In 1977 Renault created F1 history when it became the first-ever manufacturer to race a turbocharged car in the championship. Nobody had dared to pursue the turbocharged route until Renault debuted the highly experimental RS01 at the British GP on 17 July 1977. Powered by a 1.5l V6 turbo engine, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jabouille became the first driver to ever compete in a championship race with a turbo-powered car.
Renault paid homage to this history today with a demonstration of some of the most significant turbo powered cars to have raced in the championship. Of course this year a new generation of turbos will return to the circuit where history was written.
The RS01 was on display alongside the Renault RE40, the British GP-winning car driven in 1983 by Alain Prost, and the Lotus 98T, one of the fastest-ever turbocharged cars built, driven by Ayrton Senna in 1986.
Following its appearance in 1977 the RS01 ushered in a new engine formula. The RS01 scored its first win on home ground in the 1979 French GP at Dijon, signalling that the turbocharged route was the way to go. One-by-one other teams developed the turbo, in effect acknowledging that Renault had got its sums right. A move to twin turbos, improvements in cooling and reductions in vibrations and friction allowed power and speeds to reach unprecedented levels, with more than 1,000bhp seen on race day and 1,300bhp in qualifying by the mid-80s - just seven years after the turbo made its first appearance.
Romain Grosjean, who is powered by the Renault Energy F1-2014 in this year's F1 championship, completed a demonstration run of Silverstone in the car Renault ambassador and four-times world champion Alain Prost raced to second in the 1983 championship. The car is powered by a twin-turbo evolution V6 engine that produced around 880bhp at the time. Prost claimed victories in France, Belgium, Silverstone and Austria with podium positions at San Marino, Monaco and Brands Hatch. He was in the running for the championship title but unfortunately just missed out at the last race of the year in South Africa when, ironically, the turbo failed. Nelson Piquet clinched the title by two points. The 1983 season was Renault's best in the turbo period, with second place in the constructors' ranking.
After the run Romain, who is one of the few drivers to have direct experience of both turbo periods, said: 'It felt the same as driving an F1 today at some points, but very different in others. The main difference is the driving position and the fact you feel you are sitting on the front wheel axle. The driveability of the engine is of course very different - you feel there is no power and then all of a sudden it kicks in and the emotions and feelings go crazy. Then the gearbox is very different and takes some time to get used to. You can feel the braking, the downforce, the car sliding, and the car is going where it wants to go. It was very nice to drive though and I wish I could have done more laps!
'You can really feel the difference in the turbos from this year. In these old cars, you need to get to 2.2bars of pressure and then it kicks in. It would have been tough in the race. Rob White [Renault Sport F1 deputy managing director] came to see me afterwards and said 'now you won't complain about the response this year any more!' and I said no, I definitely won't! The technology we have this year makes the turbo seem very easy in comparison to drive.
'The RE40 won in 1983 with Alain and I hope my car can do again this year.'
Alongside the RS01 and RE40 was the Lotus 98T. The car was the last of the famous JPS cars. Driven by Ayrton Senna and Johnny Dumfries it achieved significant success, particularly in qualifying. The last of the unrestricted turbos, the car was powered by the trailblazing Renault V6 engine in its final EF15 configuration. With race power rated at just above 1,000bhp and qualifying power estimated to exceed 1,300bhp the engine proved nevertheless to be remarkably drivable. The car features several novel systems including driver adjustable ride height and water injection. To this day the car remains the fastest Lotus of the period to have been built, having clocked 215mph at the Mexican Grand Prix of 1986.
This year, almost 37 years to the day of the first turbo debut, the turbos will make their return to Silverstone. Again, Renault is one of the pioneers of the new generation of F1 engines with its Energy F1-2014. This year, the cars are powered by a turbocharged internal combustion engine coupled to sophisticated energy recovery systems. The internal combustion engine produces approx. 600bhp through consumption of traditional carbon-based fuel, while a further 160bhp is produced from electrical energy harvested from exhaust and braking through two motor generator units. The two systems work in harmony, with teams and drivers balancing the use of the two types of energy throughout the race.
Renault Sport F1 technical director Rob White compared the old and new turbo engines: 'The turbos of the 70s are obviously where it all started for Renault in F1. At the time the 1.5 litre engines were unlike anything we had seen before. I can remember seeing them at the British GP and being seriously impressed with how quick and powerful they seemed. I'm no less impressed today, seeing them back on track. They may look brutal but the technology under the bodywork was seriously cutting edge.
'This year we have a very different challenge with the turbos, which are fitted to extremely sophisticated energy recovery systems. Nevertheless it's evident that there are powerful similarities between the eras: avant-garde technology, constant innovation and flat out racing.'
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