When Renault unveiled its first F1 turbo-charged car in 1977, became a laughing stock
Nicknamed 'yellow teapot' due to bright color and cloud of steam
Throughout 1980s turbo engines dominated F1, later banned due to safety concerns
Now turbo engine set to make a comeback, with F1 ruling all cars must convert in 2014
Every year, a combination of power, performance and perfection brings over 200,000 motorsport devotees to an English country estate for the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Motorsport fans have long regarded Formula One as the pinnacle of all racing cars and F1 car designers have responded by pushing the boundaries of speed since the Championship started in 1950.
In the 1970s, Renault’s designers pioneered the turbo engine for use in F1. The visceral acceleration of the turbo cars was well known, the speed intoxicating for both the drivers and the fans but it was not widely well received by some in the industry.
Four-time world champion Alain Prost began his Formula One career at the start of the turbo-engine era, and says it was something of a laughing stock when Renault unveiled its RS01.
“When Renault introduced the first turbo engine everybody was laughing – especially in England,” Prost told CNN.
“The turbo engine was very different to other engines. You had more power – more top-end power. But the weight of the car was much bigger,” explained Prost.
“We were learning all the time. The team was getting more and more experienced and being very curious, working very close with the engineers, I really loved it.”
Turbo technology was slow to take off, but once it did, it paved the way for an exciting new era in F1 racing.
It wasn’t until 1979 – two years after its launch – that Renault’s turbo-charged car finally won the French Grand Prix, driven by Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
“As much as I loved experimenting with the new design, it was a very frustrating time too,” said Prost. “We very often blew up the turbo, blew up the engine, but it was part of the time and I think everyone has accepted it.
However their domination in the sport was relatively short-lived following safety concerns. After a raft of restrictions, the Formula One governing body, FIA, eventually banned turbo-equipped engines in 1988.
It seems though that Renault will have the last laugh as from next year, all F1 cars will be required to have turbo engines. Some are saying that it involves the biggest rule change in the sport’s history.
Gone will be the current 2.4-litre normally aspirated V8s, which have been in service since the start of 2006, and in their place will be 1.6-litre turbo V6s.
Each engine will also be limited to 100 kilograms of fuel per hour, putting an emphasis on performance combined with greater fuel economy.
Renault’s new turbo engine, dubbed “Energy F1-2014,” may have evolved since the early days of turbo technology, but it still owes a debt to the engineers who revolutionized racing with the world’s fastest “teapot.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article contained a number of inaccuracies, for which we apologise. Christina Macfarlane and Rachel Wood, who prepared the television story, were in no way responsible for those inaccuracies. You can watch their report at the top of this article.