16 laps, on July 16th 1977. On a weekend that saw the F1 debut of Gilles Villeneuve, and which was dominated by home favourite James Hunt who won the race from pole, those few short laps were a mere footnote. In the race results, the explanation for the failure is unerringly simple: ‘turbo’. The car had, though, done enough to earn itself a nickname: the yellow teapot. And therein lay the secret…
Described by those who saw it and lived it, the Renault team that arrived at Silverstone three decades ago sounds like the antithesis of modern Formula 1. A small group of enthusiastic young amateurs, unprepared, inexperienced, launching themselves into the unknown on a wing, a prayer and a turbocharged engine. Flying in the face of received wisdom, they persevered, overcame their challenges and succeeded. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and soon, everybody was working out how to win Grands Prix with a 1.5 litre turbo.
Thirty years later, those faltering first steps have become a collection of accomplishments that rivals with the sport’s best. In 25 seasons of F1 competition, Renault has won eight constructors’ championships – and seven drivers’ titles. Renault engines have powered their way to 113 wins, 154 pole positions and 114 fastest laps. And this Sunday, four of the very latest RS27 V8’s will be present on the starting grid of the 2007 British Grand Prix.
The technology may be different and the faces have undoubtedly changed, but one thing remains the same: the spirit of competition. It links today’s ING Renault F1 Team with the group of passionate young engineers who came to rock the world of Formula 1 three decades ago, and continues to drive us forward to ever greater challenges in the future.
“I wish to take this opportunity to wish a ‘happy birthday’ to all the people who have taken part in this adventure, and who now make up Renault’s F1 ‘family’: technicians, drivers, mechanics, engines, partners and suppliers. Above and beyond technological and sporting performance, Formula 1 is a remarkable human story. And for us at Renault, our achievements are more than a sporting heritage, they are a source of genuine pride.”
Alain Dassas, President, Renault F1 Team
Silverstone ’77 remembered by those who were there
Gérard Larrousse, General Manager, Renault Competition "When we started the Renault Formula One campaign, we didn’t have too many hopes of finishing races, because the engine was just too fragile, but I was one hundred percent sure that we could solve the various different problems in some weeks or months. What I did hope was that we would have an advantage on the atmospheric engines at three races which were held at altitude: Kyalami, Zeltweg and Dijon, so that was our goal. Of course, within two years we achieved it with our win at Dijon."
Jean Sage, Team Manager "I started working for Renault on January 1 1977, six months before the first race. It was very short notice to race the car. Silverstone was almost a success for us. First, we expected to race the car before, and we had so many problems, so our aim at Silverstone was to last as long as possible in the race. We were happy with what we achieved in, because we knew that the car was not so reliable and where we qualified and the laps we did was already a success for us. It was not a disappointment. But the team - everything - was new because six months before we were a Formula Two team so this was quite new for us. We had no experience of Formula One. The team was really very inexperienced and amateur. We were not very professional but it was quite a good atmosphere at my level. It was a very, very long and painful entry between Silverstone ‘77 and Dijon ‘79, the first win."
Bernard Dudot "At the time, I was in charge of the Le Mans programme, and we were all involved with that, apart from 15 people, headed by Jean-Pierre Boudy, who were starting the Formula One project. At the time, I would say it was not a big priority at Viry-Châtillon but it was a big surprise, because as a start, it was at the same time so good and so bad. At Silverstone, we were exploring unknown ground because when you take part in motor sport, you have to go and fight and you have to race. Testing is good but it is nothing compared to racing and for us it was our first race. We were all very apprehensive about Silverstone, because at the time we didn’t know how good our engine was in terms of performance. We knew all the problems, particularly reliability because it wasn’t just our reliability, it was the reliability of all our suppliers: the pistons, the sleeves, the valves, everything. We didn’t know how good they were, so we knew we had problems. And also we had a very young team and we saw extraordinary things: air lines to air bottles being snagged by wheels or wings coming off. At the beginning we had all that to learn but we had something which at the time was indispensable: we had youth, enthusiasm and a free spirit. You always need some of that to succeed in such projects."
François Guiter, Elf Competition Director "The yellow tea-pot. We made this engine and no one believed it was possible to succeed but it was an engine which revolutionised Formula One. It was a great experience. Someone said we could get 500 bhp with our engine but all the big engine people like Porsche and BMW, everyone said it was impossible. So we said, OK, we try to do it, but the Renault people said ‘we won’t pay. If you want to do it, you pay for it.’ We needed 500,000 francs at the time, and we called it a test of competition engines and we paid for the first two engines which, fortunately, gave virtually 500 bhp because we had a lot of problems proving it afterwards. So that was it, that was the debut. I didn’t think we would get very far at Silverstone because the first time that Jabouille drove the test car, as he got out, he didn’t dare talk to us, saying that it was completely undriveable."
Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Driver "We arrived at Silverstone with something that was completely different to everything else: radial Michelin tyres which was the first time in the world; a turbocharged engine for the first time in Formula One; and a young driver who had been European Formula Two champion called Jean-Pierre Jabouille! So everything was new. I was very realistic arriving at Silverstone. I knew that we would eventually be successful, but first of all I wanted to finish races. The car was very difficult to drive for two reasons: the first, the response time of the turbo, and secondly, the Michelin tyres weren’t at all progressive. They had good grip but when they let go, it was very sudden. The turbo lag, which gave you huge power very suddenly, plus Michelin’s tyres made it very difficult to drive. But, I remember that Ken Tyrrell laughed at us a lot. It was he who called us the tea pot but we made our debut, we weren’t a disgrace, we were in the middle of the pack and at the end of a number laps, what we expected happened: the engine broke with a nice cloud of smoke which made everyone laugh."
François Castaing, Technical Manager "The first thing was that I was very anxious because we were so inexperienced. I was concerned that we didn’t look serious or competent enough when compared to the big teams like Ferrari and McLaren. And I couldn’t believe that, after only starting in 1972, we were there with a turbo engine. In 1972, Renault Gordini and Renault Alpine were barely competing in anything, only rallying with the A110, so already starting with the V6, we were very inexperienced and even the old Gordini people weren’t much help. Yet five years later we had won the European Formula Two championship, we’d won with the turbo in Mugello, we had won in Formula Two and we were in Formula One. At the time, we were so pumped up that we found it normal, but I found it really unbelievable that there we were, standing in the Silverstone paddock, and we were in Formula One."Source Renault