Yet his time at Renault was just one chapter in a long and varied career in motorsport that included designing the chassis in which he won the title at the end of a hard-fought campaign in the Championship. of Europe of Formula 2 1976.
Jabouille, who died at the age of 80 following a long illness, was an engineer by profession rather than training: he had briefly studied modern art at the Sorbonne. His intuitive mechanical skills made him the ideal choice to lead Renault’s entry into F1 with its 1.5-litre turbocharged V6 engine, which joined the grid in mid-1977.
Gérard Larrousse, who ran the Renault Sport operation, recalled Jabouille as a “persuasive if not always diplomatic character” whose racing car sense was paramount in the eventual success of the sometimes hesitant Renault F1 project.
“He was able to steer our engineers in the right direction and get the most out of the car,” said Larrousse. “He was certain that our crazy project would be a success, and after two seasons of development that would have discouraged more than one, Jean-Pierre won his bet.”
The key players in the Renault Sport team created at the end of 1976 for the French manufacturer’s entry into F1 with the merger of its Alpine and Gordini sports branches were already working together in F2 in the mid-1970s. Jabouille and, initially, Larrousse drove for Equipe Elf Suisse, while Jean Sage was team manager. Larrousse was chosen as sporting director of the new F1 team and Jabouille its first driver, Sage taking the role of TM.
As Larrousse explained, the path to success was by no means easy. The first Renault F1 racing car, the RS01, was nicknamed the “yellow teapot” by the dubious Cosworth brigade for its propensity to expel steam and smoke.
The car missed its scheduled debut at the French GP at Dijon, made its first appearance at the British GP at Silverstone and would only reach a race finish in Monaco the following season, at through which Renault Sport again only raced a single car for Jabouille. Eventually he earned Renault’s first F1 points at the end of the 1978 season at Watkins Glen.
Jabouille, pictured in discussion with Renault team manager Larrousse during the 1979 Argentine GP, spearheaded the development of his turbo cars
Photo by: David Phipps
It was not until the following summer that the perseverance of Jabouille and Renault bore fruit in Dijon. While Jabouille took the win, René Arnoux came third in the second RS10 after his famous duel in the closing laps with Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve.
The Renault project had already shown what turbocharged technology could bring to F1. Jabouille had won a first pole at altitude at Kyalami in South Africa. He followed this up by finishing top of qualifying at Dijon, and he and Arnoux would claim four more poles before the end of the season, even if race finishes were rare.
It would be just one more win for Jabouille in an F1 career that included 49 starts. His Renault RE20 triumphed at the Osterreichring in 1980, taking a narrow victory over Alan Jones’ Williams from second on the grid. Serious leg injuries sustained at the Canadian GP in Montreal at the end of the year effectively ended his F1 career.
He had already signed for Liger after being released by Renault, but missed the first two races as he continued his recovery and then failed to qualify in two of the next five. He called F1 time, at least as a driver, after the Spanish GP and followed that up with an engineering role with a team built around his friend and brother-in-law Jacques Laffite.
Jabouille was a late beginner in a sport in which he would play an active role well into his 60s. He first competed in hill climbs aboard his Alpine road car before entering the sheet metal single-make Renault 8 Gordini series which allowed Jean-Pierre Jarier, among others, to start racing. .
After a stint in Formula 3 aboard a self-prepared Brabham then a Matra, he was taken over by Alpine and took the first of the 14 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving an A220 prototype in 1968. state-owned oil company Elf, which put Jabouille on the path to F1.
He raced for the Tecno works team with his support in 1971, then for the British competitor John Coombs in 1972 with a March chassis and then an Alpine chassis in 1973. He took his first F2 victory with the Spaceframe A367 design from the French manufacturer at Hockenheim in 1974. then reworked the car into a competitor known as the Elf 2J for the following year with Jean-Claude Guenard, a former F3 driver who would die alongside Didier Pironi in an accident motorboat race off the Isle of Wight in 1987. He and Larrousse would each win once in 1975 with BMW power.
Jabouille won the F2 title in 1976 en route to F1
Photo by: Ercole Colombo
The following year F2 allowed purebred racing engines and, along with the two-litre Renault V6 on which the F1 engine would be based, it won three times and took three more podiums to claim the title from a single point in Arnoux. Elf had given Jabouille his F1 debut when he drove a third Tyrrell in his colors at Paul Ricard in 1975. This followed a pair of non-qualifications aboard one of Frank Williams’ Iso-Marlboros, then of a Surtees the previous year.
Jabouille continued to drive touring cars after leaving Ligier, and in 1989 ended a long absence from Le Mans with a one-off for the Sauber Mercedes team. He then joined the Peugeot 905 Group C project for 1990 and scored two third places at Le Mans in 1992 and 1993 with a car he helped develop. He was over 50 at the time of his fourth Le Mans podium in the second of those years, but it was far from the end of his motorsport career.
He then founded JB Racing with Michel Bouresche in 1995, and won the International Sports Racing Cup then its successor, the SportsRacing World Cup, in 1998 and 1999, each time with Emmanuel Collard and Vincenzo Sospiri at the wheel of a Ferrari 333SP.
He won a French GT round through 2005 sharing a Chrysler Viper GTS-R with Alain Prost, and led the Team AutoGT team that developed the Morgan Aero 8 for the GT3 class in 2007-08.
Jabouille twice finished third with Peugeot at Le Mans in 1992 and 1993, matching his results with Matra in 1973 and 1974
Photo by: LAT Photographic