  5. With all that fresh in everyone's mind, tacking on the extra 30 minute session seemed like a great idea. However, a time set during that session could not advance a driver on the grid since the 10 Anointed drivers would not be in the session. A driver would get on the grid based on a time from Thursday or Friday, but the Saturday would be used to see which drivers actually made the grid. It gets better. Practice was spread over three days, but Friday saw heavy rain and so it was down to the Thursday and Saturday times. On Thursday Peterson did a 1 min 26.8 sec time and in the Saturday session did 1 min 26.2 sec. Jackie Oliver did 1 min 27.5 on Thursday and a 1 min 25.8 sec on Saturday, but started on the grid behind Peterson since although the Saturday time really got him in the race, it was the Thursday time that determined where he sat on the grid. Henri Pescarolo got in on the strength of his 1 min 25.7 sec set on Thursday although he only did 1 min 26.6 on Saturday. Jo Siffert was the fastest on Saturday with a 1 min 24.6 sec which equaled the time Chris Amon set for the outside position on the front row. The 1 min 26.2 sec of Peterson pipped the 1 min 26.3 set by both Rolf Stommelen (Brabham) and Andrea de Adamich (McLaren) on Saturday. However, Surtees at 1 min 27.4 sec, Oliver at 1 min 27.5 sec (but 1 min 25.8 sec on Saturday), and Rodriguez at I min 28.8 sec started and they - along with George Eaton (BRM) at 1 min 27.0 sec, John Miles (Lotus) at 1 min 27.4 sec, and Johnny Sevoz-Gavin (March) with a 1 min 28.1 sec - all went home. Got all that?
  6. Just to spice things up, Hill pranged the Walker Lotus 49, R7. Guaranteed a start, Team Lotus made R10 available and it appeared in the Walker colors for the race, although it was relegated to the rear of the grid. This was first "official" instance of where a car was allowed to be substituted for another in which the driver had not set a qualifying time. Since Hill used R10 to win the previous race, it was deemed that he was familiar with the car…
  7. The race was actually very boring until the last few laps, but more on that later. The trio in the picture had their moments in the race. Rodriguez pitted after only three laps to have the throttle linkage attended to since it was hanging up at various odd times and a wide open throttle was a serious handicap at Monte Carlo. It took the mechanics two laps to fix the fault. Rodriguez rejoined and eventually wound up in sixth place at the finish. Peterson drove a steady, calm race, and stayed out of the way of everyone. He ended up in seventh at the end, which was to be his best effort for the year. He managed three other finishes - two ninth places and an 11th - that season. Oliver was in eighth place when his engine blew up. He had come from the rear of the grid and was doing well until the 142 cried enough.
  8. Until the last few laps, it was not a great race. Stewart led early in the Tyrrell March until he had to pit to see about a misfire and Brabham moved into second. That was it. There was some movement back in the pack, but few were really dicing for position. Then Chapman sensed that Brabham was slowing and taking it easier and easier. He hung out the "FASTER" sign to Rindt. Rindt had been circulating aiming for a finish. However, he pressed on when the lead was shown as nine seconds. Brabham then lost four of those seconds when he got caught behind the sickly March of Siffert. Soon Rindt could see Brabham, but with only a lap or so left, Brabham had it well in hand. On the last lap, Brabham could see Rindt closing and just to be sure, he decided to make sure he used the Gasometer to his advantage. As he went into Gasometer, the de Tomaso of Courage was on the usual line and Brabham drove under him to use the de Tomaso to block Rindt in case Rindt tried a desperation move. Unfortunately for Brabham, the combination of fading brakes and the oil and sand on the inside of the corner conspired against him. Brabham braked and the BT33 slid into the barrier while an astonished Rindt - and international television audience - could scarcely believe what had happened.
  9. It was an amazing finish to what could have been a dull race.