ALPINE RENAULT ELF FORMULA RACING CARS 1971 - 1977

A Brief Survey

Today it is nearly unknown, that French car manufacturer Renault has got a three decades´tradition in competing with single seater racing cars. Before they entered Formula 1 at the 1977 British Grand Prix held at Silverstone, they had got an excellent reputation for their rally and sportscars. These were constructed by their associated company Alpine based in city of Dieppe at the coast of the British Channel. In fact Alpine was the competition department of Renault, but under their name also cars for road use were sold. The developments of Alpine and Renault were made in a strong connection with oil company elf , that were also owned by the French state.

Formula racing cars were not so important for the French companies at that time. That scene was dominated by the British racing car manufacturers like Cooper, Lotus, Brabham, March, Ensign, G.R.D., Lola and a lot more others. These had not to fear a lot of rivalry from the continent, because only Tecno from Italy, BMW from Germany and French space and aviation group Matra were able to produce competitive single seaters for the lower formulas.

That situation changed, when Renault decided to enter the new 1600cc Formula 3 for 1971. A very progressive looking chassis on a spaceframe base was designed, powered by a very strong engine based on the block of a Renault road car, as the technical regulations had demanded. The works Alpine Renault F3 cars were driven in the international events by both the Frenchmen Patrick Depailler and Jean Pierre Jabouille making their first steps into great Grand Prix careers. So it was no wonder, that Depailler won the French Formula 3 Championship in 1971 and the F3 round of the Monaco Grand Prix the following year.

In 1972 Depailler also competed in the events of the European Formula 2 Championship with an Alpine car. But this car was not called Alpine or Renault, it was named after it´s sponsor and technical partner elf 2, because it was powered by a 2.0 litre Ford engine. The elf 2 looked very similar to the Alpine Renault F3, but for the reason of Renault having got no adequate engine available for Formula 2, it officially was neither an Alpine or a Renault, because they were already one of the biggest car companies in the world, so they could not allow their chassis using the engine of a market´s rival. That had been no problem for Matra before back in the sixties, who competed officially with Matra Fords up to Formula 1.

The Alpine made chassis both in Formula 2 and 3 had got excellent aerodynamics, the special cover for the engine/gearbox unit had the task to make the car´s slipstream so short, to make it impossible for a rival following, to overtake coming out of it. It was Francois Cevert, who scored the first victory for the elf 2, and it was a great day for the French motorsport, because it happened at their homeground in the city of Pau in the Pyrenees, that was called the Little Monaco.

At that time Renault had a very promising V6 engine under construction, that´s basis was invented both for road and racing car use. That job was done in connection with another fellow company called Gordini. First of all Renault desired a victory in the 24 Hours Endurance Race of Le Mans for bringing more prestige to their brand, as it had been done to their fellow countrymen of Matra before. Therefore they concentrated on producing a 2.1 litre turbocharged version of the V6 for the use in Alpine Renault sportscars to reach their high aim. The Formula 2 project was delegated to the elf Switzerland team. They used BMW engines both in 1974 and 1976 and were sponsored by the Swiss cheese industry bringing the yellow livery to the cars. They scored 3 fine victories, Patrick Tambay won in French Nogaro 1974, Gerard Larrousse in German Hockenheim 1975 (where he was able to beat the King of Hockenheim, Hans Joachim Stuck) and Jean Pierre Jabouille in Austrian Salzburg also in 1975.

In 1976 Renault decided to produce two further versions of their V6: A 2.0 litre normally aspirated one for the use in Formula 2 and 1.5 litre for Grand Prix racing purpose. The F2 engines were brought to the grid by elf Renault, that were the official works team, and by Martini Renault of the French designer and racing car manufacturer Tico Martini. At the end of the year Jean Pierre Jabuoille had won the European Formula 2 Championship in the elf renault car. The same time Renault started testing their 1.5 litre V6 turbo in a monocoque chassis built by theirown. Behind the wheel was Jabouille, who was considered a very good engineer and excellent test driver.

After a lot of successful testing of the prototype Grand Prix car, it became clear, that Renault would enter Formula One in 1977. For this reason they decided to sell their 1976 works equipment to German racing enterpreneur Willi Kauhsen and his drivers Michel Leclere of France and Germany´s Klaus Ludwig. Renault again supplied the team of Tico Martini with works engines. But while the German crew failed to succeed in the 1977 Formula 2 season, Martini´s French driver René Arnoux won the European Championship.

For 1978 Renault decided to concentrate their efforts on Formule 1. So they retired from F2 and it did no take very much time, when success came their way, in spite the development of the 1.5 litre turbocharged engine, the first one overall in modern Grand Prix racing, was a much more difficult job, than Renault had expected in the beginning. Renault scored their first championship points with Jabouille´s 4th place in the United States Grand Prix held at Watkins Glen. Some months after that, in the middle of 1979 and exactly 2 years after their debut, the Renault works drivers Jean Pierre Jabouille and René Arnoux gave France a second national holiday when coming home 1st and 3rd in their home Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois. It was the first triumph of a very long list of Grand Prix victories and worldchampionship wins making Renault one of most successful competitors in the history of that business.

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Patrick Depailler/F, Alpine Renault F3 (1971/1972)

 

The back of the Alpine Renault F3 (1971/1972)

 

Patrick Depailler/F, elf Ford F2 (1972)

 

Jean Pierre Jabouille/F, elf Renault (1976)

 

Michel Leclere/F (No.8) , Klaus Ludwig/D (No.9), elf Renault F2
Team Toshiba Kauhsen (1977)

 

elf Renault F1 prototype (1976)

 

 

 

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