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Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who died yesterday (2 February 2023) at the age of 80, will forever be remembered as the first man to win a Formula One Grand Prix in a turbocharged car.
The Frenchman’s victory in his home race at Dijon in 1979 was also Renault’s breakthrough, on Michelin tyres, and with Elf plastered across his RS10’s nose and oil running through it.
Yet, despite all that, everyone’s attention then and ever since was on the battle for second place as his teammate René Arnoux went bargeboard to bargeboard with Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve lap after lap.
It had been a long and difficult journey to that point for Jabouille, the turbocharged project he’d been an integral part of for two years having more misses than hits, and he’d finally claimed the Formula Two title at the eighth time of asking in 1976.
He did so as a Grand Prix driver after making his debut in 1975 at Paul Ricard with Tyrrell, thanks to his Elf ties. He’d failed to qualify an Iso Williams and Surtees the year before.
It was little better after his French Grand Prix win, with bad luck restricting him to just a brace of finishes and no points, until he calmly made it to the chequered flag at Austria’s Österreichring in 1980 ahead of a closing Alan Jones.
The victory would be Jabouille’s second and last, and only the third time he would finish in the points.
That apparent predisposition for bad luck extended to sports cars. Four times on the podium, Jabouille never finished higher than third at Le Mans in 14 attempts.
In 1973 he called on his engineering skills on the Mulsanne to replace a wire and get back on his way, partnering Jean-Pierre Jaussaud in a Matra-Simca to finish third, and 12 months later he and François Migault struggled to third in another.
Two decades and one F1-injury-forced retirement on from his first podium came his last, and with another home car maker, in 1993.
At this point, Jabouille was head of the development team and also on the driver roster for Peugeot’s fully fledged Group C effort.
Once again he scored back-to-back third places at Le Mans, in 1992 and ’93, while sister cars (once again) took the win.
He finally stepped out of the cockpit – on the world stage, at least – and went behind the scenes the following year to replace Jean Todt as head of Peugeot Sport.
Like so many of his era, the stats lie when it comes to Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
Images: Getty Images
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