Renault RS01 1977: The first turbocharged F1 car

renault rs01

Renault’s first entry into Formula One as a constructor was the Renault RS01, the first with a turbocharged engine and radial tires. Today I want to look at this incredible machine and how it changed Formula One for years leading to turbochargers to be banned in 1989. Sit back, rev your engine and let’s get into this F1 legend.

If you’re a massive fan of the Renault F1 team like I am, then I would definitely suggest getting this scale model of the first turbo Renault that they debuted with!



Renault set up its subsidiary Renault Sport in 1977 and decided it would enter Formula One as a constructor for the first time. They entered this new yellow car, the Renault RS01, in the last five races in 1977 with Jean-Pierre Jabouille at the helm, the car failed to even finish any of the races this year and was seen as highly unreliable, earning it the nickname, “the Yellow Teapot.”

Even though the car had a huge advantage in terms of power it’s unreliability was holding the team back and making them a joke in the world of Formula One. The car debuted at the 1977 British Grand Prix, Jabouille had an incredible race after starting from position 21 and getting as high as 16th, on the heels of James Hunt of McLaren who went on to second in the race. However in lap 17, the turbo failed and the car was retired from the race, it then missed the Austrian and German Grand Prix while the team improved the car.

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    They returned from the Dutch Grand Prix getting up to sixth place before the suspension failed on lap 40 and then in Italy they retired once again on lap 24, finally in the United States Grand Prix the alternator failed on lap 31. The team failed to qualify for Canada and didn’t show up for the Japanese Grand Prix.

    The team finally finished their first race in the 1978 Monaco Grand Prix finishing tenth place, not where the team wanted to be, but it was the start of what was to come. In 1979 the team saw their first pole position in South Africa where racing at high altitude the turbo engines could run at maximum power whereas the naturally aspirated engines of its competitors would lose 20% of their power.

    After this, most competing teams began using turbo based cars in 1980 and they became so overpowered that in 1989, the FIA officially banned turbochargers from the sport. Luckily for Renault, they never intended to win races with the car, it was instead just a test bed for the teams engines.


    At the time Cosworth engines dominated F1, apart from Ferrari’s flat-12 engines, and both were producing somewhere in the region of 500 hp, but these new turbo engines were producing up to 700 hp.

    Formula One rules at the time dictated that cars would have to be fitted with 3.0 liter naturally aspirated engines, but there was a clause that allowed for 1.5 liter supercharged or turbocharged engines. However no team had gone with the latter and all had gone with naturally aspirated engines. This new engine was a

    Renault had came second with a 2.0 liter turbo charged engine in the Le Mans of 1977 but reliability issues in F1 of the same year were worrying the team. However after winning the Le Mans in 1978 they continued development of the engine because the race proved it could be reliable and powerful at the same time.

    The engine was a 6 cylinders in turbocharged V, 1492 cc, producing 525 hp @ 10,500 rpm and initially had one turbo fitted but by the 1979 season they had decided to fit the car with twin turbos to overcome issues with turbo lag, initially causing a 1.5 second delay in the turbo kicking in, which is an eternity in F1 racing. This new twin turbo model replaced the RS01, becoming the RS10.


    Apart from the Turbo, the Renault RS01 had another trick up its sleeves in 1977, radial tires. A bias tire has a cross section carcass, meaning its cords run in two directions crossing over each other, this means that the structure of the tire is more rigid and perfect for carrying heavy loads. A radial tire on the other hand has its cords running from one side to the other and then a band running around the tire above this. This allows the tire to be more flexible and thus putting more of the tire in contact with the ground.

    The radial structure gave the RS01 the benefit of more grip and better handling in the corners, as such Renault switched from Pirelli to Michelin radial tires for this reason. It wasn’t long before Ferrari noticed this and followed suite.


    Although the RS01 was not a successful racing car itself, it built the ground work for the RS10 which replaced it and learned from its mistakes, going on to create the insane 1980’s 1300 hp F1 turbo charged cars and winning the 1979 French Grand Prix.