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The French racing team played
a pioneering role in introducing the turbo-charged engine to Formula One, with Longines
as timekeeping partner.
Italian Grand Prix 1984: Patrick Tambay (F) in a Renault RE50.
In the early 1980s, Longines partnered with both Ferrari and Team Renault. The French car manufacturer was a pioneer in Formula One, introducing the first turbo engine in 1977. The turbocharger uses the pressure and energy of the hot exhaust gas flow to charge and thus create more power and torque. Engine displacement at the time was limited to 1.5 litres for turbocharged engines, instead of the usual 3 litres. In the early days, the engines of the yellow Renault racers often ended up in smoke. By 1979, Team Renault seemed to be finally leaving the experimental phase behind and contested its first full season, taking its first victory in the French Grand Prix. On 23rd January 1981, Renault Sport and Longines signed an agreement, establishing a close collaboration. The French manufacturer benefitted from the technical support of Swiss timing specialists to prepare cars and train technicians during Formula One events, as well as rallies. Turbo engines steadily improved, gaining reliability and becoming more powerful than their competitors. It was the beginning of a new era: when the engine worked properly, the Turbo Renaults were practically unbeatable.
Luckily, Alain Prost, a talented French driver joined the Renault racing team. In July 1981, at the French Grand Prix, the Longines timekeepers recorded Prost’s fastest lap: he went on to win his first race. The yellow racer then took pole in each of the next five races, with Prost winning again in Holland and Italy and taking 2nd position in Germany. However, the turbo engine was still frequently failing, and in the meantime Ferrari had developed its own turbo engine. In 1983, with an engine of over 800 horsepower, Prost scored consistently and stepped onto the podium four times. The French driver led the championship for most of the season and would have succeeded as world champion had the turbo in his car not failed in lap 35 at the final race in South Africa, enabling Nelson Piquet in his Brabham-BMW to win the title by two points. The 1985 season was to be the last for the Renault team whose development of the turbo engine had made a huge impact on Formula One. Many teams would go on to follow this pioneering engineering, and in the next few years Prost would be victorious in other cars, securing the world championship four times.
Austria Grand Prix 1981: Alain Prost in a Renault RE30, securing the second best qualifying time.
First victory: Alain Prost, French Grand Prix (Dijon) 1981.