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With great sadness we have to report the death of Swedish Formula 1 driver Reine Wisell yesterday at his home in Thailand. He was 80 years of age and had been a proud Honorary Member of the BRDC since being elected in 1971, invariably wearing a BRDC badge and visiting the Clubhouse at Silverstone whenever he could.

Reine, together with his great friend, fellow countryman and rival, Ronnie Peterson, was one of a group of highly talented but relatively impecunious young drivers who made a name for themselves in the ultra-competitive cauldron that was 1000 cc Formula 3 in the second half of the 1960s. Three years older than Ronnie, after a grounding in a Mini-Cooper Reine started in Formula 3 with a rather unfashionable Cooper T76 in 1966 from which he wrung a couple of victories. For 1967 he acquired the ex-Picko Troberg Brabham BT18 and won the Swedish F3 Championship against Ronnie in a similar car. The two young Swedes each acquired one of the kart-derived Italian Tecno chassis for 1968 to continue their fierce but friendly rivalry and carry on winning – the end of year score being 12 wins for Ronnie and 11 for Reine with Ronnie winning the Swedish championship.

While Ronnie continued with a new Vick-sponsored Tecno in 1969, Reine took up the offer from Derek Bennett of Chevron to be the works driver in F3 and sports car racing for the princely salary of £1000. The Reine v Ronnie rivalry caught the attention of the Swedish race-going public to such an extent that, when a race at Crystal Palace clashed with an event at the new Falkenberg circuit, the organisers paid for Reine’s Chevron B15 to be transported overnight from London to Sweden and, with Ronnie’s full agreement, Reine was allowed to start from an extra row at the front of the grid rather than from the back for missing practice! Reine won at the Palace but Ronnie won in Sweden. However, it was the Monaco F3 event which caught the attention of the Formula 1 world as Reine and Ronnie went head to head in the final after each had won his heat. Completely outpacing the cream of up-and-coming drivers, Reine and Ronnie passed and re-passed around the streets off the Principality in a titanic battle which is still recalled to this day. After Reine’s brakes failed to respond as he had hoped at the Chicane four laps from the end, a brief trip into the escape road allowed Ronnie back in front where he stayed. Next up but some way behind them were other future F1 stars Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Tim Schenken and Patrick Depailler.

In the Chevron-BMW B8 Reine was able to demonstrate his sports car capabilities sufficiently to impress the doyen of Swedish drivers, Joakim Bonnier, with the result that after an initial outing in the Kyalami 9 Hours at the end of 1969, Reine shared Jo Bo’s Lola T70 in several international races in 1970. However, Reine’s ambitions still very much lay in single-seater racing. Impressed by what he had seen of him in the F3 Chevron, Bruce McLaren offered Reine a third works McLaren, albeit an obsolescent M7A, for the BRDC Daily Express International Trophy at Silverstone. The race was run in two legs with an aggregate result in which Reine was classified fifth. The McLaren connection continued a few months later when Reine replaced the F1-bound Peter Gethin in the Sid Taylor, works-supported McLaren M10B in the European Formula 5000 Championship. Principal opposition came from Frank Gardner’s works Lola T190 to which Reine had to play second fiddle on his debut at Silverstone. However, Reine showed his true mettle by winning three of the final four races – at Snetterton, Hockenheim and Oulton Park -the last after a monumental battle with Frank which so impressed Lotus Team Manager Peter Warr, watching the race at home on TV, that Reine was invited to replace John Miles in one of the Gold Leaf Team Lotus 72Cs in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. In only his second Formula 1 race, and first at World Championship level, Reine finished an excellent third behind race-winning team mate Emerson Fittipaldi and the BRM P153 of Pedro Rodriguez.

Colin Chapman and Peter Warr were sufficiently impressed to offer Reine a contract for 1971 with Emerson as teammate. In F3 Reine and Emerson had been evenly matched but at Team Lotus, Reine fell victim to the second-driver curse. For tyre-related reasons, neither driver had a particularly good season, Reine claiming two fourth places as his best results for ninth in the final standings whilst Emerson managed a second and two thirds for a final sixth place. Reine was also the guinea pig for the overweight and thirsty Pratt & Whitney gas turbine-engined Lotus 56B which he whistled round in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and in the Oulton Park Gold Cup. An ironic coincidence was that during his time with Chevron in Bolton, Reine had been given the nickname in the factory of ‘Rainy Whistle’. There was some consolation to be had from victory in the Formula 2 Pau Grand Prix in a Lotus 69.

Reine was replaced by the experienced Dave Walker, who had dominated the 1971 British F3 Championship in a Lotus 69, although the Australian’s F1 efforts were inferior to Reine’s with the consequence that the latter was invited to return to what had become John Player Team Lotus for the Canadian and US GPs at the end of the year. Meanwhile Ronnie Peterson had been impressing in March F1 cars and it was the younger Swede who became Emerson’s team mate for 1973. It might not have helped that Reine had passed much of 1972 trying to race one of the Marlboro-backed BRMs, mainly P160Bs, the frailty of which meant that he only saw the chequered flag once at World Championship level. Adding injury to insult, Reine sustained a broken finger after clashing with his old mate Ronnie Peterson shortly after the start of the Oulton Park Gold Cup.

Over the next couple of years Reine made the very occasional return to Formula 1 but with no worthwhile outcome. He drove one of the Pierre Robert GRD 273s in European Formula 2 races, pulling off a mightily impressive victory in the 1973 Eifelrennen on the Nurburgring Nordschleife. It was really all sports and saloon cars from now on, Reine sharing a Gulf Mirage GR7 with Vern Schuppan in several World Sports Car Championship races in 1974 including at Le Mans. In 1975 he enjoyed a season of decent results sharing a Porsche 911 RSR in European endurance races with Clemens Schickentanz and Hartwig Bertrams while two years later he teamed up with Stuart Graham to share a Chevrolet Camaro in the European Touring Car championship. The best result came at the end of the year in the Kyalami 9 Hours in which they finished third overall behind the factory BMW CSL of Harald Grohs/Jody Scheckter/Gunnar Nilsson and the Zakspeed Ford Escort RS1800 of Klaus Ludwig/Hans Heyer. Between 1976 and 1979 Reine was a leading light in the Swedish SuperStar series, finishing second in 1977 and fourth in 1978.

Reine disappeared from the limelight but never lost his enthusiasm for racing and cars generally. He had occasional outings in the David Piper/Mike Knight SuperSports series. He also went to the other extreme, developing a passion for economy runs in which he won numerous awards.

Reine will always be remembered by those who knew him not only for his distinctive green crash helmet but as a warm, smiling and laid-back personality with talent to spare who on form was unbeatable but who never had the opportunity in Formula 1 to develop a career at the highest level. The BRDC offers its most sincere condolences to Reine’s family and friends at the loss of a great character.

The Club regrets to report on the death of Neville Hay, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1993
The Club regrets to report on the death of Alan Minshaw, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1984
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
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