Thread: Ronnie Peterson
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Old 11-09-2001, 01:00 AM
Anonymous Coward
Posts: n/a
Thanks for that, 917k.
I remember that day very well, and I still get this dread feeling in the pit of my stomach when the GP circus arrives at Monza. Its the same at Belgium (Gilles Villeneuve, Zolda, 1982)

Perhaps I could add a description of what actually happened, if only to illustrate that F1 is at least a little safer these days. (note the part played by James Hunt in pulling Peterson from his car)

At about three o'clock, 24 cars lined up on the grid, the flag was dropped with some of the cars still rolling into position. On the approach to the Variante Goodyear, Riccardo Patrese's Arrows, which had qualified 12th, touched James Hunt's McLaren, which started from 10th position. The McLaren was spun into Peterson's Lotus and the Lotus was spun into the barriers on the right-hand side of the track, crushing the front of the car. Vittorio Brambilla, who had started from the back of the grid, tried to avoid the accident but his Surtees crashed into Peterson's Lotus. Peterson's Lotus burst into flames. After Niki Lauda's horrific accident two years earlier, there was the sickening thought of "Oh, no not again!"

James Hunt leapt from his McLaren and pulled Peterson from the burning Lotus. Soon the fire was put out and the track officials started to take stock of what had happened: ten cars were involved in the accident, including Brett Lunger, Hans Stuck, who had been concussed, and Didier Pironi. Brambilla had a severe head injury and Peterson had badly broken legs. The Italian Police formed a human wall stopping anyone, including Professor Sid Watkins, the then Surgical Advisor to Formula One, from entering the crash site.

After a delay of between eleven to eighteen minutes, an ambulance was sent to the accident scene, and Peterson was taken to the Monza medical centre. At the medical centre, Peterson's legs were splinted, IVs were put in, and it was determined that Peterson's burns were not severe. With Peterson's condition stabilised, he was then taken by helicopter to the Ospedale Maggiore at Niguardia, which was about ten minutes away. There, the x-ray exam showed that Peterson had about 27 fractures of his legs and feet. The surgeons decided to pin Peterson's fractured bones when circulation to one of his legs was under threat. The surgeons worked until close to midnight and Peterson was sent to the intensive care unit in stable condition.

At close to four o'clock in the morning, Professor Watkins received a call informing him that Peterson's condition had worsened. By the time he reached the hospital, Peterson was clinically brain-dead: he had died from a fat embolism - a fairly rare condition that can follow fractures of the thigh. In layman's terms, fat deposits form in the blood vessels of the patient, which, in Peterson's case, blocked circulation through the lungs and starved his brain of oxygen. Even today, there is little that can be done after a fat embolism forms, and the risk of an embolism forming is higher the longer the patient is left untreated and the longer and more complicated the surgery.
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