The Renault RS01 never won a race. But, it was one of the most important F1 cars ever built. That is because of what it brought to the sport … money! In the Sixties, the cash-stoked spectacle of today’s billion-dollar industry, was but a glint in a banker’s eye. Then, F1 was about gas, grease – and the spirit of racing. The cars on the grid were not so far removed from those that could be viewed in any well-appointed showroom. Souped-up, of course – but not radically different on a technical level. For better or worse, the Renault RS01 changed that status quo for good. In the Seventies, grease started going global – and not just in the cinema queues. Grease – as in the glamour of GP racing. For a financier – and his suit – that was worth risking the odd oil stain!
The Renault RS01, then, was a catalyst. The Gallic giant’s commitment to F1 forced fellow manufacturers to do likewise. Alfa Romeo, Honda, BMW et al – they would all want a piece of the F1 pie! It was the mid-’60s when Renault spotted a shot at the big time. A blue riband 3-litre Formula was in the offing. Motorsport’s governing body gave the green light to super- and turbo-charged cars. So long as they had no more than half the capacity of their normally-aspirated rivals, they were good to go. In engineering terms, Renault saw a chance to position themselves at the cutting edge. They chose to go the turbocharged route. The Renault team were already in F2. As a result, they had a tidy two-litre V6 at their disposal. Pared back to 1.5-litres, as per the regulations – and duly turbocharged – the V6 was ready for F1. Especially when it had been slotted into a super-stiff chassis – designed by Andre de Cortanze and Jean-Pierre Jabouille. Hey, Jabouille even doubled up as driver!
In theory, the RS01 should have been setting the pace. It made substantially more power than its rivals. In practice, though, things were not so straightforward. The car’s Achilles heel was poor reliability. Add to that, turbo lag. Suffice to say, its kick-in was far from light-switch sharp. That unpredictability made the RS01 a real handful – even for a driver of Jabouille’s talent. Improvements were made – but still, the RS01 Did Not Finish too many times. Fourth place points did eventually come – at the ’78 US GP. A year later, Jabouille even put the RS01 on pole – at Kyalami, South Africa. To be fair, that was largely because the non-turbocharged cars were suffering a case of high altitude sickness! At any rate, the pole did not convert to victory. Jabouille would go on to win – but that was in the Renault RS10, complete with ‘ground effect’ aerodynamics. No, the RS01’s claim to fame was that it was a game-changer. It spawned a succession of rivals with turbocharged power. Those cars – and their constructors – reaped rewards the original did not. The price of innovation! The turbo-era cars would, in due course, have their wings clipped. But not before the excitement – and money – they generated, had percolated worldwide. F1 moved up a gear. The Renault RS01 set a turbocharged trend!