Former Lotus Formula 1 driver Reine Wisell died on Sunday, March 20th. He was 80. Wisell drove in 23 Formula 1 races.
Reine Wisell came up through the ranks together with his countryman Ronnie Peterson. Against Peterson’s boldness and exuberance, Wisell played out opposite character traits. Wisell drove smooth and controlled.
In 1962, Reine Wisell started racing in a Mini Cooper in Sweden. By 1966, Wisell made his Formula 3 debut. One year on, he took the Swedish Formula 3 crown. In the meantime, he was an instructor at the Karlskoga circuit. One of his pupils was Ronnie Peterson. In 1968, Wisell found Peterson as his teammate in Formula 3 with Tecno. Ronnie beat him at the prestigious Monaco Formula 3 race after an intense duel.
Podium in his first F1 race
Peterson moved to Formula 1, Wisell kept himself occupied with sports cars and a Formula 5000 McLaren. At the end of the 1970 Formula 1 season, Colin Chapman brought in Wisell to replace John Miles for the final two races. Team Lotus was still recovering from Jochen Rindt’s fatal accident at Monza earlier. Chapman had drafted in Emerson Fittipaldi to fill Rindt’s seat. Unhappy with Miles’ performance, Chapman decided to take on Wisell instead. Wisell thanked Chapman with a third place in his first Grand Prix for Lotus at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
4WD Lotus turbine disaster
The podium place secured Wisell’s spot with Lotus for 1971. Unfortunately, he was the guinea pig asked to drive the experimental four-wheel-drive Lotus 56B turbine car. Too complex, too heavy, the project went nowhere. Wisell won his first Formula 2 race for Lotus at Pau, but in the end, he saw his contract in F1 with Lotus terminated after the 1971 season.
So, Wisell switched to BRM at a low point in the team’s history: the 1972 season. Ultimately, Wisell saw his F1-career slip through his fingers.
In turn, Wisell made the most of his sports car career. He had raced a Chevrolet Corvette at Le Mans in 1969, a Ferrari 512S with compatriot Jo Bonnier in 1970, a Lola T282 in 1973 and finally a Gulf Mirage GR7 with Vern Schuppan in 1974. Wisell was never at the finish in Le Mans.
But maybe Reine Wisell is best remembered for his performances in the monstrous Chevrolet Camaro in European touring car races. In 1981 for instance, the Swede set pole position in the Spa 24 Hours in the Camaro, only for the car to drop out with technical issues in the race. In 1977 and 1978, Wisell was runner up in a Camaro in the Swedish touring car championship. By the mid-eighties, Wisell moved his attention to historic racing… and to economy runs. He died on Sunday in his home in Thailand.