Autosport 70: Inside one of F1's best on-track battles

Autosport 70: In one of F1's best battles on the track
On the day Renault really got to the top of Formula 1, one of its drivers stormed to a first victory while the other fought Gilles Villeneuve in one of the fiercest fights on the circuit. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the race in the July 1, 2004 issue of the magazine, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Rene Arnoux remember the legendary race
One of them resembles a university professor, the other looks like a retired keyboardist from an insane progressive rock band from the 1970s. And it takes some time before it sinks into the tall, hard-working Jean-Pierre Jabouille in an elegant jacket and jeans, who is now 61 years old, and the small, stocky Rene Arnoux with big eyes, who is wearing a bizarrely decorated sweatshirt. is rapidly approaching his 56th birthday.
It's even more amazing to believe that we're here to celebrate the 25th anniversary of these two: Jabouille for Renault's first Formula 1 victory and teammate Arnoux for starring in the same race for what may possibly be the most is the celebrated battle of our sport. It can't possibly be a quarter of a century because anyone born early enough to see it will remember the 1979 French Grand Prix in Dijon as if it were only 25 minutes ago.
In today's homogenized F1 world, where the rules are so strictly written and theories so tested that thinking outside the box is either illegal or just insane, an accomplishment like Renault's 1979 would be almost impossible, because here we had it. A team made up of fragments of French motorsport, pioneering turbo engines and the use of radical tire technology (via Michelin) and has two drivers with an unproven pedigree in F1.
Renault had made its F1 debut two years earlier at the 1977 British GP, although Jabouille, who had won last year's European Formula 2 title with an atmospheric version of the same engine in a car he had designed, was eliminated early. The project stumbled on, but after the manufacturer's success in 1978 in the top priorities of the Le Mans 24 Hours, it was really pushed forward by Renault.
Jabouille (pictured in Long Beach in 1978) attributes the first thrust to Elf's visionary Francois Guiter and Jean Terramorsi from Renault with a 1.5-liter version of the two-liter Le Mans engine.
Autosport 70: In one of F1's best battles on the track
"Francois Guiter paid for two engines because Renault wasn't sure at the beginning," Jabouille recalls. "Two people were very important - Francois and Jean Terramorsi from Renault, who were very interested in new technology. The best engine at the time was the V8 Cosworth, and a V8 Renault would not be better. Renault was fine with new technology." in F1], but with an atmospheric engine? Not. "
Turbo lag was the big problem, but things improved when Jabouille finally got his hands on the new RS10, a massive leap forward from the RS01 and Renault's first ground-effect wing car, just in time for the Spanish GP, race five 1979 season. Arnoux would have to wait two races longer to reach Monaco.
The team also switched from a larger single-turbo unit to smaller twin-turbo units for Monaco. It was a big step in getting rid of turbo lag, although this was the worst track on which it could be proven and Jabouille and Arnoux both qualified on the back row.
"Before the race I looked around and the Renault people were very stressed. Me? I was okay because it's a race, no problem. But for the Renault people and the Elf people and the Michelin people - oof ! " Jean-Pierre Jabouille
There was then a five-week break to Dijon, where the two Renaults qualified first and second. There were a number of reasons for this. First, the new twin-turbo system kept RPM better and reduced turbo lag. Second, the new wing car turned much faster, allowing drivers to stay on the gas when cornering, and therefore doing its own part in reducing lag.
"When you have more grip, you have less lag [lag] - they work together," says Arnoux. "When you didn't have grip, it was difficult to use the turbo engine and suddenly you had too much power."
Third, the fast flowing circuit showed off-ground effects and again minimized the delay. Arnoux again: "You have 'big' curves in Dijon - it's not like Monte Carlo!" Fourth: The height of the route (500 meters) - turbo cars always benefit from the atmosphere when the air becomes thinner.
Fifth, the work of engine managers Jean-Pierre Boudy and Bernard Dudot improved the effectiveness of the intercooler, so that the engine worked better in warm conditions. Sixth, Renault could weigh up a certain top speed with a performance advantage and implement more downforce, which means that the drivers could give more gas in the corners and thus minimize the deceleration again.
Autosport 70: In one of F1's best battles on the track
Only one car seemed to threaten the Renaults, and that was Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari, who also drove the Michelin Radials and was third on the grid. As expected, it was the Canadian who shot away at the start.
"Before the race, I looked around and the Renault people were very stressed," says Jabouille. "Me? I was okay because it's a race, no problem. But for the Renault people and the Elf people and the Michelin people! It was very important to them because it was the French Grand Prix.
"The start was fine - it's difficult with a turbo engine when you start because you just balance the accelerator pedal and clutch a little to get the pressure on."
Jabouille also had to pay attention to the left front tire, which was vulnerable at the Renaults in Dijon, and to the high amount of fuel that the thirsty turbo cars needed. Therefore, he sat behind Villeneuve for the first 46 of the 80 laps before taking the first corner, putting down the hammer immediately and then maintaining his advantage.
"Gilles pushed hard before the first corner and I said 'Okay, okay'", he recalls. "In the last 10 laps I could feel everything in the engine! But there was no problem for me - Rene and Gilles fought and I was 20 seconds ahead ..."
If the engine wasn't a problem, the brakes did. Jabouille's right leg ended up numb and had to be helped out of his car.
"The big difference is that with the V8 engine, if you lift the accelerator and don't touch the brake, the car slows down," he says. "With the turbo engine, you lift and ... [he whistles and moves a car straight ahead]. You use the brakes a lot compared to the atmospheric V8. At that point, they all built the brakes the same - we used the same discs and those same pads as the atmosphere. "
As Jabouille fought to the end, Arnoux wrote his own story. He got off to a terrible start and fell back to ninth place: "If you make too many revolutions it is dangerous for your engine. If you don't have enough, the turbo will stop and you won't start. I didn't start!"
Autosport 70: In one of F1's best battles on the track
He stormed through to finish third in 15 laps. The race calmed down but when Villeneuve lost the lead it turned out that his tires were ruined. Arnoux responded to signals to get faster - big time. With nine laps remaining, he was more than a second faster than anyone else in the race and with five laps remaining they were together ...
PLUS: The ups and downs of a French F1 pioneer
With three laps to go, Arnoux passed Villeneuve on the first corner, but the Canadian immediately noticed a hiccup in the Renault - it stalled due to a problem with fuel consumption. Inspired by this, he fought with Arnoux in a battle of unprecedented ferocity for the last two rounds, but fought with the utmost respect.
"Gilles was a very good friend of mine - we had the same character and this fight was only possible with him," said Rene Arnoux
"My car was very good, but I had a big problem with the fuel," says Arnoux. "It was very difficult for me and we had a very exciting Bagarre that rubbed the wheels together.
"Gilles was a very good friend of mine - we had the same character and this fight was only possible with him. Whether for victory or second place, we always pushed very hard, and I remember the outcome of the first Corner I was inside, he was outside, we had the four wheels like that [he makes an interlocking movement] and I see Gilles' eyes behind his visor! "
Is one jealous of the other's accomplishments? Jabouille? No: "I preferred to win the race!" Arnoux? Surprisingly yes, even though he scored seven GP wins: "I preferred first place - when you race you always want to win!"
But what made Arnoux and Villeneuve different from most of their contemporaries was that when the first position was impossible, they would fight hard for whatever they could get. You can see it in the twinkle in the eyes of this 56-year-old man who looks back on his time as a 31-year-old and is fighting for his career. And in Jabouille you can still see a measured approach.
As early as 1979, F1 science was able to prevail against passion. But wasn't the passion brilliant?
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