Radical Radial Reno
We’ve just had the 2012 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, won by a Red Bull that was powered by a Renault engine. So nothing particularly unusual there then?
But rewind exactly 35 years – older than a large number of our viewers – and on this coming weekend (July 15,16,17th to be precise) at the 1977 British Grand Prix, also run at Silverstone, there was a radical new car making it’s debut in Formula 1 – the Renault RS01.
Originally planned to make it’s first appearance at the previous round – The French Grand Prix, surprise, surprise – in a typically Gallic way, zee car she was not finished, so then it had to have it’s first start at the Grand Prix across the channel in front of all those piss-taking Poms!
This car, somewhat cruelly derided by the incumbent teams and nicknamed the “Yellow Teapot”, because of both it’s colour scheme, it’s low shape with high cockpit sides and it’s whistling turbo, was set to revolutionise the sport over the next few years.
At a time when the rest of the field was running more traditional naturally-aspirated V8s & V12s, the introduction of the first ever Turbocharged 1.5 litre V6 Renault-Gordini engine was a revelation – even if it didn’t become anything like a revolution during the final five rounds of the 1977 Formula 1 season.
In the hands of Jean-Pierre Jabouille, the single car managed to DNF in every race, with the early turbo power being incredibly unreliable despite being extremely powerful when it was actually running.
Talking revolutionary though, there was something else that made it’s debut at the same time – the Michelin Radial Tyre – as bolted to the RS01. This was MIchelin‘s first foray into the world of Formula 1 – a pioneering French tyre manufacturer providing tyres for a pioneering French team. A far cry from the modern era when Michelin provided tyres for 41 of the 55 cars entered in the 2009 Le Mans 24-hour. (And International Pauly was dressing up in the Bibendum suit at various rounds of the American LeMans Series, but that’s another story…)
Up until this point in time, all of the cars had used traditional racing slicks of cross-ply construction, and it was to take Brabham – owned at the time by a certain Bernie Ecclestone – to give Michelin their first world championship in 1981 with Nelson Piquet at the wheel.
Ironically, it was also the Brabham team, using the BMW M10 Turbo engine, again with Nelson Piquet driving, who managed to win the 1983 Formula 1 Driver’s Championship – the first ever championship win in a turbo-powered car – narrowly defeating Frenchman Alain Prost in the also turbo-powered Renault. Despite the early teething troubles, Renault had managed their first turbo-engined win some 4 years earlier, appropriately at the 1979 French Grand Prix in Dijon, with Jabouille driving the “ground effect” RS10.
This Saturday, July 14th, the French celebrate “Bastille Day” – the French National Day to celebrate the storming of the Bastille, back in 1789. Let’s hope they remember to raise a glass or 2 to the success of Renault & Michelin celebrating their 35 years of Formula 1 and motorsport involvement!