Francia metà anni ‘90. La giornata è tiepida, le fronde degli alberi si godono il sole e il cinguettio degli uccelli fa dà cornice a un’atmosfera bucolica. In lontananza un ronzio inizia ad accarezzare le orecchie, poi lentamente si avvicina e il suono diventa canto, rivelandosi un inconfondibile V10 aspirato. All’improvviso apriamo gli occhi, siamo svegli e siamo ai bordi di un circuito. Il propulsore strilla sempre di più e iniziamo a cercare la monoposto con lo sguardo. Renault, è senza dubbio un V10 francese, quindi è un test privato della Williams. Ormai ci siamo: eccola! Boom! Un monovolume d’orato ci sfreccia davanti strisciando sull’asfalto ad una velocità impressionante. Occhi sbarrati, fissi nel vuoto. Qualcosa non torna: era una Renault Espace, viaggiava come una monoposto e, quel che è peggio, cantava come una F1!
Follìa? No, storia. Correva l’anno 1994 e Renault Sport era reduce da un biennio di trionfi incontrastati come fornitore di propulsori del Team Williams. Nigel Mansell e Alain Prost avevano colto una strepitosa doppietta nelle due stagioni precedenti dominando senza soluzione di continuità nonostante l’avvicendamento avvenuto alla fine del 1992 in seguito al ritiro del britannico e il rientro del Professore dopo un anno sabbatico. Gran parte della superiorità manifestata dalle monoposto di Grove era riconducibile proprio alla capacità di accoppiamento tra il telaio e l’unità motrice francese, caratterizzata da un’eccellente guidabilità unita alla proverbiale affidabilità che ne fecero, ben presto, l’oggetto del desiderio della maggioranza dei team iscritti al Mondiale.
Proprio in quell’anno la Casa della Losanga celebrava il 10° anniversario dal lancio dell’Espace, la prima monovolume commercializzata sul suolo europeo, arrivata nel frattempo alla sua seconda generazione. La suggestione della sfida tecnica e la prospettiva di creare qualcosa di unico fu immediata: trapiantare il V10 nato per le corse, sul veicolo stradale concettualmente più distante da quel fine. Venne quindi creata un’equipe di tecnici a cui fu affidato il compito di studiare la fattibilità del progetto: l’installazione doveva prevedere l’abbassamento del baricentro di un corpo vettura che, fino a quel momento, aveva dovuto preoccuparsi di portare a spasso intere famiglie e che mai avrebbe pensato di affrontare cordoli e chicane. Per raggiungere l’obiettivo fu deciso di montare il propulsore tra i sedili posteriori in corrispondenza dell’asse e, per facilitare gli accoppiamenti, i tecnici attinsero in blocco al retrotreno della Williams FW15C progettata da Adrian Newey e Patrick Head. Telaio e carrozzeria vennero commissionati a Matra che dell’Espace di serie era stata ideatrice e promotrice prima dell’accordo con Renault: il carbonio divenne il materiale predominante, consentendo un aumento della rigidità e una ridistribuzione ottimale dei pesi.
Lo sviluppo fu affidato ad Eric Bernard che al Paul Ricard portò in pista una vettura capace di raggiungere i 313 km/h e completare lo 0-100 in 2.8” nonostante una massa di 1300 kg. Per arrestare tanta potenza l’Espace F1 poteva contare su un impianto frenante carboceramico così efficiente da avere bisogno di soli 80 metri per passare da 300 a 70 km/h, prestazioni che convinsero “il Professore” a dare la sua benedizione con un test del quale è ancora possibile trovare traccia su youtube.
A distanza di 25 anni il frutto di questo stravagante esperimento è conservato al museo Matra e rappresenta tutt’oggi l’unico romantico tentativo di fusione tra il fascino della F1 e la vita di tutti i giorni.
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