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GP Week : Issue 28
>>GPWEEKOPINION How it was back then. Peterson is attended to lying on the track., having been pulled from his burning car by fellow drivers. Ronnie succumbed to unnecessary injury complications later that evening. He was called the Superswede. And he was one. The unforgetable Ronnie Peterson – according to many, the best racing driver never to win the Formula 1 world championship. Ronnie died after a horrific first lap crash at Monza, 30 years ago this week (above). Can you compare a driver from yesterday with today? Ultimately, no. They drove totally different cars. But you can compare them for their skill and and car control. And Ronnie had plenty of both. If you ever saw him sideways through a corner it is a picture you will never forget. Or in the wet... such beautiful control of a wild beast. When it came to set-up, Ronnie was not the best of his era. Remember, there were no computers to give you all the information back then. You drove, as Niki Lauda once said, with your sensitive bottom and that was where you felt if and what was wrong. Ronnie’s, backside, was not as sensitive as the Austrian’s, so instead he drove around the problem. At that he was a true champion. In those days most of the drivers were good friends. Of course there were some who did not like each other, but when it came to Ronnie no one could say a bad word about him. Neither of the person nor of the driver. Or, as Mario Andretti, his teammate at Lotus in that fateful 1978 season said, Ronnie could just not lie. He was 100 percent honest. The Superswede was also a driver you could race wheel-to- wheel going into a corner, and have absolute confidence that he would not do anything silly. As now, the drivers were idolised by their thousands of fans, and travelled all over the world meeting a lot of people. Ronnie was actually a shy man off the circuit. He just loved to race, but he did not really feel comfortably outside the paddock where he was forced to make small talk to people who did not understand. He was also careful with journalists... especially the Swedish! You had to earn his friendship and trust, but once you had done that you had a friend for life. One who would give you his last shirt. At the height of his career Ronnie was, with perhaps the exception of one or two football and ice hockey players, the only international sportsman Sweden had. Is he remembered in Sweden? Yes. Both among grandfathers and their granchildren. A few months ago a museum was opened in Örebro his hometown, in his memory. Yes I confess, I am biased. But I hope I have painted a picture, not of a saint, but of a great racing driver and a good friend, who is still sadly missed by many. Ronnie at his best – heading for victory in the ageing Lotus 72E. French Grand Prix, Dijon-Prenois, 7 July 1974 23