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1979 - a turning point in F1 history

by Flagworld

1979 marked a turning point in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship, with ground-effect cars becoming widespread

The turbo concept inaugurated by Renault two years earlier also began to demonstrate its potential.

Ground effect: an awesome innovation

A whole new generation of single-seaters was born in 1979, with the dawn of ground-effect. The year before, the ground-effect Lotus 79 (driven by Mario Andretti) had dominated the championship. Following Lotus's design, every team's research department worked feverishly to make the aerodynamic concept their own. At the first race of the season in Buenos Aires, nine of the fifteen teams taking part used ground-effect.

Three more teams now had two drivers: René Arnoux was Jean-Pierre Jabouille's teammate for Renault. Ligier lined up with Patrick Depailler and Jacques Lafitte, whilst Williams had Clay Regazzoni and Alan Jones.

Renault: first taste of success

After the dominance of the Lotus in 1978, the Ligier JS11, equipped with a Cosworth V8 engine, was the car to beat, Jacques Lafitte winning the first two races. At Kyalami, South Africa, Renault finally showed their strength, Jean-Pierre Jabouille securing the team's first pole position.

Even though the Renault car still had no ground-effect, it was equipped with Michelin tires on a circuit that favoured traction over aerodynamic grip. Furthermore, the high altitude of the track caused the Renault turbo engine to lose less power than the normally aspirated engines of its rivals: the French engine generated 460 horse power to the Cosworth's 410. Unfortunately, however, it rained during the race and Jabouille could not take advantage of his turbo engine.

First victory

In Spain, Renault finally introduced ground-effect on the RS10. The chassis became more and more balanced and in Monaco the engine was given a double-turbo system. Every line of cylinders had its own turbo and the engine gained 1200rpm. The new turbos, supplied by KKK, were much smaller. The previous supplier, Garett Industry, had been unable to make them so small.

A few weeks later, the team were optimistic of achieving their first victory. On the Dijon-Prenois circuit, just less than two years after Renault first entered F1, Jean-Pierre Jabouille took their first victory, rewarding his long commitment to the team. The Frenchman began the race by going easy on his tyres, allowing Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari to escape. But on lap 47, he caught and passed the Ferrari for the lead and the win.

After Jabouilles win, Renault's strong performances kept on coming: a front row grid position for Jabouille and second in the race for Arnoux in Great Britain; pole position in Germany for Jabouille, and poles in Austria and Holland for Arnoux. Finally, in Monza, the front row was 100 percent Renault.

With 26 points, Renault finished sixth in the constructors' championship, just ahead of McLaren. The drivers' championship was won by Jody Scheckter for Ferrari. René Arnoux ended up eighth and Jean-Pierre Jabouille thirteenth.

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1. Understanding the Sport
1. Understanding the Sport