Renault RS01 (1977 - 1979): The ''yellow teapot''Written by 'Αγγελος Φωτσεινός
Translated by Ioannis Binas
Some single-seaters remain in F1 history for their successful results – championships, wins, pole positions, fastest laps – they have gifted to their drivers.
Date of 1st publication: 24/07/13
Some others earn their place in history for the technological breakthroughs they introduced to the sport.
Undoubtedly, the Renault RS01 belongs to the second category, as the first single-seater that was powered by an F1-spec turbo engine.
The ‘F1-spec’ clarification matters.
Supercharged engines were already used from the first days of the world championship in 1950, while, in 1971, at the Dutch and Italian Grands Prix, the Lotus 56B of Dave Walker and Emerson Fittipaldi respectively, were powered by Pratt & Whitney’s gas turbine.
However, it wasn’t until the GP of Britain in 1977, when a turbocharged engine made its maiden appearance at the grid.
Responsible for that innovation that would prove the most decisive technological change until its ban at the end of 1988, was Renault, the first to break the 3 liter naturally aspirated engine “sacred” barrier: whilst the regulations from the middle of 1960 allowed the use of a 3 liter naturally aspirated or an 1.5 liter turbo engine, no engine manufacturer had gone for the second option.
The French firm though, having invested in turbo engines already from 1972, during its participation in rallies and prototypes, chose that way for its entrance in the pinnacle of motorsport.
In 1976, Jean Pierre Jabouille was crowned champion in Formula 2, using a single-seater of his own design that was powered by a 2 liter turbo engine made by Renault, under the curation of Francois Castaing and Bernard Dudot.
That engine was the basis for the 1.5 liter turbo (with a Garrett turbine and a 7.0:1 compression ratio) that would power the first single-seater of the French firm in Formula 1, the RS01, designed by Andre de Cortanze and Jean Pierre Jabouille, who would also serve driver’s duties at the new project.
A project with headquarters at Viry-Chatillion of France, funded almost exclusively by the French lubricants firm Elf, while the also French manufacturer Michelin would provide tires.
Michelin, a rookie in Formula 1 too, would introduce another decisive technological breakthrough, the radial tires.
The debut of “France’s national team” in Formula 1 (you see, all the contributors were French) was intended for the beginning of the 1977 world championship.
However, crucial problems that had to do with turbo lag as well as high reliability issues, delayed the planned entry to the sport.
Unshakeable witness to the problems, the confession of the primary agent, Jabouille: the RS01 was a hard to drive single-seater, due to the abrupt response of the turbo and the improper traction of the Michelin tires.
Thus, the RS01 appeared at the grid approximately in the middle of the season, at the GP of Britain.
In some way, she managed to attract the attention of the rival teams’ managers: the bets on when would the turbo V6 explode, were ‘coming and going’!
Renault’s people however, weren’t shied away by their rivals’ mocking comments.
They were aware of the youth problems they would reasonably deal with and they knew it would take time and money to taste the fruit of success.
For that reason, Jabouille’s qualification at the race of Silverstone was a very positive first step.
The Frenchman’s retirement on lap 16 due to engine’s overheat was expectable not only from the other teams but for Renault as well.
The white smoke that escorted the blowing of the V6 was the reason Ken Tyrrell gave the single-seater, the “yellow teapot” moniker.
That first learning year for Renault, included another 4 races.
In Zandvoort, that was hosting the Dutch GP, Jabouille classified 1oth but retired on lap 39 with a broken suspension.
In Monza, the “temple of speed”, the V6 engine breathed its last after 23 laps.
The alternator was the cause of retirement at Watkins Glen of America, after 30 laps, while, in Canada, the last participation for 1977, Jabouille didn’t qualify into the race for the first and last time.
The target for 1978 was the gradual improvement race by race, with the solving of the reliability problems posing the main concern.
The team didn’t participate in the first 2 races of the season (Argentina, Brazil).
The RS01 reappeared at the paddocks of Kyalami, South Africa, with just one single-seater once again, for Jabouille.
General manager, Gerard Larrousse, had every reason to feel vindicated after the qualifying session.
The high altitude at which the circuit was built, granted the belief to the French that the turbo engine would have a slight advantage over the naturally aspirated ones.
The excellent 6th place of Jabouille in qualifying strengthened that claim.
At the race though, the engine didn’t hold out and the year started with a retirement.
At the Principality of Monaco, the series consecutive retirements would end.
Jabouille finished 10th, 4 laps behind the winner, Patrick Depailler.
The second finish came at the second next to the Monaco Grand Prix, in Spain, this time in 13th position.
Meanwhile, Renault’s win at the 24 hours of Le Mans, turned all of its interest and strength at the Formula 1 project.
In spite of the fact that the Spanish GP was followed by 7 consecutive retirements, the marks of improvement in performance were more than obvious.
The 3rd place at the qualifying of the Austrian GP was the highlight (at which, as in Kyalami, there was the advantage of the high altitude) and the Italian GP (at a circuit where powerful engines stand out).
In Watkins Glen, penultimate show for 1978, it was high time for the first finish in the points.
The engine held out and Jabouille crossed the line 4th.
The year would end with another finish in Montreal, Canada.
The assessment after 14 races was 10 retirements and 4 finishes.
Jabouille was 17th in the drivers’ championship and Renault 12th at the constructors’ one.
Two conclusions were drawn at the end of 1978.
Firstly, the general dominace of the ground effect, an aerodynamic innovation inspired by Lotus’ Colin Chapman; almost every other team rushed to adopt that solution ahead of 1979.
Secondly, the future belonged to turbo engines.
The hesitation that existed because of the reliability problems and the high costs of evolution would sooner or later break.
During the design of the RS01, the weight shifted more towards the output of the turbo engine than to the aerodynamic side.
The way the conditions have developed in terms of aerodynamics, constituted the design of the RS01’s successor necessary.
The new single–seater however, the Renault RS10, wouldn’t be ready until the 5th race of 1979, in Jarama, Spain.
This meant that at the first season of full participation, the RS01 would be the “weapon” of Jean Pierre Jabouille, but not just his, as for the first time he would have a team-mate, his compatriot Rene Arnoux.
In Argentina, inaugural race of the championship, they both retired.
In Brazil, only Jabouille managed to finish, in 10th place.
The biggest distinction of the RS01 would come at the circuit where the dynamic of the turbo engine had appeared for the first time, in Kyalami.
Jabouille claimed the first and only pole position of the “yellow teapot”, but retired in the race (just as Arnoux).
In the next race, at Watkins Glen, the team’s managers decided, for safety reasons, to withdraw Arnoux after Jabouille’s fierce accident during Saturday’s free practice.
The RS10 that would replace the RS01, debuted in Spain.
Only Jabouille though would drive the new car in Spain, as well as in Belgium, as Arnoux would race in the specific Grands Prix with the RS01, in anticipation of the construction of his own RS10.
In Jarama then, he would achieve the last finish of the RS01 (9th place), while in Zolder, her swan song would be marked by a retirement.
Just on the 4th race of the RS10’s participation, Renault would achieve a historical triumph in its home race, at the circuit of Dijon-Prennois.
In the race that remained in history as the monumental fight between the 2nd Gilles Villeneuve and the 3rd Rene Arnoux, Jean Pierre Jabouille would claim the first win for Renault, Michelin and the turbo engines in the history of Formula 1.
In another circuit built in high altitude, Gerard Larrousse’s claim would find solid ground for one more time.
Μόλις στον 4ο αγώνα συμμετοχής της RS10, η Renault θα πετύχαινε έναν ιστορικό θρίαμβο εντός έδρας, στην πίστα Dijon-Prennois.
It was the RS10 the single-seater that claimed the first win for the turbo engines.
Nevertheless, RS01’s role is no less important.
In fact, in 2007, in the context of the 30th anniversary celebrations from the Silverstone debut, Renault painted the R27 in the colors of her ancestor.
An ancestor that all the factors of her days (Andre de Cortanze, Francois Castaing, Jean Pierre Jabouille, Gerard Larrousse, Jean Sage, Michel Tetu, Bernard Dudot), remember with nostalgia and pride.
The moral vindication arrived a few years later:
Ken Tyrrell, inspirator of the “yellow teapot” moniker, would choose Renault’s turbo engine for his team.
Renault RS01 (1977-1979)
Designer: Andre de Cortanze, Jean Pierre Jabouille
Engine: Renault V6 1.5 lt
Gearbox: Hewland, 6-speed
Drivers: 1)15: Jean Pierre Jabouille (26 races), 2)16: Rene Arnoux (6 races)
Wins: -, best position: 4th (Watkins Glen 1979)
Pole positions: 1 (Kyalami 1979)