"Rene had a special place he would visit sometimes, when boost was sky-high and one-lap-qualifiers fitted. Then he would stare into the abyss, and dance with fate. Eighteen times this gave him a pole lap that was scary to behold. The way he bullied his Ferrari from the back up to second at Dallas '84 - a 180mph bronco flailing between the concrete walls - was awesome. And only Arnoux could conceivably have fought that legendary fight with Villeneuve at Dijon." - Mark Hughes
René Alexandre Arnoux (born July 4, 1948 in Pontcharra, Isère, Rhône-Alpes, France) is a former French racing driver who competed in Formula One from 1978 until 1989. After the conclusion of his Formula One career, Arnoux founded the notable DAMS Formula 3000 team and acted as a commentator and analyst for the French Formula One coverage, TF1, during the mid-1990's.
"In many ways, I always had sympathy for him, because he was from a poor background, with a thick 'country' accent, and there were those in the French racing community who ridiculed him for it." - Nigel Roebuck
- 1 Early Career
- 2 Formula One
- 3 Later Years
- 4 Driving Style
- 5 Rivalries
- 6 Formula One Statistical Overview
- 7 Notes
Arnoux first began his motor racing career in 1973, competing in the French and European Formula Renault championships. Purchasing a Martini MK11 for his first season of racing, Arnoux immediately shone as a talent for the future by winning both championships in his inaugural year of racing. He had dominated the French championship, whilst enjoying a strong rivalry with Patrick Tambay in the European championship. At the end of the season both Arnoux and Tambay were tied on 167 points, however Arnoux was awarded the championship due to his greater number of race wins.
Arnoux's tremendous success in his opening season of motorsport had garnered the attention of the team's in the higher category of motorsport. However now at the late age of 26 in 1974, Arnoux appeared hesitant to make his move into motorsport. He turned down an opportunity to race for the French Ecurie Elf team in Formula Two, however he made a one off appearance for the team in the Nogaro Grand Prix. Arnoux would finish an impressive fourth, running with the pace of the regular Ecurie Elf drivers. He was then invited to drive a McLaren M19A entered by Tony Kitchener in the European Formula 5000 for one round of their championship.
Nonetheless, despite his obvious talent, Arnoux was uncertain on whether to make a full-time career in motorsport. He considered it no more than a hobby and was initially not committed to paving his path to Formula One. In 1975, he commenced a second season in Formula Renault where once again he would go on to win the series, defeating the reigning champion, Didier Pironi.
Following his domination of the Formula Renault series, Arnoux could no longer deny his racing talent and so for 1976, he finally made the decision to move into the Formula Two category. His teammates in the Equip Elf team, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Patrick Tambay and Michel Leclère had all had at least two seasons in Formula Two, and in the case of Jabouille and Leclère, they had previously participated in Formula One.
Both, Arnoux and Tambay would participate in a Martini constructor, whilst Jabouille and Leclère would race a modified chassis of Jabouille's design. The Elf drivers would prove to dominate the championship that year, Arnoux would win four of the twelve races, more than any other driver in the season. However he would lose the championship by a single point, the more experienced Jean-Pierre Jabouille would take the title due to better overall consistency in the championship.
It was a disappointing result for Arnoux to lose the championship by such a small margin, however his arrival on the Formula Two scene had proven to have a much bigger impact than his fellow French drivers in the series. For 1977, both Jabouille and Tambay would graduate to Formula One, whilst Leclère would fade from the racing view. Arnoux remained as the Ecurie Elf Martini-Renault driver in Formula Two, now being partnered by fellow rising star, Didier Pironi in the team.
Arnoux would be left to take a commanding victory in the championship, Pironi proved to be a challenging teammate, however Arnoux's main threat in the championship came from Project Four racer, Eddie Cheever. Nonetheless at the season's end, Arnoux had won the championship with four victories and 52 points, twelve clear of Cheever.
Arnoux would make an entrance in the 1977 24 Hours of Le Mans with Didier Pironi and Guy Fréquelin as co-drivers in a Renault Alpine A442. The car would be the first to be entered by Hughes de Chaunac in the series. Nonetheless, their first venture into Le Mans was a notable failure, the car breaking down on the opening lap of the race.
1978: Martini & Surtees
"When he first came into F1, with Tico Martini's little team in 1978, he was painfully shy and timid, but anyone who had seen drive an F2 car at a place like Rouen Les Essarts had no doubts about his ability and courage." - Nigel Roebuck
Having won the European Formula Two title in 1977, both Arnoux and Martini held ambitions to move into Formula One for 1978. Arnoux remained faithful to Martini and joined them in their Formula One venture for 1978. However the team was severely underfunded and was ultimately poorly prepared for the increased financial costs of operating in Formula One.
The team could not afford to participate in a full Formula One season and of the seven events that they were able to participate, Arnoux was unable to qualify for three of them. When Arnoux blew his engine in private testing, the team were forced to miss the Swedish and Spanish rounds of the championship as they were unable to afford a new engine. When Arnoux's rear wing collapsed at Zandvoort, Martini decided to end its Formula One dream.
Nonetheless there were some positives for Arnoux at Martini. In his first qualified race at Zolder, Arnoux climbed the field where he battled Bruno Giacomelli's McLaren for most of the race. He is also gained a bit of notoriety when the battling duo proved reluctant to allow Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari to lap them. Arnoux would eventually finish the race in ninth position.
However it was at the Österreichring that Arnoux was truly able to demonstrate his talent. He had barely managed to qualify for the race, however a torrential downpour that afflicted the start of the race provided Arnoux with the opportunity he needed. In the opening laps, Arnoux was one of the best handling drivers in the wet conditions. Amazingly he would put the Martini into sixth position. However once the rain subsided, the racing order began to normalise and Arnoux dropped behind the leading cars once again. He would go on to finish ninth, however his wet weather performance had gained the attention of the Formula One fraternity.
When Martini pulled out of the season, Arnoux had been left without a drive. However when Vittorio Brambilla was injured in the tragic accident at Monza that claimed the life of Ronnie Peterson, John Surtees turned to Arnoux to replace Brambilla in his team. The Surtees team had been suffering financially and was little better than the Martini that Arnoux had previously raced. Nonetheless it was an opportunity to remain in the top echelon and Arnoux partnered Surtees in their last two races in Formula One.
Arnoux equalled his best result of ninth at Watkins Glen, however then retired from the race in Montreal. Arnoux had found his inaugural season in Formula One to be incredibly difficult. With his future uncertain, Arnoux had planned to move into Japanese Formula Two for 1979. At the end of the year, he rejoined Martini to compete in the final round of the 1978 Japanese Formula Two championship.
“Why did I choose René? Well, he was a friend also. You know, not a close buddy because we were very different people out of the car, but we got on well, and it was good for the team to have two such different drivers – we had totally different styles." - Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
Arnoux had believed he had lost his opportunity in Formula One at the end of 1978, however his old rival, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, had remembered Arnoux's worth. Jabouille had fought with Arnoux for the 1976 European F2 championship, Jabouille, the elder and more experienced driver had prevented Arnoux from taking the title on his first attempt.
After winning the F2 title in 1976, Jabouille had since led the development of Renault's turbocharged Formula One programme. The first two years of the Renault team in 1977 and 1978 had been learning years for the team, however in 1979, Renault believed they were finally in a position to challenge the leaders in Formula One.
Arnoux was rated as the 63rd greatest driver of the 20th Century by Mark Hughes in the August 1999 issue of Motorsport Magazine. In Alan Henry's book, the Top 100 F1 Drivers of All Time, released in 2008, Arnoux is listed as the 81st greatest Formula One driver.
"Jean-Pierre Jabouille is not very happy as people forget that he won that race." - Rene Arnoux, discussing the 1979 French Grand Prix
"He beat me, yes, and in France… but it didn't worry me. I knew I'd been beaten by the best driver in the world. Maybe against another driver, I would have finished second." - Rene Arnoux, discussing the 1979 French Grand Prix
"Alain Prost is a fantastic driver, but that doesn't mean you are a good team boss. As a driver you only have to focus on one person: you. But as a team boss you have to take care of the whole team. Prost didn't have the experience to do that. It's very difficult to get a big F1 team work towards the same direction." - Rene Arnoux discussing his old rival with Stijn Keuris
Formula One Statistical Overview
Formula One Record
|1978||Automobiles Martini||Martini-Ford Cosworth||0||NC||Report|
|Durex Team Surtees||Surtees-Ford Cosworth|
|1979||Equipe Renault Elf||Renault||17||8th||Report|
|1980||Equipe Renault Elf||Renault||29||6th||Report|
|1981||Equipe Renault Elf||Renault||11||9th||Report|
|1982||Equipe Renault Elf||Renault||28||6th||Report|
|1989||Ligier Loto||Ligier-Ford Cosworth||2||23rd||Report|
|Win Number||Grand Prix|
|1||1980 Brazilian Grand Prix|
|2||1980 South African Grand Prix|
|3||1982 French Grand Prix|
|4||1982 Italian Grand Prix|
|5||1983 Canadian Grand Prix|
|6||1983 German Grand Prix|
|7||1983 Dutch Grand Prix|
|Complete Formula One results|
|3rd||DNQ||Did not qualify|
|5th||Points finish||DNPQ||Did not pre-qualify|
|14th||Non-points finish||TD||Test driver|
|NC||Non-classified finish (<90% race distance)||DNS||Did not start|
|Italics||Scored point(s) for Fastest Lap||[+] More Symbols|
- Race stopped after 31/76 Laps. Half points awarded