Here is the ever-so-talented Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson braking as he turns into Druids at the top of the hill on the Brands Hatch circuit in England on March 19, 1972 during the Race of Champions, a British F1 race which did not count for the World Championship. Peterson is driving a March-Cosworth 721X which tried to reduce the polar moment of inertia by locating as many components as possible within the wheelbase, using an Alfa Romeo transverse gearbox to help accomplish this. His right front wheel is locking as the car’s weight shifts to its left side during turn-in to the right hand 180° corner. So much for design theory: Peterson finished twelfth, a lap down.
March Engineering was so-named due to the names of its founders: Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd. Unfortunately, the March 721X was great in theory but was a handling disaster in reality and was quickly replaced by the more normative and successful 721G. Peterson, already viewed as a star of the future, stayed with March in F1 through 1973 before joining Lotus. He won several Grands Prix with the new Lotus 72 and became a highly respected competitor. After sojourns back at March and then at Tyrrell, he re-joined Lotus in 1978 to partner with Mario Andretti. By mid-season theirs was an almost unbeatable combination. If they finished, they often took the top two places. Many thought that Peterson was Andretti’s equal and was just dutifully waiting to have his turn at the Championship.
All this went away at the start of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza where Peterson’s car was caught between others as the tightly bunched field came into the narrowed entry to the first chicane. Several cars touched and spun. Peterson’s Lotus slammed into the guardrail and inflicted terrible leg injuries to its driver. After some delay Peterson was taken to a hospital; he seemed out of immediate danger, but after emergency surgery an embolism during the night caused his death.
Photo by Nigel Snowdon ©The Klemantaski Collection