Although he never was a Formula 1 champion, Rene Arnoux definitely was one of the best drivers during the early 1980s and one of the best known French drivers in the history of the series.
Winning the titles in the minor championship
He was born in Grenoble, on 4th of July, 1948. Interestingly, his first steps in racing were made in Italy, in the karting races. His talent was spotted by Elf Aquitaine and Arnoux soon started to compete in French Formula Renault in which he won the title in 1973. In the following year, Rene moved to Formula 2 in which he wasn’t so successful but in 1975 he won the title in European Super Renault title.
For the season of 1976, Arnoux returned to Formula 2, driving a Martini-Renault, sponsored by Elf Aquitaine. Rene won three races but failed to win a title, losing to his compatriot Jean-Pierre Jabouille by a tight margin. Before stepping into the world of Formula 1, Arnoux won the title in 1977 European Championship. The Frenchman was in excellent form as he scored four victories and two runner-up positions while at the end of the season he was 12 points ahead of the vice-champion Eddie Cheever.
René Arnoux had a slow start of F1 career
With a respectable experience from other open-wheel series, Arnoux debuted in Formula 1 in 1978. Unfortunately, driving a Ford-powered Martini, Rene failed to impress and haven’t scored from seven starts. Before the end of the season, Martini team retired from the competition, but Arnoux stayed in Formula 1 after he got a chance with Team Surtees in the last two events of the season.
Better results with Renault
Luckily, Renault Elf team offered him a place in the team for 1978. Arnoux was paired with Jabouille who helped him a lot at settling down. After a couple of relatively poor performances, Arnoux showed his qualities during the second half of the season. He finished third at French Grand Prix, scored one point in Austria and finished as a runner-up in the US Grand Prix. He surprised many with his driving style and finally with a fantastic result he has achieved. Rene was 8th overall that year, ahead of Jabouille who earned points only in one race.
In 1980, the Frenchman did even better. Still with the Renault team, Arnoux at one point was the Championship leader. He tied two race wins, in Brazil and South Africa, scored points in Belgium and France and finished second in The Netherlands. That was enough for the sixth position in the Drivers championship and many expected that the Frenchman can go further in 1981.
Video - René Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve epic battle, Dijon 1979
Bitter relationship with Prost
However, the things have turned around when Renault hired Alain Prost as their driver. That year was a big step backward for René who failed to win a single race. His best result was a second place in Austria. The truth is that Renault’s RE30 car was unreliable but what affected Arnoux more than a car was his relationship with Prost. The two looked to stay away from each other and many were saying that they had an animosity towards each other.
Anyway, he stayed with Renault for another year and did much better. But, when he disobeyed the team’s order during French Grand Prix and finished ahead of Prost, it was clear that Arnoux doesn't have a future in Renault. Except for the win on his home soil, in 1982 he also won the Italian Grand Prix and at the end of the season he was sixth.
Title contender with Ferrari
Fortunately, after parting ways with Renault did not have to tremble for new engagement. Ferrari announced the signing of the Frenchman for the 1983 campaign. That year was the best in Arnoux’s career. He was the ’first’ driver in the Scuderia team that year, and finished third in the Drivers’ championship, behind Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost. Arnoux started a season relatively slow, winning points only twice from seven starts, both times finishing third.
But, starting from the Canadian Grand Prix, things started to look much better. Arnoux won the race in Montreal, later he was fastest in Germany and The Netherlands, adding second-place finishes in Austria and Italy. With two races remaining, he was second in the championship, only two points behind Prost. Arnoux was in good form and his Ferrari 126 C3 looked great, but in the last two races, at Brands Hatch and Kyalami, René missed the chance of becoming World champion after failing to win a single point. In the same time, he never managed to win a Grand Prix race again, even after staying in the series for a long time.
Arnoux didn't like to be a second fiddle
Arnoux instantly became one of the fans favorites and expectation for the 1984 campaign were big. But, again his luck was on the bad side. Ferrari signed Michele Alboreto and Rene again was under pressure and he couldn’t cope with it. To tell the truth, Arnoux scored points almost regularly and grabbed four podium finishes that year, but at the end, he was only the 6th, two places behind his new teammate.
The start of 1985 was relatively good for the Frenchman. He finished 4th in the opening race in Brazil, but that was his last outing with Ferrari. Two sides separated after mutual termination of the contract. Stefan Johansson arrived as a replacement, while Arnoux was left without a ride for the rest of the season.
Four years with Ligier
French team Ligier signed Rene in 1986. Already a veteran, he stayed with Ligier for four years. The first season went pretty well as he grabbed points in six races to finish 10th overall in the championship, while 1987 was the beginning of his downfall. Arnoux won only one point, at Spa, and later retired from nine out of 11 races. Things were even worse in 1988 when he couldn’t do anything with a disastrous car. Many considered that he is driving his final year but the French veteran stayed in Formula 1 for another year.
Ligier improved their car for 1989, but it was obvious that Arnoux isn’t capable of doing anymore miracles. Anyway, he managed to score points for the last time, finishing fifth in the Canadian Grand Prix. His last race finished miserably as he was forced to retire in Australia after just four laps.
Respectful results during 12 years in Formula 1
During his 12-year Formula 1 career, Arnoux started in 149 races, scored seven wins, 22 podiums, and 18 pole positions what for a long time was a record for any driver which never won a championship title.
After retiring from racing, Arnoux appeared in some historic racing events, like Goodwood festival of Speed. He is the owner of four indoor kart tracks in France and in the same time he is a successful businessman and owner of two factories.