In 1966, when the
formula was changed allowing for 3 liter engines a provision was made for 1.5 liter
supercharged engines. With no takers amongst the current engine suppliers and the
tremendous success of the Ford-Cosworth it was left to an outsider, yet one with a history
that traced back to the first Grand Prix to show a third way. Renault had been trying to
win Le Mans with a turbo-charged engine but was suffering from cracked pistons. Bernard
Dudot was sent to Garrett AiResearch to study the fine art of turbo-charging.
Renault had its eyes on sports cars and Le Mans and in 1978 their goal was accomplished and two A442s finished first and fourth. In the middle of their Le Mans effort a parallel program to return to Formula 1 was also in the works. using their 2-litre iron block engine they reduced the stroke to fall within the 1.5 litre limit. Throttle response was found to be a big problem but until the victory at Le Mans the F1 effort was always the junior effort. Eventually the Garrett single turbocharger was replaced by the KKK twin-turbocharger.
For 1979 Renault fielded a two car team with Rene Arnoux joining Jean-Pierre Jabouille. For the Spanish Grand Prix Renault debuted the Michel Tetu designed RS10 ground-effect car. After Monaco there was a month's break before the championship moved to France and Renault met it's destiny. During a tire test conducted by several teams including Renault, Harvey Postlethwaite of the Wolf team happened to "glance" at the speed trap while one of the turbo cars was on the track.
"I'll never forget it", he says. "Suddenly it read out a speed about 20 mph faster than anything we'd ever seen before ... That was it, the Renault was coming good. Soon we would all need turbos ..."
At Dijon the cars qualified on the front row and finished 1-3 with only the mastery of Villeneuve able to make an impression. They were soon joined by
BMW and the turbo era was dawning. It was thought by some that turbocharged engines would
allow large manufacturers to leapfrog the smaller British teams and their acknowledged
leadership in chassis design.