Jean-Pierre Jabouille, 1942-2023

F1 history

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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 helped turn Renault’s novel turbo F1 cars into race-winners
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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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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8 comments on “Jean-Pierre Jabouille, 1942-2023”

  1. Shame. So soon after the loss of Patrick Tambay too. Seems we’re losing part of a golden era of F1 racing, and that cadre of French drivers in particular.


    1. It’s part of life the old go the the next adventure and you get at that age you lose most of your friends if all before moving on.
      I see that for myself as none of my youth idols are still alive and losing a lot of my older friends. JP Jabouille is also one who i enjoyed in my younger years.
      Just remember when we pass on we will see al those persons again and you can see all the greats racing in their prime against each other.

  2. some racing fan
    2nd February 2023, 22:04

    What a shame. He was crucial behind Renault’s involvement in F1 in the early days. If it hadn’t been for him Renault might not have been in F1 for as long as they have been.


  3. After Patrick Tambay and Philippe Streiff, that’s three great French drivers from a similar era all lost at a very similar time.

    Jean-Pierre Jabouille has one of the most unusual career statistics of any driver ever, with just three points finishes across three years, but two of them being race victories. This was because he drove the extremely fast but fragile turbo Renaults, and was also particularly hard on his cars (unusually for a driver who was also a great engineer). But in 1979 he was arguably faster than Rene Arnoux, and won one of the greatest Grands Prix in history in Dijon 1979, while his second win also came after a fantastic scrap with Alan Jones, so was extremely unlucky to score as few points as he did. An incredibly fast driver who could have been a title contender in a more reliable Renault.

  4. RIP Jean-Pierre, probably the last of the great driver engineers.

    Much of my early F1 fandom was influenced by Jean-Pierre and his exploits with Renault as I was given a series of tapes called “The Saga fo Formula One”, one of which focussed on the Turbo era and the emergence of the Renault Elf team in the late 70s. As he was so crucial to that programme, and because I watched those tapes so much I’m surprised they didn’t turn into dust, I have always held Jabouille in very high regard.

  5. RIP.

    Really quite incredible to have only 3 points finished with 2 of them wins.

  6. RIP, Jean Pierre.

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