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February 13, 2023
The motor racing world digests the sad passing of former Formula 1 driver Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
The stats would point out that he was the winner of two Grand Prix.But his contribution to Formula 1 was far greater.
In 1976 Renault Sport decided that they wanted to enter Formula 1.At that time all teams made use of 3000cc normally aspirated engines,which had essentially been around since the start of Formula 1,in 1950.But,Renault wanted to compete with a 1500cc turbo engine.Problem was,nobody thought the much smaller turbo could compete against the proven benchmark.
So Renault implemented project RS 01.Francois Castaing,an Engineer of high standing was madeTechnical Director.Andre de Cortanze was appointed as Chief Designer.And Jean-Pierre Jabouille,an Engineer himself as well as a driver,was made Engineering Director.
Jabouille had up to that point been involved in European Formula 2,Sports Cars with the Matra Simca outfit and had brief appearances in Formula 1 with Frank Williams,Surtees and Tyrrell.
After extensive testing by Jabouille at the Paul Ricard and Dijon circuits,Renault appeared at Silverstone for the 1977 British Grand Prix.The motoring press viewed this as a PR exercise .It was seen as an interesting experiment.
The RS 01 did retire at the 1977 British Grand Prix.And all the races that followed in that season.
1978 was a season of frustration for the French team,punctuated by retirements which seemed never ending.Still,Jabouille scored his first points at the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
In 1979 Renault gave their indication of intent when Jabouille put RS 01 on pole for the South African Grand Prix,and led the opening laps,no doubt helped by the high altitude of the Johannesburg circuit.But he dropped out of the race eventually.
By mid season Renault had released their new RS 10,and finally the package held together to win the French Grand Prix at Dijon.It was a monumental occasion for Renault.The first win for a 1500cc turbocharged engine.First win for Renault.The first win for Michelin,the French tyre company.And the first win for Jabouille. However the race was more remembered for the stirring battle for second place between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux.
For the remainder of the 1979 season,Jabouille led several races but was forced to retire,usually with turbocharger issues.
1980 was much the same.The car,now the RE 20 was frequently among the lead group but the season was littered with retirements.
In Austria it lasted,Jabouille coming through to score a well judged victory.Sadly,it was to be his last.
Canada 1980 Jabouille had a big accident,which left him with broken legs.The recovery period was long.
Jean-Pierre drove a Talbot Gitanes for a few races in the 1981 season.But after his accident,he was not the same driver,and he gave up Formula 1 for good at the 1981 Spanish Grand Prix.
What some people forget is that Jabouille played a significant role in the development of the Sports Car division of Renault Sport,namely Group 6.The Renault Alpine A442 and A443 turbos were primarily developed by him.Indeed,Jabouille led the first half of the 1978 le Mans 24 hour race,until a mechanical issue forced his withdrawal.Meanwhile,the other Renault Alpine driven by Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jassaud,won the race.
Jabouille was not only a two time Grand Prix winner.He made a significant contribution to the introduction of turbocharging in Formula 1,the benefits which were reaped several years later.