The 1977 British GP set down a historic milestone. Not only was it the first-ever GP for Renault, it was also the first-ever race for a turbocharged engine. Jean-Pierre Menrath, previously head of engine dyno testing for Renault Sport F1, was involved in running the crack RS01 at Silverstone. He remembers the groundbreaking race

‘There were only 70 or 80 people in Viry at that time, with various projects on the go. We were preparing engines for the Le Mans 24 Hours, F2, F3, and then there was the F1 project. It was a very busy time so only about 15 people worked on the F1 chassis until Le Mans was completed.

‘The car was ready at the start of June in time for three test sessions at Paul Ricard, Dijon and then a final one at Silverstone one or two weeks before the race. We completed around 2,000km, which was satisfactory at the time. It went relatively well, but each time we went out we had a few niggles. There was nothing major, but there were some small issues, which is why we did not debut at the French Grand Prix, prior to the British GP. There were just a few too many risks and too much pressure at the home race.

‘It was nevertheless a major undertaking to go to the British GP. Everything was new : we had a turbo engine, which no one had tried before, a new chassis, a team who had never done F1 before – we had done various championships but never F1 – a new driver, and new tyres. Michelin had never entered F1 so it was their debut as well.

‘We got to Silverstone and at that stage over 30 cars were competing for a spot in the race. Only 26 were allowed to race, so there was pre-qualifying. Fortunately, Bernie had allowed us a pass through pre-quali as it was important for Renault to start the race at the very least.

‘So we went into qualifying on Friday and Saturday. On the Friday we had a bit of a tough start as we broke two turbos. Thankfully on Saturday everything went well. Before quali, our competitors were afraid of the Michelins so Goodyear had even brought special quali tyres. In the end we put in a good performance, but we qualified in 21st, around 1.3sec from pole. It was about in line with what we expected considering the mileage and our experience in F1.

‘We had an OK start to the race, especially given we were worried that the engine would hesitate off the line and we would get taken out by another car. We lost one place, but Jabouille got into a rhythm. Unfortunately then the air inlet collector broke and Jabouille had to come into the pits. We managed to change it quickly and get going again, but then the turbo went. Later on the turbos became much better, but at that stage they were notorious for having big operating differences. We were bitterly disappointed as we had fully expected to finish the race. The test had gone well and we hadn’t had that particular problem before.

‘After the race we went back home, looked at the problems, looked at cooling – it had been warm in Silverstone that year – and reworked the radiators. We looked at the turbo, which proved to be easy to modify. Overall, we did not change too much on engine – those huge changes came later when the car got more sophisticated.

‘We went on to do another three races that year and learned so much. Starting in F1 at that time was as hard as it is now, but the paddock took us seriously. We were learning as we went, learning about everything – brakes, aero, suspension, everything.

Looking back to that time, we seemed a little wet behind the ear. Everything evolved so quickly, and we believed that every modification we introduced would make us win.
Realistically we did not know the level we needed to win, but we learned so much. When we came back in the 90s with Williams we knew exactly what it took.’

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