A quarter century on from French company's first win
On July 1, Renault will celebrate 25 years since their maiden Formula One victory, at the 1979 French Grand Prix. The man at the wheel that day, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, and Bernard Dudot, today Deputy Managing Director at Viry-Chatillon, look back at the landmark result with the current teams press office
The 1979 season was Renault's third in Formula One racing, following the faltering debut of the RS01 at the British Grand Prix in 1977. Those early days of Renault's adventure were marked by many sleepless nights at Viry-Chatillon as the team battled to come to grips with the complexities of turbo technology, as Jabouille recalls.
"The new technology was what interested Renault - they wouldn't have come into F1 had it been a question of building another V8 like the Cosworth. They wanted that challenge, but on top of that, we were also developing Michelin's new radial tyres. It was a lot of work, complicated work, in a short space of time, and with the engine, it wasn't just a question of developing the technology, we then had to make it driveable. There was a world of difference between the engine delivering good power on the dyno, and being useable in the car."
For 1979, the RS10 marked a genuine leap forward relative to the previous RS01, notably in its aerodynamics, as it was a 'wing car' employing the sliding skirts that had been introduced the previous year by Lotus. On the engine side, twin turbos introduced at Monaco had permitted an increase in maximum engine speed of some 1,200 rpm and diminished some of the turbo lag.
"When we arrived in Dijon, we were quite confident," explains Jabouille. "We had run a full GP simulation the previous month, and completed the distance without too many problems. I took pole that weekend, but I felt very calm sat on the grid; it was just that all around me, people were clearly feeling the pressure. Everybody was very stressed!"
In fact, Gilles Villeneuve - from third position - took the lead at the start of the race, but Jabouille was simply biding his time. "Don't forget that in those days, we went non-stop start to finish - we had 220 litres of fuel, and you had to manage the tyres very carefully to make it to the end." The Renault took the lead on lap 47, and led all the way to the flag. So was its driver, a French winner for a French manufacturer, in France, nervous in the closing laps? "Only that something might go wrong! We had suffered so many problems that I was watching everything, listening to everything, really trying to look after the car. But also trying to keep up a good pace - Gilles and Rene (Arnoux) were not so far behind. I only understood how significant the moment was when I got out of the car, that was when it really struck home. Before that, I was happy but tired: the wing cars weren't easy to drive on a high-speed track."
Jabouille's win marked the first in an on-going series, added to most recently by Jarno Trulli in Monaco 2004. How significant a moment was it, though, for Renault? Bernard Dudot was part of the 1979 team, and is now Deputy Managing Director at Viry-Chatillon. He explains: "That first win was very spectacular. It kindled Renault's appetite for competition and bit by bit, the team grew in size but it also progressed in terms of performance. The 1983 title escaped us by a whisker but perhaps we weren't really ready. That relative set-back enabled us to approach our return as engine suppliers in 1989 in ideal conditions."
However distant that first win might seem, Dudot insists that the links with today's Renault Formula One team remain tangible: "One of the constants since then has been our commitment to the sport. We endeavour to win but we are capable of accepting defeat. Also, F1 is quite simply about people. Whether you're talking about the turbo era or our current challenge, it's the people who make the difference. Even in this age of the presence of big manufacturers, we remain small teams fighting each other every fortnight on a racetrack, and that's something you never get bored of."
Renault lie second in the 2004 constructors championship on 66 points, eight ahead of nearest rivals BAR.