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F1: Renault Turbo At Forty - And Fifty


Hard to believe that it's forty years since the Renault F1 team pulled the wraps off the yellow teapot and changed the world of Formula One forever.

The RS01 was the first modern Grand Prix car to make use of the old equivalence rules, which gave engine manufacturers the option of building a three litre normally aspirated engine or a forced induction (turbo or supercharged) one and a half litre engine.

At the time it seemed unlikely that a turbo engine could compete with the all conquering Ford Cosworth DFV or Ferrari 12-cylinder engines. In its first season the Renault engine was notable for its whistling wastegate (a sort of safety valve) and expiring in clouds of white steam. Hence the 'Yellow Teapot' nickname.

It took rivals four years to catch on to the promise of the turbo. When they did they found success much more quickly than Renault. Ferrari won the Constructor's Championship in 1982, its second season with a turbo engine. It would have taken the Driver's Championship too but for the terrible accidents which befell Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve. BMW provided the first turbo engine to take a driver to a Driver's Championship, in 1983, its second season also. lronically Nelson Piquet pipped Renault driver Alain Prost to the title that year.

For Renault it was to be a long wait for the ultimate success - eventually powering five drivers to World Championships six times between 1992 and 1997. With normally-aspirated engines, following the ban placed on turbo engines which had become unfeasibly powerful.

The RS01 was also the first car to race on radial tyres, thanks to a partnership with Michelin. It took rival Good Year until 1984 to realize the game was up for crossply tyres.

In celebration of the fortieth anniversary of its entry to F1, which occurs in July, Renault also presented its vision for F1 in ten years time when it will be celebrating fifty years.

That vision looks quite stunning. But alongside probably the most important Grand Prix car ever, it's an artificial kind of excitement that looks like it belongs in a computer game.

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