Jean-Pierre Jabouille, “engineer driver” who was the first to win Renault in F1

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Died Thursday at the age of 80, the French racing driver Jean-Pierre Jabouille was above all an engineer who, thanks to his technical knowledge, was the first to win Renault in F1 in 1979 thanks to the turbo-charged engine.

Jabouille only has two victories in fifty F1 races to his name. But he had more often than not been forced to retire due to the difficulties encountered in the development of the turbo engine, a revolutionary technology in F1 at the time.

Born in Paris on October 1, 1942 in a wealthy environment and holder of an engineering degree, his track record also includes a title of European Formula 2 champion won in 1976.

Jabouille made his rather anonymous debut in F1 in 1974 without qualifying and competed in his first race in 1975. It was his association with Renault that enabled the man whom the press nicknamed “the tall blond” to impose himself in the queen discipline. of motorsport, not without starting by attracting above all … jeers.

The French manufacturer is then the only one to bet on the 1500cc six-cylinder turbocharged engine while the others run “classic” V8 or V12 3000cc engines.

After making its racing debut in mid-1977, the Renault RS01 was quickly nicknamed “the yellow teapot” because of its color but above all its propensity to cause its engine to explode in a cloud of white smoke.

But Jabouille doesn’t care. He persisted, worked with the engineers and believed in the potential of the single-seater. He will experience a series of 13 retirements before finally being able to score his first points at the United States Grand Prix in October 1978 with a 4th place.

– Broken legs –

René Arnoux joined him at Renault in 1979 and in July, on the Dijon-Prenois circuit, he climbed for the first time, like Renault, to the top step of the podium. The irony is that history will be remembered more for the duel between Arnoux and Canadian Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari) for 2nd place than for Jabouille’s victory.

“I was only thinking about finishing the race, he told AFP in 2018. I knew we had a chance if we got to the end. It was a great pride because it’s hard to win in F1. A relief also because I had often been in the lead and, each time, I had experienced reliability problems.

“We are what we are today thanks to Jean-Pierre and his legacy lives on,” said Alpine, which brings together Renault’s racing activities, in a press release on Thursday.

It will then be necessary to wait for the Austrian GP more than a year later to see Jabouille win again, and for the last time, in F1, not without having still abandoned… 14 times between his two triumphs.

If turbo technology became the norm in F1, Jabouille gave up his place at Renault to Alain Prost after breaking both legs at the end of the 1980 season.

He joined Ligier the following season but quickly realized that the aftermath of his injuries prevented him from returning to the highest level and decided to leave F1.

This will not prevent him from declaring in another interview with AFP in 2019 that “at the moment, we go out, we go for a walk in the grass and we come back. We have made enormous progress in terms of absorption of the materials and it would be necessary to put barriers around the circuits so that the car is a little damaged in the event of leaving the road without risk for the driver”.

Jabouille will then return to his first love, endurance, with Peugeot. Already rich with two third places at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1973 and 1974 with Matra, he obtained two more in 1992 and 1993 with the Lion brand. He then took over the management of Peugeot-Sport until 1995, before creating his own endurance team, Jabouille-Bouresche Racing.

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