Stefan Johansson ranks among the most interesting personalities in motor racing, which made the process of learning about his upbringing in Sweden and all that propelled him to Formula 1 a fascinating experience.
Captured at Long Beach in April, the first of a multi-part sit down with the former Ferrari and McLaren driver, Le Mans winner and CART IndyCar Series standout covers his rapid ascension to F1 – all while vying for the British Formula 3 championship he’d go on to win – back in 1980.
With his ill-fated F1 debut leading nowhere, a move to Formula 2 with the Ron Dennis-led Project Four team would eventually send Johansson back to F1 in 1983. Just as he found during the first go-round, it came with a tail-end team, but this time, the adventure left Johansson with some hilarious stories to share.
As the guinea pig in Honda’s return to F1 with its volcanic 1.5-liter twin-turbo V6 engine, the Swede held onto his Spirit 201 chassis for dear life as the motor provided all or nothing – a gaping absence of of forward movement or explosive power – between fiery failures.
“Before putting the engine cover on, [Honda’s engine tuner] gave it a couple turns extra [of turbo boost],” Johansson said with a laugh. “And of course the thing f****** blew to pieces after three laps…”
Among the many unforgettable tales, Johansson’s memories of testing the Spirit-Honda with something approaching 1000hp at the rock-strewn Willow Springs circuit in Southern California serves as a reminder of how different F1 was in the early 1980s.
Leaving off at the end of 1983, Part 2 with Johansson, which will follow in December, picks up in 1984 where he teamed with Ayrton Senna at the Toleman F1 team.