Jean-Pierre Jabouille, whose victory for Renault in the 1979 French Grand Prix heralded a new era of turbo-powered Formula 1 cars, has died at the age of 80.
It was a deserved breakthrough victory, the culmination of years of development work and repeated failures of turbo engines. While it came in Jabouille’s third season with the team, it was only their second points-scoring finish.
Alpine, the F1 team run by Renault, issued a statement expressing that it was “incredibly saddened” by Jabouille’s death.
“A humble racing driver, brilliant engineer, and a pioneer of our sport. Jean-Pierre was a true racer,” Alpine said in the statement.
“He spearheaded Renault’s journey into F1 in 1977 with his resilient and dare to do attitude. He was Renault’s first Grand Prix winner in 1979, a landmark moment in Renault’s journey in Formula 1. His determination and dedication to succeed inspired many, and these values remain central to the current team in its now blue colours of Alpine.
“We are where we are today because of Jean-Pierre and his legacy lives on. We’d like to extend our most sincere condolences to his family and close friends.”
Jabouille made his start in racing at the age of 23, and began to make a name for himself by finishing runner-up to Francois Cevert in the French Formula 3 championship in 1968. A long apprenticeship in Formula 2 followed, to which Jabouille added successful appearances in sports car racing.
He took his first F2 win at the Hockenheimring in 1974 and made his F1 debut the same year, but was unable to qualify for either Frank Williams or John Surtees’ teams. Better things came in a one-off appearance for Tyrrell the following year, where Jabouille took the chequered flag in 12th.
There were no F1 outings for him the following year. But having taken his own car to second in the F2 standings in 1975, he finally went one better next time, clinching the 1976 title with three wins.
Jabouille next faced the task of developing Renault’s 1.5-litre turbo engine for F1 – the first of its kind under the rules of the time – Jabouille gave the enterprise its debut at Silverstone in 1977. They ran a single car operation at first, and Jabouille delivered their first points with fourth at Watkins Glen the following year.
The flowing Dijon circuit was well-suited to the Renault, and Jabouille’s win was the first for driver, team and tyre supplier Michelin, all on home ground. It was also his only points-scoring finish of the year; the same was true of his follow-up victory at the Osterreichring in 1980. But three races later he broke his legs in a crash at the Canadian Grand Prix.
New team mate Rene Arnoux had outshone him for much of the year, and Renault replaced Jabouille with Alain Prost for 1981. He lined up a drive at another French team, Ligier, but was still suffering from his leg injuries and called time on his F1 career after six races.
He later returned to F1 in charge of Peugeot’s engine programme, which provided motors to McLaren and 1994 and Jordan the following year. After their difficult first two seasons, Jabouille was replaced, and in 1997 he set up a successful sports car racing team. He continued to return to demonstrate Renault’s pioneering F1 cars, including at the 2019 French Grand Prix, marking the 40th anniversary of his most famous triumph.
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