Matters of Moment, August 1979
Renault and the French Grand Prix
Since the adage that “today’s racing-car is tomorrow’s tourer” lost some of its authenticity, F1 racing has been mostly show-biz, with profitable financial pickings for the constructors, organisers, entrants and drivers. The excitement, the drama and the technical quality of the cars have not diminished. But some people dismiss modern GP cars as all looking alike, conducted by invisible supermen. Anyone who reads Motor Sport’s Race-Reports and Notes-on-the-Competing Cars knows that present-day F1 cars differ in subtle but important ways. However, a return to identification with makes, instead of with mainly Ford-Cosworth-engined hybrids, would inject fresh interest into this costly and intense promotion. Renault’s victory at Dijon was a start.
While the hybrid participants are hot after sponsorship-finance, Renault, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo who are showing interest (and whose engines power the Brabhams), and Lotus, as manufacturers of production cars, must surely set their sights on the research and publicity benefit of winning F1 races. It would be a good thing if the F1 circus was again to become make-versus-make racing. So we were delighted with Renault-Elf’s victory in the French GP and its very exciting near-second-place there, followed by second place in the British GP – the first turbo-charged car to win in F1. One can buy anything from a Renault 4 or a Renault 5 to a Renault 30TX, but Williams, who won the Silverstone race, do not make a road-equipped car, although if there were no roads to drive on one might fly with the Saudi-Arabian Air Line. . .
It was also fitting that Renault should have won the French GP again, because they won the first race of the series, in 1906 at Le Mans, when it was by far the most important in the calendar. Whereas it took Jean-Pierre Jabouille just over 1 hr. 35 min. to win the race this year, 73 years ago Francois Szisz had to battle for two days and 770 dusty miles to gain Renault their victory.
Even though they haven’t won a French GP between ’06 and ’79, Renault had achieved racing successes before 1906. For instance, they won the Paris-Vienna in 1902, the year before Marcel Renault, taking part in the sport he enjoyed best, was killed in the ill-fated Paris-Madrid race. Renault engaged in long-distance record-breaking in the vintage years, took the Turbine-Car record to over 190 m.p.h. in 1956 (see page 1131), won the Le Mans 24-Hour race last year, and now their 1 1/2-litre V6 Turbo-charged F1 cars have beaten the 3-litre opposition, perhaps losing the British GP because of appallingly-confused pit-work and, in this race, inadequate tyres.
Already the cry has gone out that turbo-charging is unjust and that there should be a restriction on the blower pressure of these cars. No doubt D.S. J. will comment about this in the appropriate place, if he sees fit. Our immediate reaction is that to extract maximum power from a racing engine is a legitimate aim, that the Renault engines comply with the F1 Formula current until 1981, and nothing which restricts engineering advances should intervene. When the Formula was devised, mechanically-driven superchargers may have been visualised, whereas a turbo-driven blower absorbs less power. It could be argued that, in the past, 3-litre and later 4 1/2-litre normally-aspirated engines took on the blown 1 1/2-litres, or 2 1/2-litres against the hypothetical blown 750s under another Formula. However, F1 engines are now required to use normal petrol, whereas in former times the blown engines had the benefit of high-content-alcohol fuels. This should be sufficient surely to keep interfering hands off Turbo-Renault development? A different argument is that if turbo-charged engines become the prevailing power in F1 racing, costs will soar and entries thus diminish, as happened when Delage dominated the 1 1/2-litre Formula in 1927. One expects, however. that rather than drop out altogether, members of the FOCA would give up some of their expensive motor-homes and jet-setting, in order to buy the required power packs . . .
Back to the theme of make-v-make racing, this is already apparent in F1, to some degree. Renault is in winning form, the Ferraris are entered as Fiat-Ferraris, Alfa Romeo is showing interest, with its engines in the Brabhams and, tentatively, a car bearing the marque name, and Lotus is a make-name, even if in F1 it has to share any honours with Cosworth-Ford. Historians may take heart from the fact that when Renault won the 1906 French GP it beat Fiat into first place but that in 1907 the placings were reversed, with Fiat beating Renault. After the war Fiat became triumphant by 1922, Alfa Romeo by 1924, and the Alfa Romeo/Ferrari battles of the post-WW2 years are well remembered. There is again a slight aura of inter-make competition about F1, which we hope will become more powerful. But it would be nice if Renault-Elf were to run under the blue of France, not in a hue that suggests to older followers of motor racing that they are Minervas . .
Of the Williams-won British GP, it can be said that BBC-TV gave very good coverage, even though unduly concerned with Championship-points prospects of the back-markers. We noted that commentator Jackie Stewart drew attention to Michelin shortcomings against Goodyear’s performance on this occasion: but Michelins were good enough for 1st, 2nd and 3rd at Dijon and 2nd place at Silverstone . . .
* * *
Return of the Turbines
Our article on turbine cars (page 1131) seems appropriately timed as we hear that the US Department of Energy is to award a contract for the development of an advanced gas turbine with the intention of exploring the potential for mass production. The intentions are for it to be a multi-fuel, low exhaust emission turbine with a thirst one-third less than a conventional internal combustion engine.
* * *
Bubble car exhibition
The Surrey Micro-Car Collection, which consists of post-war under 600 c.c. bubble cars and other little economy vehicles will be on view to the public between August 11th and 19th inclusive, from 6 p.m.-9.30 p.m. on weekdays, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. at weekends, at the Methodist Hall, Beddington Gardens, Wallington, Surrey. Such petrol savers as Messerschmitt, Isetta, Bond, Gordon, Peel, etc., numbering some 27 different makes and models will be on show.
* * *
ERA Club reformed
The ERA Club formed originally in 1935/36 to support the ERA team which was upholding British prestige in voiturette racing, has now been reformed so that it will have a wider basis than just an annual dinner. All those interested in the ERAs, as well as owners who are still racing these cars, are now welcome to join the reconstituted club, of which Raymond Mays, CBE is the patron and A. F. Rivers-Fletcher, Founder of the original ERA Club, is the President. The annual subscription is £2 and the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer is Guy Sporron, Arden Grange, Tamworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire.
* * *
Brands Hatch Six Hours
Porsche will be all out to maintain their supremacy in the Manufacturers World Championship in the Rivet Supply Six Hours race at Brands Hatch on August 5th. The March-built BMW M1 prototype, spurned at Le Mans is entered for Winkelhock, Grob and Edwards. The field will have a host of privateer Porsche 935s. Entries from most of the major teams were still anticipated at the time of writing.