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Sunday, 7 December 2014

Swedish Formula 1 Driver Ronnie Peterson and my Memory of his Passing.

The world of 1978 was a very different world from the one I live into today. I was young and 17. I had just started work in London and the city was a vibrant hive of activity. The music scene was wonderful with Punk Rock and other great British bands imposing themselves upon the music scene. There were record shops everywhere with all the latest albums up for grabs. The book shops were plentiful with wonderful novels of all genres. The magazine stools were fabulous too with all sorts of delightful topics that lured me. The world seemed like a very glamorous place and London seemed at the centre of it all. I stared out at this world through naive and very impressionable eyes. I drank in all the glamorous aspects of the late 70s decade world and fantasied that all these wonderful things were waiting for me. I thought the whole wide world was an eternity of voguish things and that I might be a young knight of the modern day waiting to take it by storm.  I looked at the world with huge delusions of grandeur and believed the world, in turn, would view me with awe and marvel because out there was something waiting. Something I might be good at. Of course this was all fantasy, but sometimes I imaged I might be a dynamic Rock Star (waiting to be discovered) and live life in the fast lane with beautiful ladies falling head over heels in love with me. Perhaps, a star footballer scoring goals for England or maybe a formula 1 racing driver who would win acclaim in the great arena tweaking the nose of danger. I would die young and be an icon. Perhaps a member of the 27 club. Wow! Ten years of fast lane living – an eternity!

I can see the reader laughing and saying, “Yeah right.”

But I was, as mentioned, incredibly naïve. I rather enjoy my naïve young days when I look back now. What an Earth was going on in my head. I imagined I would climb some mountain of achievement and have millions of onlookers stroke my adolescent conviction of vanity. There were celebrities everywhere and none more so then in the Formula 1 racing world. Nikki Lauda, James Hunt, Mario Andretti where all big at the time. Maybe, I would like to be a Formula 1 racing driver. I began to buy the motor racing magazines and was blown away by the sleek look of the Lotus team’s John Player sponsored black racing car. They had Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson driving for them. I thought the cars looked great and often envied the life style these daredevils might live. I knew James Hunt had a great swashbuckling reputation and he had one a championship back in 1976. Nikki Lauda bore the scars of injury, but had also taken championship titles. Now in 1978 it seemed to be Mario Andretti that was amassing points with his team mate Ronnie Peterson. It was the Lotus car designs turn.

I had got a job as a humble coding clerk in an American Re-insurance company called CNA-RE based in Fenchurch Street in Fountain House. It was the claims department and I spent my time writing policy numbers, premium amounts received and claim payments paid out. It was before computers and there was no excel programs or computers back then. I was writing these from policy cards kept in a large filing cabinet on wheels. All day long I pulled out claims polices from this trolley and copied the various transaction numbers and amounts into a folder. Why? I haven’t the foggiest idea. It seemed like an incredible waste of time because everything I was writing down was on other files here there and everywhere.

CAN-RE dealt with Lloyd’s insurance brokers who went about the city E.C.3 area – predominantly Fenchurch Street, Leadenhall Street, St Mary Axe etc. There were hundreds of these small Re-insurance offices for the brokers to sell their insurance premiums to. The risks were so great that the insurance was broken down into small sections and 5% or 10% would be sold to various different Re-insurance companies. These insurance risks were big. Like airlines, shipping industries or other multi-commercial interests. Interests so big that one insurance company might not be able to take on a big risk alone. Because a claim for a huge cargo ship or jumbo jet could work out to be multi millions.

For a single person life insurance could be bought against an ordinary insurance company, but a single Formula 1 racing car driver was Re-insured due to the high level of risk involved.

In 1978 the Lotus team racing Driver Ronnie Peterson got killed during the Italian Grand Prix. He was Mario Andretti’s team mate in the Lotus racing team – the black JPS cars I thought looked great and sleek, the racing driver I envied beyond all things. He was a young man living this life I imagined as glamorous, but his sudden death shocked me. I remember seeing Nikki Lauda in TV. interviews after his death defying accident and the scars he had to his face. I believed that the turning point had been reached. Now Ronnie Peterson had also been killed in this promising Lotus team.

It made me dwell on things a little and was a short shock about the less sensational aspect of racing from the driver’s point of view. Maybe I was happier being a spectator on this one. Perhaps there is always a price to pay for such dearing escapades? The feelings resurfaced a few weeks later when I was writing out the claims transactions and pulled out a Re-insurance claims card to copy details from. 

CAN-RE had a small percentage of Ronnie Peterson’s claim. It said he had been killed in the Italian Grand Prix and I realised he was actually re-insured. I can’t remember my much company’s actual risk percentage, but it was probably between 5% and 10%. I can’t remember the exact figure in US dollars but it was multiple thousands of. At such a small percentage I began to wonder what the overall claim would have been once the Lloyd's claims brokers had done the rounds upon all the Re-insurance companies taking these multiple thousands here and there. It had to be staggering, I know it was, but I remember thinking it was no good to poor Ronnie Peterson – the talented Swedish Formula 1 racing driver who died aged 34. There is a statue of him in Orebro, Sweden and among his funeral pole bearers was Ken Tyrell, Colin Chapman, James Hunt, Nikki Lauda and Jody Scheckter. I remember thinking it was a tragic thing at the time and for me; perhaps a slice of life after the glitter is brushed away.


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