26/06/2019

Reflections: a first F1 win with normally aspirated power

This month (18 June, to be precise) has marked 30 years since Renault’s first race win in Formula 1 – with a normally aspirated engine.
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The victory was achieved at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1989 by Thierry Boutsen in a Williams powered by a Renault engine.

The engine was a 3.5 V10 design dubbed the RS1 and was the work of Renault Sport’s technicians headed up by the legendary Bernard Dudot at the company’s headquarters in Viry Chatillon, Paris.

Dudot’s team had worked on design, prototype, development and build for two years since Renault quit F1 as a team at the end of 1985 (although its turbocharged engines had still continued to be used by the Ligier team in 1986).

This was in response to F1’s rule makers mandating the use only of normally aspirated in 1989 and Renault was able to strike a deal with Williams which, after two years at the top, had gone winless in 1988.

Results were immediately impressive: Boutsen’s team-mate Riccardo Patrese had led on the car’s debut in Brazil and then finished in second in both the Mexico and USA grands prix.

But now came the Montreal circuit in Canada – a track famous for serving up some surprise results and first-time winners.

Patrese lined up third on the grid with Boutsen in sixth but the race, held during intermittent rain, was just as much about having an engine that delivered power and a smooth torque band as it was raw outright speed and the RS1 was in it element in the tricky conditions.

Entering the closing stages, the McLaren-Honda of Ayrton Senna looked to be on course for victory with Boutsen and Patrese behind in second and third positions.

But then there came the twist that suddenly swung everything in Williams-Renault’s favour as Senna’s car stopped with an engine problem – allowing Boutsen to move into the lead and Patrese into second.

Together they reeled off the final laps to give Renault’s RS1 engine a dream result with not just a maiden victory but also second place as well.

Another victory – again in wet conditions – would follow for Boutsen in the final race of the season (Asutralia) as he finished fifth in the drivers’ standings. Although he missed out on a race win that year, Patrese, with six podium results to Boutsen’s five, was able to end the year third in the points table.

Not only was the win in Canada 1989 notable as Renault’s first victory with a non-turbocharged engine, but also because it signalled the start of one of the most successful combinations – Williams and Renault – in F1 history.

Over the next decade their partnership would yield four drivers’ titles (Nigel Mansell 1992, Alain Prost 1993, Damon Hill 1996 and Jacques Villeneuve 1997) while between 1989 and 1997 they achieved a remarkable 62 grands prix victories together.