When F1 team-mates fight for the title



Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson (1978)

In another dominant year for Lotus, the team had an outstanding driver line-up which would take victory in eight of the 13 races prior to the Italian Grand Prix, where the title would be decided early in the most devastating circumstances. Mario Andretti was leading the Lotus charge but Ronnie Peterson had been second in four one-twos for the team in 1978. Andretti was understood to be team leader and Peterson dutifully fulfilled his role, picking up victories when the American had difficult races. However, such was Peterson’s class and consistency, they were the only two in the frame for the championship with three races remaining after another one two in the Dutch Grand Prix.

Andretti had won five of the previous eight races but retired from the other three, and Peterson entered the Italian Grand Prix off the back of a first and a second in the past two races. While Peterson was not expected to challenge, he could still profit from unreliability. At Monza, that gap between the two stood at 12 points but Andretti looked to have strengthened his hold on the championship with pole position.

At the start, the field bunched up on the long run to the Rettifilo chicane and Peterson was involved in a huge accident involving a number of cars, hitting the barrier hard as his car burst into flames. While he was quickly extracted by a number of drivers also involved in the accident - including James Hunt and Clay Regazzoni - Peterson had severe injuries to his legs. Andretti finished sixth to take the championship with his team-mate clearly not going to race again for the rest of the season, but tragically Peterson suffered complications following surgery on his legs and died the following day.