The turbo years

The turbo years

f1 turbo

Elf begins work on a new engine

Turbo is short for Turbocharger: an inaccurate term to describe a device made up of a turbine with two wheels. Escaping exhaust gases spin one of these wheels up to high speed, which in turn spins the other that "forces" air into the intake, thus increasing engine power. In theory, it's a simple technique. In practice, it's extremely complicated especially in Formula 1, where the regulations at the time allowed forced induction engines, but only up to 1500 cc compared with 3 litres for normally aspirated motors. Renault and Elf honed the principle in rallying, initially with the 1600 cc Berlinette Alpine entrusted to Jean-Luc Thérier, just long enough for him to win the Critérium des Cévennes in 1972. The tests led to the circuits, with a 2-litre V6 installed in prototypes enjoying the heyday of endurance racing. All this came with a price; Elf paid 75 000 € for research into a new engine - the price of success and of perseverance..

1977: first year in F1 for the "yellow teapot"

Bernard Dudot, Renault's turbo man, went on a study trip to California, where the technology was blossoming. In the summer of 1975, the first 1.5-litre Renault turbo developed 500 horsepower on the test-bed! The spring of 1976 saw a black single-seater christened the A 500 - a real laboratory on wheels - carry out its first on-track testing! At the wheel was Jean-Pierre Jabouille who was continually asked the same question: "How are the response times?" A funny question when trying to control those fractions of a second between when the driver put his foot down, and when - with the turbo up to speed - the engine unleashed all its horsepower. "In those days there was no telemetry equipment. So the role of the test-driver was essential", notes Bernard Dudot. All around Gérard Larrousse, Renault Sport's director, and François Castaing, his technical director, everything at the Viry-Châtillon technical centre was moving at turbo-speed. Then, on 10th May 1977, it all went faster still. A stunned press had found out - via "Pub" Renault's Champs-Elysées - about the RS 01. On 16th July 1977, car number 15, after qualifying in 21st position on the grid for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, completed sixteen laps of the race before retiring. No matter that the "yellow teapot" raised a smile with everyone in the paddock; he who laughs last... On 7th May 1978, Jabouille finished his first Grand Prix, in Monaco, in 10th place. On 1st October, at the US Grand Prix, the first points were scored, those for 4th place.

First victory with Jean-Pierre Jabouille

1979 was to be Renault-Elf's year. At the French Grand Prix, at the Dijon- Prenois circuit on July 1, Jean-Pierre Jabouille took turbo-technology's first win. The French Revolution had begun! Renault and Elf would have to wait many more years before becoming World Champions, but they would go on to win no fewer than 15 races between 1979 and 1985, with Alain Prost and René Arnoux in particular. The risk had finally paid off. Other teams followed the French constructor and oil company's lead in adopting turbocharging for themselves. But Renault and Elf blazed the trail.


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