F1 podium finisher Reine Wisell dies aged 80

Reine Wisell, one of the elite group of drivers who finished on the podium in their first grand prix start, has died at the age of 80.

F1 podium finisher Reine Wisell dies aged 80

The Swede drove for the works Lotus, BRM and March teams before a career that started so promisingly faded away, and he slipped into the shadow of his close contemporary and longtime rival Ronnie Peterson.

Born in 1941 he began his career in saloon cars in 1962. He graduated to F3 in 1966, scoring a couple of local wins with a Cooper in his first season.

In 1967 he switched to a Brabham, winning the Swedish title. The previous year he had given Swedish karting star Ronnie Peterson, two and half years his junior, some racing instruction at Karlskoga. By 1968 they were both driving F3 Tecnos, although initially Wisell was a step ahead and focusing on the international scene.

By 1969 Peterson had made the step up and the two became keen rivals, notably at Monaco, where Peterson came out in top after a famous battle. That year Wisell also did some sportscar racing with a Chevron.

It was Peterson who made it to F1 first, racing a private March from early in 1970. However Wisell would eventually land the bigger opportunity. That year he raced for Sid Taylor in F5000, scoring three late-season victories and finishing seventh in the Guards championship. 

The wins raised his profile, and after Jochen Rindt’s death at Monza and the subsequent departure from Team Lotus of John Miles, Wisell was called by Colin Chapman to partner Emerson Fittipaldi, who himself had contested only three grands prix at that stage.

The Swede’s first race was at Watkins Glen, where he qualified eighth, one second off Fittipaldi. In the closing stages Pedro Rodriguez’s BRM ran out of fuel handing victory to Fittipaldi in only the Brazilian’s fourth start – while Wisell earned third on his debut.

Reine Wisell drives the Lotus 72C on his way to third in the 1970 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, his F1 debut.

Reine Wisell drives the Lotus 72C on his way to third in the 1970 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, his F1 debut.

Photo by: David Phipps

He’d done enough to earn a full-time seat Lotus seat alongside Fittipaldi in 1971. He was an encouraging fourth in the first race in South Africa and would go on to finish sixth in France, fourth in Austria, and fifth in Italy. In F2 he won the Pau GP in a Lotus, but it was a largely disappointing F1 season and he was replaced for 1972 by Lotus F3 star Dave Walker.

Wisell moved instead to BRM as part of an expanded multi-car Marlboro-backed line-up, but with other drivers being drafted in and out, he was dropped for several races. At the end of the year he was called back to Lotus to replace the lacklustre Walker for the last two GPs. However there was no seat for 1973 as Peterson got the job.

By now Wisell’s single-seater career was losing momentum. In 1973 he rented a March for his home Grand Prix but failed to start, and he then drove Mike Beuttler’s car in the French GP. He also scored a famous F2 victory for GRD at the Nurburgring in April, while running Dunlop tyres on the front and Firestones on the rear.

However he would make only one more GP start, in a works March at Anderstorp in 1974, before his F1 career fizzled out. Wisell never quite came to terms with the fact that Peterson had become one of the superstars of the sport.

He would continue to compete in GTs and touring cars, and did a lot of racing in Chevrolet Camaros. He made four starts at Le Mans between 1969 and ’74, and latterly his highest profile appearances were in the Spa 24 Hours, where he last competed in 1981. Subsequently he was also seen in historic racing.

Having walked away from the sport, Wisell spent his later years in Thailand, and from there he would make occasional visits to the paddock at the Malaysian GP.

Wisell with Lotus founder Colin Chapman, Zandvoort 1971.

Wisell with Lotus founder Colin Chapman, Zandvoort 1971.

Photo by: David Phipps

 

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