Formula One engines

Renault’s Formula One story began when Amédée Gordini, who at the time built Grand Prix cars under his name, was recruited by Renault to design competition cars. A new factory was built at Viry-Châtillon, on the A6, the motorway that connects Paris to the south of France. The installations were inaugurated on 6 February 1969 and became a springboard for Renault’s future success in motorsport.

Renault initially focused on a 2.0-liter V6 engine officially unveiled in January 1973. The block quickly proved to be competitive in the prestigious 2.0-liter European SportsCar Championship. Renault then joined the FIA World Sports Car Championship, and a turbo version of the engine was born.

Renault Sport was founded in 1976 and, in the same year, a single-seater programme was launched. First stage: the European Championship of Formula 2, always with a V6 engine.

At the time, the use of a turbo engine was allowed by the F1 technical regulations for many years, but no one has yet dared to take the step — no one before Renault. As early as 1976, the French motorist discreetly launched track tests for a 1.5-liter version of his V6 and programmed a few races the following year.

“This decision to build a turbo engine was extraordinary,” recalls Bernard Dudot, who at the time supervised the technical program. We were then a group of young engineers at Viry-Châtillon, all very enthusiastic, with an exact idea of what the future holds for us. We were so enthusiastic that we managed to convince Renault President Bernard Hanon to try the F1 adventure. It was a crazy idea at the time. Fortunately, he was as passionate as we are and saw the advantages that Renault could derive from racing and F1.”

The first test of the F1 prototype took place at the Michelin test circuit in Clermont-Ferrand on 23 March 1976, with Jean-Pierre Jabouille at the wheel. This was just the beginning of an epic adventure that would take the team to the top of the motorsport.

“We had to find the right level of power to compete with the atmospheric engines,” says Dudot. But we had to manage the turbo latency, which could last a few seconds. You never knew what to expect on the different circuits. One of our biggest problems was assembling the engine and then integrating it into a small car. And then the other major problem was that the turbo was very heavy, which affected the weight distribution. »

Jean-Pierre Menrath, one of the young engineers in charge of the project at the time, remembers: “the time of latency of the turbo was a recurring problem for us. The drivers had no choice but to change their driving style. Also, the heat generated by these engines was a real obstacle when it came to designing a high-performance racing car. The radiators had to be enlarged, which made it even more difficult to integrate the turbo with an atmospheric engine.”

After jumping from 21st on the starting grid, Jabouille must finally give up after an engine failure. The Frenchman also took part in the Grand Prix of the Netherlands, Italy and the United States, with a qualification in 10th position at Zandvoort. The car marks the spirits, but its tendency to give up on a motor problem soon earned it the nickname “yellow teapot”! His first races, however, left an indelible mark and the team continued to progress.

Training continued throughout the 1978 season. The first six months are devoted to preparations for the 24 hours of Le Mans. Renault’s efforts bear fruit as Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud sign a memorable victory in the Sarthe. Having achieved the manteau objective, Renault can now entirely turn to its Formula One program. The team did not participate in the first two Grand Prix of the season, but Jabouille then competed in all the other events at the wheel of the RS01. He qualified for an encouraging third place in Austria as well as in Italy and scored the first points of Renault in F1 – the first also for a turbo engine-by taking fourth place in the United States Grand Prix. This is a turning point in the history of the discipline.

“It took some time to achieve a good level of reliability,” says Dudot. As a first step, we had to make sure that our partners – including our suppliers in pistons, valves, etc. – would provide us with a perfect service. To do this, we had to improve our quality control. Little by little, we have succeeded, and over the years, reliability and performance have made a real leap forward.”

In 1979 in Monaco, the choice of a bi-turbo engine enabled Renault to make a breakthrough. The team finally managed to solve the puzzle of latency time, and in Dijon, Jabouille went to pole position before winning: a first historic victory, won at home. He was also the fastest in qualifying at Hockenheim and Monza, while René Arnoux won two pole positions and three podiums.

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