Renault were at the forefront of F1’s last turbo era, leading the way by introducing a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine in 1977 at a time when all the other teams were using normally-aspirated power units.
Within a few years F1 had tapped the enormous power of turbocharged engines and Renault won a string of races, although they failed to clinch a championship.
Turbo power was outlawed at the end of 1988 but will return to F1 next year. Renault’s director of testing and development Jean-Pierre Menrath, who worked on the original Renault turbos of 1977, explained how the technology has moved on since then:
“The major difference, of course, and the major technological development on the new engine, is in the electronics,” he said. “We started developing a turbocharged engine with distributors and igniters, which are no longer in use today. The fuel injection system had no electronics.”
“And in terms of design, the modern simulation tools didn’t exist back then, nor did all the computer systems and software used to design the engines more effectively and track their performance more accurately.
“There was no telemetry, no data acquisition. For the record, the driver could alter the booster pressure. Our “telltale” was a dial with a needle that was stuck pointing up. So, at the end of the day, the level of monitoring was somewhat limited.
“Nowadays, engine technology is a lot more effective. We’re very close to the complex systems used in aerospace.”
Towards the end of the development of the old turbo engines Renault saw some astronomical power outputs: “We went from 520/530bhp in 1979 to over 1,000bhp in the space of five years!”
“At the end of 1986, we even had a test engine that was capable of developing up to 1,200bhp thanks to the use of new turbochargers, with a new design. At the outset, they were intended to be used at altitude and in the end, at sea level, they produced exceptional performances. Unfortunately, the engine only lasted three laps!”
Renault anticipate next year’s engine, dubbed F1 Energy, will produce around 600bhp with a further 160bhp coming from the electrical energy recovery systems.