Matters of moment, February 1977
Renault and racing
Those of us who think that racing at Grand Prix level is enhanced by the participation of manufacturers will be delighted that Renault have declared their intention of coming back into the Grand Prix field this year. It was Renault who won the first French GP of 1906—the first unless, like some erudite historians, you prefer to count further back to earlier French races dating from 1895. To most people, however, 1906 is regarded as the year of the first Grand Prix, and in those days the GP was a very important event, contested between rival manufacturers. Szisz on a big side-valve Renault won it convincingly, over 770 miles of the Le Mans circuit. Renault by that time had a fine reputation for high-grade motor carriages and their previous successes in the field of voiturette racing, which cost Marcel Renault his life, were obviously regarded as good publicity, which aided sales of Renault products. Whereas the earlier Gordon Bennett races had been contests between Nations, the new Grand Prix was the proving ground of rival manufacturers. They strived hard to win it, and up to 1914 the honours went to Renault, Fiat, Peugeot and Mercedes. Back in 1963 that then celebrated Motor Sport contributor, “Baladeur”, wrote of how winning the great motor races probably produced worthwhile sales among wealthy motoring enthusiasts, suggesting that in 1895 such customers would have invested in a 3-h.p. Peugeot, would have bought Panhards from 1897 to 1900, then changed to a Mors in 1901, and thereafter successively patronised Mercedes, Itala and Fiat, purely on account of the good competition showing of such cars.
In recent times F1 racing has been devoid of such manufacturer interest. True, Ford sponsors the Cosworth V8 GP engine, and Lotus followers probably feel that a close affinity exists between their road-going Lotuses and the Lotus-Cosworth John Player GP machines. For Ferrari enthusiasts the full significance of a Ferrari GP victory is there, clear and undisguised. But otherwise the line-up for a current F1 race is devoid of any close association with car manufacturers, as the buyers of road-going products understand it.
So Renault’s intention to re-enter the highly competitive field of GP racing this year is full of promise. It is to the great French manufacturer’s lasting credit that he is not over-publicising the advent of the proposed V6 turbo-charged GP car. If it makes its debut at the French GP this will enliven things at Dijon in July, even if it is too much to expect a brand-new car to win first time out, which sounds like crying wolf… ! But we welcome the proposed entry of this car manufacturer in top-flight motor racing and it is a good link-up with Renault’s top production model that the F1 car is to have a vee-six-cylinder engine.
Renault are also well aware of the impact of successful motor racing in other spheres. They hope to win Le Mans this year and if the cars they use will bear little resemblance to the sports Bentleys, Lagondas, Chenard-Walckers, Salmsons, Alfa Romeos and Jaguars, etc. that we once associated with the great 24-hour battle round the Sarthe circuit, the fact remains that victory for Renault in the famous French race would be remarkably good for the Billancourt image. Renault have a long and proud record in the competition field, from that first Grand Prix win at 63 m.p.h. over 70 years ago to capturing the World’s 24-hour record with that remarkable tandem-seater Renault 45 saloon, taking turbine-car honours, vanquishing the Sahara Desert, winning all manner of rallies with a wide variety of different models, etc. So we welcome the interest this Nationalised concern of Regie Renault is showing in modern motor racing, and we wish it well.