Renault history, the first steps

The first steps for the yellow teapot In July 1977, Renault entered a turbocharged car in an F1 race for the first time. After some difficult seasons, the combination would end up taking 20 Grand Prix victories. Brand new technology. When the...

The first steps for the yellow teapot

In July 1977, Renault entered a turbocharged car in an F1 race for the first time. After some difficult seasons, the combination would end up taking 20 Grand Prix victories.

Brand new technology.
When the newcomer made its debut on the afternoon of 17 July, 1977, the F1 world giggled. Yellow in colour, badged with a big Renault diamond and the Elf logo, the RS01 steamed and whistled like a teapot. Its forward-thinking designers hadn't taken the simple option. For the first time in F1, they had decided to equip a car with a turbocharged engine: a tiny 1500cc forced induction unit capable of battling with the other teams' big three litre normally-aspirated engines.

Renault enters Formula 1: Jean-Pierre Jabouille with Renault RS 01.
Photo by Renault.
At the wheel was Jean-Pierre Jabouille, a driver with a hard-earned reputation for knowing how to set-up and develop a car. "Everybody was working very hard, we all believed in the project, but nobody how long it would take to get it working," explains the one-time driver with a smile. The result of the sleepless nights was a light alloy monocoque with a stressed engine and gearbox.

The engine was a 90° V6 with a capacity of 1492cc (bore 86mm, stroke 42.8mm), four valves per cylinder, and fed by a single turbo. The turbo was chosen as a tried and tested technology following Renault's successful prototype programme, and also for economic reasons (the physical constraints of a turbocharged engine are smaller). The estimated power was around 500 bhp in the power band of the turbo, but barely 150 outside it.

A difficult beginning.
The first contact with F1 came at Silverstone on 16 July 1977. "It was dramatic!" commented Gordini engine director Fran?ois Castaing after the race. The RS01's debut was... unspectacular. "Before we had even had time to find a baseline set-up, the turbo broke," admitted Jabouille. "We quickly realised the problem was coming from the excessive temperatures generated by the exhausts: some minor developments, which had seemed beneficial in isolation, actually worked against us when they were all put together."

The Renault engineers were convinced their choice was well-founded, and solved the difficulties one by one. "Problems with the intercooler meant the engine was overheating, and we were holing pistons regularly. Oil was dropping onto the exhausts and turbo, which were already operating at a temperature of around 900°C : smoke and flames were almost guaranteed," remembers Jabouille, who had to play firefighter when it happened: "I used to calmly get out of the car, and stuff one of my gloves down the exhaust. The fire stopped immediately."

Adapting your style.
"When we first began running the car, the throttle lag was terrifying: full power arrived well after you had put the accelerator to the floor. The first time I tried the car, I seriously wondered how we were going to be able to make a success of it," admits Jabouille. Renault had found success with a 2 litre turbo, but reducing the capacity to 1.5l gave the manufacturer a few problems: it took even longer for the turbos to get up to speed.

"You had to get on the throttle very early. Sometimes, it worked. And sometimes, the power came in suddenly, much earlier than expected: when that happened, you were spinning before you knew it! On the other hand, when I took my foot off the throttle, the car carried on going for a brief moment," explains the amused driver. "Honestly, we didn't expect things to be so complicated but having said that, we began winning in 1979, and lots of teams would dream of that just a season and a half after their debut."

The driver still laughs about the particular characteristics of the first V6 turbo in F1. "In cool winter weather, our engine worked quite well. Then, at mid-season when the summer arrived, we lost lots of power." The problem would finally be solved with the advent of electronics.

What memories... If there is one memory that stands out more than others from this period, Jean-Pierre Jabouille immediately quotes the difficulty in starting the V6 at altitude: "At Kyalami, it sometimes took four or five hours to get the engine running. The compression ratios were so low that the fuel would not ignite. We had to warm everything through beforehand. It got to the point where we even considered starting the thing once every hour all through the night!"

-renault-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jean-Pierre Jabouille