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René Arnoux


Renault RE30B




1982 Dutch GP (3 July 1982)


The little guy seemed to be born for turbo cars. With 18 poles (the most by a non-title winning driver) René Arnoux was undoubtedly one of the fastest drivers of the early 80s and certainly a one-lap wonder when pressed. A real racer best known for his epic battle with Villeneuve at Dijon, he was also a man who could stir up politics within a team - which is not what you want when paired with Alain Prost. With René choosing to go his own way in 1982 internal conflict flared up in the same way Villeneuve and Pironi clashed at Ferrari that year, although fortunately the Renault feud didn't end in the same tragic way. Brought in to replace the fallen Ferrari warriors René came closest to the title when driving for the Scuderia before his unceremonious sacking at the start of the 1985 season meant he became a bit player from that instant on.

Arnoux came to prominence during in the traditional French way, slicing through the various Elf Renault supported categories. His pace and natural speed was undoubted, as he won several of the junior formulae. First he took the Formule Super Renault championship in 1975 before moving on to claim his biggest title, the 1977 European Formula Two Championship.

By this time René was already 29 it was about time that an F1 opportunity would follow. The Renault GP team was in its infancy and had by 1977 made a low-key comeback into Grand Prix racing. Having been a successful marque during the very early years of motor racing, when Marcel and Louis were still in the driving seat themselves, Renault now decided to return. Once again they were pioneering. This time turbo-charging was brought into Formula One. The 1.5-litre rules for turbo or mechanically driven compressors had been in effect all along the 3-litre formula but Renault was the first team to explore that route.

They already had a good base engine to work on - their successful Formula Two engine. This V6 engine was also used in their successful Alpine sportscars, with a turbo. So the necessary turbo knowh-ow already existed in-house. They altered the internal dimensions of their 2.0-litre V6, et voilà - a Formula One engine conforming to the 3-litre regulations.

Their initial one-car effort would be spearheaded by long-time Renault test driver, 34-year-old Jean-Pierre Jabouille. Lacking the natural speed of his younger compatriot Arnoux, he was deemed to be more experienced.

The initial RS01 car was more of a test bed than a true front-running GP car. It was overweight and wasn't very efficient aerodynamically either. The car was also difficult to drive due to the early-generation engine. It suffered from turbo lag and the powerband was very narrow. Another shortcoming was a massive thirst for fuel and it was also very unreliable. From their debut at Silverstone in 1977 it would take them 15 months before they could claim their first WC point. By then, a lot of hard work was starting to pay off.

With JPJ at Renault, René would have to find another into GP racing. Tico Martini's equipe debutante signed him for the 1978 season. The car was a simplistic Cosworth DFV kit car. It would provide some valuable experience for René, if not much else. The year proved difficult for Tico Martini's little team, and they were forced to withdraw after the Dutch GP.

Meanwhile, Rupert Keegan crashed out of the Surtees team while team mate Vittorio Brambilla got hurt in the Peterson accident at Monza. So after sitting out the Italian GP, Arnoux got the call to partner Beppe Gabbiani in the second rental car in the Surtees team for the last two races of the season. These would also be the last races for Team Surtees in the World Championship.

In 1979 Renault was expanding their team into a two-car effort, so now they had a seat available for René. This was to become the breakthrough year, not just for René but also for Renault and their number-one driver JP Jabouille. The new RS10 car would provide a giant leap forward for the team and during the year Jabouille took four poles and Arnoux two. So the speed was definitely there. And the reliability was also improving. Enough to give a Renault and Jabouille a popular home win at Dijon. The win was somewhat overshadowed by the battle for second. During the final laps René fought a legendary wheel-to-wheel battle with Gilles Villeneuve for the second place. Ultimately Gilles would claim second but René could join Jabouille on the podium to celebrate the historical win.

The win actually brought Jabouille his only points for the year. Arnoux had claimed two more podium places with second places at Silverstone and Watkins Glen, and ended up with 17 points in the final classification.

The new decade brought a new car - the RE20/25. The Renault Sport designation had been changed to Renault Elf, in allegiance to their major backer and long time techanical partner. René Arnoux now proved to be the quicker of the two drivers but still Jabouille could claim two poles for 1980. René scored three poles and the season brought him two wins. His first GP win came in the second race of the season at Interlagos. His second win came in the next race at Kyalami in the thin air of the South African highlands. Ideally suited to turbo engines! This meant total Renault domination. Pole sitter Jabouille led the first 61 laps before he suffered a puncture on one of his Michelin radials. Arnoux overtook him to take a dominant win. So now Arnoux was leading the World Championship table! Alas, technical mishaps would plague the team for the rest of the season. The reliability of the DFV-powered Williams and Brabham cars paid dividends and Alan Jones with five wins would be crowned World Champion after the 1980 season. Arnoux amassed 29 points and was sixth in the final championship standings. The season ended on a low-note for Renault after Jabouille crashed his RE20 in Montreal and suffered a broken leg. He was not replaced for the season finale at Watkins Glen and Arnoux drove the singleton Renault.

Jabouille's injury meant that Renault signed a new coming-man for their second seat to partner René Arnoux in 1981. The driver was a talented young bloke called Alain Prost. René who possessed so much natural speed was surprised to see the young Alain quickly developing into a mature and calculating driver. Initially Renault struggled with their updated 1980 cars, but when the new RE30 came along things looked better. Soon Alain took over as the de facto number-one driver. He scored three wins and led most laps of all during the season. Alain also led for 1073.4km while René Arnoux scored no wins and just 11 points, having led for just 278.9km. Prost even outscored Arnoux in qualifying 10-5. Of those Arnoux had four poles compared to the two poles set by Prost. Prost ended the year with 43 points, a mere seven behind new champion Nelson Piquet. The still fragile Renault had cost Alain Prost the championship.

The fiercely contested 1982 season was more or less similar to 1981 for Renault, but it seemed now that Arnoux was officially demoted to a second-string role. Renault had seen that Prost was the real deal and they felt Arnoux was too erratic. Prost proved his worth when he promptly won the two first races of the year. In qualifying, however, René managed to stay on par with Alain as they ended the year at 8-8 with five poles for each driver. René also proved that he could still pull a fast lap out of his bag. The Renault was now so developed that it could even take pole on slower tracks, like the congested Monaco track.

A mid-season slump meant that after the initial wins Prost didn't score a point for the next seven races. Arnoux's record was even worse and after his initial podium place at Kyalami he didn't score for the next nine races! One of René's most spectacular non-finishes came at the Dutch GP, which was held unusually early in the year, the event getting a reprieve after having been scratched from the calendar initially. However, when the Argentine race was cancelled the Netherlands got their GP back - its traditional end-of-August date had been taken by the one-off Swiss GP, though, and was to become the steady fixture for all Belgian GPs held at Spa, starting the following year.

Arnoux started the race in the best possible position, as he had been truly dominating qualifying on a track he liked (he won the race for Ferrari in 1983). Outrunning Prost by half a second and Champion Piquet by sixth tenths, René had truly embarrassed the rest of the field led by championship leader Pironi's Ferrari. However, the Frenchman completely fluffed the start, in the process also bogging down Nelson, which allowed Prost to take the lead. Meanwhile, Pironi had transformed his Ferrari overnight to give it some monumental race speed, and Didier went ahead of Alain at the start of the second lap, never to be seen again. Arnoux was suffering from a bad vibration and could not resist Piquet from passing him for third on lap 15. Now a distant fourth, the RE30B a shadow of its qualifying form, René was hammering down straight when he suddenly had his left front wheel break away completely. This is not what you want happening while trying to shave approximately 200km/h off your speed before entering Tarzan! Unable to slow down, Arnoux ran straight ahead into the tyre wall, where the car almost took off. (Watching from the pit lane, being situated very near the Renault pit, our chief editor saw an accident Jacques Villeneuve would have been proud of. The Renault people looked unfazed, though.)

Their home Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit was now crucial for Renault and their French drivers. In qualifiying it was business as usual, as Arnoux set pole and Prost was second. With his 18 championship points Prost was still in the hunt for the world crown so Renault decided that when the occasion should arise team orders would be put in place. Proving that he was no team player Arnoux disregarded the team orders as nothing could stop him from winning his home GP, no doubt to the dismay of all that was Renault. Arnoux was already in negotiation with Ferrari and took his second win of the season at Monza in front of the Ferrart tifosi, with the two Ferraris in second and third, Tambay heading surprise pole man Andretti. The tifosi regarded the result as a Ferrari one-two-three.

An all-Renault front row at the final race at the Las Vegas parking-lot finished off the season. Prost finished fourth and Arnoux retired early. In a season with 11 (eleven!) different winners the reliability of Keke Rosberg's Williams meant that despite only a single win he could claim the championship. Prost led for 1008.6 km with Arnoux second with 1006.4 but it was another lost year for Renault.

René Arnoux now moved to Maranello and found himself partnering his compatriot Patrick Tambay. Arnoux suffered from a slow start to the season with only 8 points after 7 races with Prost on 28 and Piquet on 27. The turning point came at Montreal where Arnoux was able to score a dominant win from pole. Arnoux was now in the title hunt. Two more wins and two second places put his final tally on 49. Prost lost an another championship as he finished second on 57, two behind Piquet who took his second championship. Piquet deserved his championship because his total mileage led reached 1538.5km. Arnoux finished second with 883.1km. Prost had 680.8km at third and Tambay led for 443.6km. Tambay was on par with Arnoux in qualifying and he actually outscored him with 8-7. Both had four poles each. Ferrari also won the constructors title.

Some reshuffling among the top teams for 1984 saw Prost move to McLaren and Tambay to Renault. Arnoux remained with Ferrari and they brought in promising Italian Alboreto as his team mate. This was to prove to be a difficult year for both Ferrari and Arnoux. Ferrari seemed to have gone backwards and they were not in contention for the championship. To make matters worse for René, Alboreto outqualfied him 12-4 while Michele even put a pole and a win next to his name. Arnoux had just two second places. Not the world's youngest GP driver at 37, he was nearing the end of the road as a top driver.

It came sooner than expected. Amidst clouds of mystery René was unceremoniously sacked after the first race of 1985, shortly after Stefan Bellof had been told to wait another year for his Ferrari break since the Scuderia was supposedly unable to release Arnoux from his contract.

Brought back to Formula One the next season by Ligier, Arnoux was now truly among the backmarkers and just making up the numbers. Some decent drives in 1986 were rewarded with a few fourth places. For the 1987-'89 period Arnoux could only score three points. So after the 1989 season at age 40, René was forced out of Formula One. He had been an embarrassment during 1989 as he was driving in everybody else's way. At many places there would be a train of cars behind, Arnoux never taking blue flags very seriously. His Ligier team mate Olivier Grouillard - also notoriously hard-to-lap - outqualified him 11-4 while Arnoux also had another 6 DNQs that proved that he had lost his speed.

During the 1990s Arnoux did a few appearances at Le Mans. He drove a locally entered Dodge Viper with Justin Bell and Bertrand Balas in 1994. And there was a very brief appearance in a Ferrari 333SP in 1995. He shared the car with Massimo Sigala and Jay Cochran but it expired after only 7 laps. Alongside was René's media career as a Grand Prix co-commentator for the Rai, using his fluent Italian to add his uncensored remarks to many 90s GP. But unlike Tiff Needell's second career, who is making a living as a television presenter, René's media adventure was shortlived as he was ousted from the commentary box in favour of Ivan Capelli.

He has also been seen in French ice racing, driving for the Snobeck Opel team partnering old Ligier team mate Jacques Laffite. René was also around during the Canadian GP at Montreal in 2000 driving a VW Beetle in one of the support events. Arnoux's best supporting role in the 90s came from being the 'A' in the DAMS F3000 and sportscar teams, led day-to-day by Jean-Paul Driot. In the mid-90s DAMS was by far the best F3000 squad of the field and helped many a French talent to class victories, titles and subsequent F1 berths, among them Olivier Panis, Eric Bernard and 'Jules' Boullion.

Reader's Why by Dan Moakes

Statistically, René Arnoux’s F1 career is extremely interesting, showing him as one of the fastest men around in the turbo-charged Grand Prix era. Not only did he win seven races in the early eighties, but he also set twelve fastest laps, eighteen pole positions (no other driver has had more without being a World Champion) and led twenty-five GPs in total (ahead of champions like Jones, Hunt, Scheckter and Andretti). He was second best qualifier in ’82 and ’83, and led ten of sixteen races in the first of these seasons - more than anyone else. He was a pace-setter throughout the years 1979-1984. The incident pictured came on the race’s twenty-second lap. Arnoux had been worried by a front end vibration on his car for some laps - rightly so as it turned out. As he braked for the Tarzan corner, the left wheel went askew before flying off, hub and brake parts and all. It had been caused when a lower wishbone had failed and led to a fracture in the steering link. With all control gone, the Renault went off the track rapidly and speared upwards off the tyre barrier and guard rail. Not a calm way for your race to end. He was a go-karter from aged 12 to 18, worked in a garage preparing rally cars, and then fulfilled his National Service. In 1972, he won the Volant Shell, progressing to Formula Renault, where he was champion. He also took the honours in Formula Super Renault in 1975. After some F2 racing in 1974 and 1975, he switched teams for 1976. He joined the Martini-Renault squad, finishing title runner-up. This included three outright wins in his MK19, and six fastest laps. The next year, he went one better. He took the MK22 to wins at Silverstone, Pau and Nogaro, plus three on-the-road seconds, and it was a ticket into F1 with Automobiles Martini’s first car at that level. In 1978, he appeared for both Martini and Surtees, but neither team was due to last beyond the season. Three ninth places were Arnoux’s reward, along with a move to the French national team, namely Renault. After two development years, Jean-Pierre Jabouille was to be joined by a second driver in the turbo pioneers’ first truly competitive assault on F1. In 1979 and 1980, Jabouille was to finish in the points just twice. Both of these were wins, however, and the first of these was the first for the team, the driver and for a turbo car. It also came at home. Meanwhile, Arnoux also won two (both in 1980 - Brazil and South Africa), but also took three seconds, a third (the famous Dijon-Prénois battle), a fourth, a fifth and a sixth. Throughout this period, the cars remained somewhat unreliable, yet were fast on a number of circuits. In 1981, Jabouille was replaced by Alain Prost, and once again the Renaults were fast but fragile. René took four more poles (bringing his total to nine at that point) to the two of Prost. Results were less encouraging, with a second a fourth and a fifth. Prost, meanwhile, won three races and his six finishes were all on the podium, gaining him the upper hand. In 1982, relations between the two countrymen broke down when Arnoux, the people’s favourite, went against team orders to win his home race. Instead of letting Prost through, as he’d agreed he would, he added the nine points to his existing score of four from ten events. Prost had been in with a chance of the title, having racked up nineteen points, sixteen behind leader Didier Pironi. Ultimately, the car’s reliability was again to cost the team a chance at both championships. Renault’s pace was only consistently matched by Ferrari, whose own season was ripped apart. Arnoux managed only four scoring results - all on the podium - and Prost did only marginally better. In 1983 there was a change, as René moved over to Ferrari to join Patrick Tambay. It was a strong year for the team, but luck went against the drivers, and their title chances slipped towards season’s end. Arnoux won three to Tambay’s one, but was more erratic and out-scored him by only nine points. In truth Tambay seemed the stronger, and was better liked in the team, but it was Arnoux who would stay on and be joined by Michele Alboreto. Results were less easy to come by in 1984, and relationships between Arnoux and Enzo Ferrari became strained during the season. Although he scored regularly, two seconds and two thirds were his best results (Alboreto took a victory). In Dallas, though, his runner-up slot came from a great charge from the back of the grid, and Arnoux himself rated this as his best F1 performance. In the end, however, it was not enough for Ferrari, and he was out of the team after only one race in 1985. After sitting out the season, he resurfaced in another home team - Ligier. In 1986, this outfit went through a resurgence of form - Arnoux and Jacques Laffite both led the Detroit Grand Prix - but over the winter, Arnoux’s public comments cost the team an Alfa Romeo engine deal. In reality, he was never a feature up front again. The Ligier days, ending in 1989, marked the era of Arnoux as a troublesome backmarker, particularly when Prost was doing the lapping! After this, rare Le Mans outings, with Dodge and Ferrari, were his sole racing activity. He went on to work with the DAMS F3000 team, and with Pedro Diniz and the Forti Corse F1 squad.