Renault retro

Wed, 2 November 2005, 07:02

On 1 July, 26 years ago, a 100% Renault car won a Formula 1 race for the first time. Here are some memories of an historic day…

Renault’s first steps in Formula 1 were hard work, back in 1977. There were plenty of all-nighters, lots of strong coffee, mechanical failures and constant problem-solving during those first few months for the company at motorsport’s highest level. But even now, some of the same philosophies are still in place – and the driving spirit for the Renault F1 Team can be traced back a quarter of a century…

After two learning years, Renault introduced a much more competitive machine part way through the 1979 season. The year’s racing was dominated by the explosion of ‘ground effect’ – a phenomenon which had been pioneered by Lotus with their 78 and 79 cars the previous year.

The concept used sliding skirts on the edge of the sidepods to create a vacuum beneath the cars, which literally sucked them to the track and increased cornering grip. Every F1 design office latched onto the concept for 1979, and nine of the fifteen teams were using it come the following year. What’s more, this was the first season that Renault fielded a two-car team: stalwart Jean-Pierre Jabouille was partnered by René Arnoux and together, they defended the Renault colours around the globe.

At Kyalami in South Africa, Jabouille took Renault’s first pole position – but did so in the old RS01, and without ground effect! In fact, the Michelin tyres were working fantastically well at the traction heavy circuit, and compensated for the aerodynamic deficit.

What’s more, the high altitude circuit meant the turbo engine sacrificed less horsepower than its rivals: the French unit was pumping out 460 bhp while its direct rival, the V8 Cosworth, produced just 410. However, a wet race cost Jabouille any chance of victory. But it had shown the team that there was light at the end of the tunnel…

In Spain, the new RS10 made its appearance in the hands of Jabouille – and the ground effect Renault was born. The car was better balanced, and faster. Arnoux had to wait until Monaco to get his hands on one, but which time the engine had been fitted with twin turbo technology. The aim was to reduce the throttle lag, by giving each bank of cylinders its own turbocharger. The result was a gain of 1200 rpm – and the RS10 became a contender for race wins…

Several weeks later at Dijon-Prenois, the team arrived feeling confident. And they were proved right when less than two years after their Grand Prix debut, Renault took victory. Jean-Pierre Jabouille took the spoils at the end of a tactical race: worried about tyre wear, the Frenchman allowed Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari to take an early lead but, on lap 47, the Renault got back on terms and took the lead… for good.

This performance brought the team a welcome boost, and things continued to get better. Jabouille took another pole position in Great Britain, and once more in Germany. Arnoux did the same in Austria and Holland. Finally, in Italy, the two yellow cars annexed the front row. The team’s 26 point total was enough for sixth place in the constructors’ championship, just ahead of… McLaren. Some things never change!

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