On July 4, 1948, René Alexandre Arnoux was born in Grenoble, France, a talented driver who, even though he never won a world title, would enter the history of Formula 1. Unlike many other colleagues, René did not discover his passion for engines as a child, but only when he moved to Italy: he was working as a mechanic at Conrero di Moncalieri, developing Opels, here he would understand that he loved racing cars.
"I polished the heads of the engines, I was very skilled at doing it; that's where I learned everything, it was a school of life. I lived in the city, near Porta Nuova. I didn't have a penny in my pocket, but when I left Turin to race in Formula Renault, I knew how to do everything: I was a good driver, but I also knew how to develop the car thanks to my experience as a mechanic, and if necessary, I even drove the stable truck".
Soon, his passion for cars convinced him to start racing in the kart category. The Frenchman manages to demonstrate all his talent, and is chosen to be one of the promising drivers in the Volant Shell competition, which will allow him, in 1972, to enroll in one of the best driving schools ever, that of the Elf, which in these years prepares many champions. In 1973 René participates and wins in the French Formula Renault championship. This affirmation means that in 1976 the Martini team gives him the chance to land in Formula 2. Once again, the French driver takes little to find the feeling with the car: Arnoux wins four races, but nevertheless, at the end of the championship, meets the first disappointment of his career, as compatriot Jabouille manages to win the title.
However, René is determined and in 1977 and conquers the primacy in the Formula 2 World Championship, convincing the Martini team to give him the opportunity to race in Formula 1, which regularly takes place in the first days of March 1978, on the Kyalami circuit. Arnoux is determined to make a good impression, however, despite the MK23 being fitted with Ford-Cosworth engines, the French driver fails to qualify and does not take part in the race. Having skipped the appointment in the United States, René tries again to qualify for the next Monaco Grand Prix, but even in this circumstance the French driver fails to overcome the first elimination phase.
Finally, on the third attempt, Arnoux manages to pass pre-qualifying on the Belgian circuit of Zolder, and in the race he comes ninth, two laps behind the winner, after starting nineteenth. This should be the prelude to a good Spanish weekend, but on the Jarama circuit, René does not participate in pre-qualifying due to the unavailability of engines, after all the engines had suffered anomalies during free practice. Having skipped the trip to Sweden, Martini returns to France. At Paul Ricard, René qualifies eighteenth, and in the race he reaches the finish line fourteenth. The French team, being in economic difficulties, will miss the next race in Great Britain, but will show up in Germany, where however Arnoux will not be able to overcome the pre-qualifying again.
Driven by these latest disappointments, in Austria, on the Zeltweg circuit, the French driver gives his best, starting twenty-sixth and finishing ninth with a car that is certainly not among the best. However, at the next Grand Prix, in Holland, the adventure of Team Martini ended definitively. Arnoux will thus be forced to skip the Italian Grand Prix, but will return to driving a Formula 1 car at Watkins Glen, as Surtees, also on the verge of economic failure, calls him to replace the injured. In the United States, the Frenchman reaches the finish line again ninth, while in Canada he retires, finishing the championship with zero points.
team, will justify the decision by saying that he had found it difficult to find a good driver, which is why it is impossible to communicate to CSI the composition of the team by December 1, 1978, and for the policy followed by Goodyear in the allocation of tires. A setback for René Arnoux, who certainly had not disfigured in the few occasions granted. Fortune however comes to the French driver, as Renault, which is experimenting with the first turbo engines, decides to join him with his former Formula 2 rival, Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
The RS10, equipped with the 1500 cm³ Renault EF1 supercharged engine with two turbines produced by Kühnle, Kopp & Kausch, after having debuted in the Garrett Systems single turbine version on the previous car, is an experimental car, which still has many design defects. For this reason, the two French drivers start the world championship by collecting retirements: Arnoux fails to finish six of the first seven races, winning only a ninth position in Spain, but the project of the engineer Michel Tétu is not wrong, given that Jabouille conquers the first pole position in South Africa, on the third round of the season.
The turning point came at the French Grand Prix, when Renault made the new RS10 available to its drivers, featuring the new turbo engine, the result of two years of hard work. The Dijon circuit, characterized by long fast corners, benefits from the turbocharged engine that Renault is equipped with: and in fact, as early as Friday pre-race they are the fastest. In fact, at the end of the first day of qualifying, Jabouille is the fastest, setting a time of only fifty-six hundredths of a second faster than his teammate Arnoux. The result will also be confirmed on the second day of qualifying, when Jabouille will stop the clock in 1'07"19 and Arnoux 1'07"45; despite a great performance, Villeneuve, with a 1'07"65, will have to settle for third place.
In the first days of the race weekend, many drivers, due to the conformation of the track, full of ups and downs, feel sick and dizzy. For this reason, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Jacky Ickx ask for some measures to be put in their cars to limit this sway. At the start, Gilles Villeneuve got off to a good start and took the lead, taking in front of the poleman Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Jody Scheckter, Nelson Piquet, Jean-Pierre Jarier and Niki Lauda; Arnoux instead starts badly, who started from the front row, who at the end of the first lap is ninth.
But the French driver did not give up, and on the third lap he passed Jones, then Niki Lauda and Jean-Pierre Jarier on the seventh lap, and Nelson Piquet on the eleventh, thus taking him to fourth position, behind Jody Scheckter. The South African, penalized by the tires, resists little, so much so that on the fifteenth lap Arnoux is in third position. On lap 47, Jean-Pierre Jabouille passes Villeneuve, settling in first place and immediately managing to put a certain margin on the Canadian: it is from this moment that the world of Formula 1 will begin to know the class of René Arnoux. In the final laps, on Villeneuve's car, the brakes fail, favoring the comeback of the French driver, who begins to approach the Ferrari driver. However, the lack of fuel in the tank of the Renault, also due to the furious comeback, will cause the petrol pump to fail to draw petrol, forcing Arnoux to make up for the lack of power, and almost to shut down the engine in mixed sections, benefiting Gilles.
In the last three laps, unanimously recognized as the most thrilling duel in the history of Formula 1, the two drivers engage in an intense battle, which goes far beyond the limits of their cars, made up of courageous and risky overtaking and counter- overtaking, with the fastest Ferrari in the mixed and the turbo-compressed Renault recovering on the short straight. After the overtaking on the Ferrari, René seems to be able to stretch and take some margin on the Canadian driver, but Gilles doesn't give up, and with two laps to go he gets closer. The Canadian, with an incredible attack on the first corner, brakes at the last moment and blocks both wheels, surprising the French driver and regaining second position. However, Arnoux returns in front of the Double Droite de Villeroy, at the end of a very long wheel to wheel, but Villeneuve takes advantage of a lack of power from the Renault engine, in the central part of the circuit, to return to second position. At the finish line, the Canadian Ferrari driver prevails by only fourteen cents, but René equally enters the history of Formula 1 by right.
"With eight laps to go, the regular fuel flow began to fail. Despite this, I tried to take a second place that was worth a lot to me, almost a victory. When I overtook Gilles I thought it was already done, but instead I found in an incredible battle. If the engine had worked regularly, I would have had no difficulty in detaching the Canadian: instead, in those conditions, I was forced to surrender. Sin. We also touched three times, without malice, just because we were motivated by the desire to overtake us. After all, it was important for me to finish second, but third is still a good result, the best of my career in Formula 1. For the moment Villeneuve he wins one to zero, but I hope to soon have the opportunity for a rematch".
This duel overshadows Jabouille, who in the meantime crossed the finish line first. In fact, the 120.000 people present at the circuit applaud Gilles and René, who, instead of accusing each other, further strengthen their friendship by shaking hands and joking on the podium:
"Once the Grand Prix was over, everyone ran to me and Gilles, while Jabouille was not highly regarded. For him, taking a French car to victory in his home race and not being the center of attention, must not have been beautiful: since that day he has always reproached me. On the podium everyone was expecting a boxing match. Instead we looked at each other, we shook hands, and we burst out laughing. We were too friends to transcend".
A few years later, Arnoux will reveal what he said to Villeneuve on this occasion, and why, years later, their challenge is still being talked about:
"I told him: you are crazy number one, I am number two. He was a tightrope walker who walked on the wire without a net or counterweight. I talk about that race two or three times a week: it means that not much has happened in Formula 1 in the last thirty years, and in any case, today it wouldn't be possible, you would be put in prison for this type of behavior".
In reality, if on the one hand the show offered by Villeneuve and Arnoux exalts the French public and the viewers, on the other hand it gives rise to an intense debate on the correctness or otherwise of the maneuvers held by the two drivers, since both are only in their second year in Formula 1, and it is assumed that they did not understand what risk they both faced. In this regard, the Alfa Romeo engineer, Carlo Chiti, declares:
"I didn't see the television, but they told me in great detail what happened. In my opinion, it was not an edifying show. Collisions, doors and all kinds of improprieties. These pilots are badly accustomed, because no one does never respect the regulations, and there are no punishments. It is clear that, running at certain speeds in a car, there are risks, but looking for them is pure madness. The most serious fact is that it is not only young people who behave in this manner, but also the elderly, those pilots who should lead by example. Then when serious accidents occur, responsibility is sought".
But René responds to the accusations, stating:
"People are impressed because they are not used to seeing certain scenes. Those who attend Formula 2 and 3 races are not surprised by certain overtaking, for these situations defined as thrilling. The risk is always quite calculated. When an accident happens it is because there is an unexpected event, due to a mistake or because the car breaks down. Our cars are built specifically to go fast, to brake quickly and to overtake at the limit".
Two weeks later the championship stops at Silverstone, but the story is not over yet. Both Villeneuve and Arnoux are called up by the race direction:
"At the next Grand Prix, we heard from the loudspeakers: Villeneuve and Arnoux are called up by the race management".
René will tell the French newspaper L'Equipe:
"Come on, I open the door, I see the manager I knew and I say to him: What happened?"
"For me everything is fine, but there are five people waiting for you. There were four pilots plus Lauda, who takes the floor as leader, and says: We think you drove like crazy in Dijon. You could have touched the wheels and one of you could have taken off and landed on the crowd. dead and Formula 1 would have suffered serious damage. Gilles, what do you have to say? With Villeneuve, we looked at each other and said to each other: We ended up crazy".
But Lauda replies:
"If tomorrow the same situation arises, I will behave in the same way. I was laughing and waiting for Lauda's answer, who asked me: And you? And I reply, saying: See Niki, if it had been Arnoux against Lauda, I would have finished second and not third because the duel would not have taken place. And everyone laughed. We looked at each other with Gilles and we wondered what we went to do there".
After disappointing qualifying, both Gilles and René will make a good comeback at Silverstone, but the Canadian driver will be forced to retire on lap 51, while Arnoux will be the only one not to be lapped by Regazzoni, finishing second at the finish line and climbing back onto the podium. In subsequent races, Renault, while presenting a new version of the RS10, will continue to suffer from a lack of reliability, preventing Arnoux from reaching the finish line in Germany, Holland, Italy and Canada.
René and Gilles will be back as protagonists in the last Grand Prix of the season, on the Watkins Glen circuit, after a violent downpour hits the track twenty minutes from the start: the Canadian, in fact, will dominate the race, crossing the finish line with an advantage by forty-eight seconds on Arnoux, who will return to the podium and close the championship in eighth place in the drivers' standings, with eighteen points.
In 1980 the Frenchman started the season in a great way. After being betrayed on the first appointment in Argentina by the double failure of the engine in qualifying, and by the failure of the suspension in the race, the satisfaction of the first victory finally arrives in Brazil, after a two years long chase. The Grand Prix should have taken place on the Jacarepaguá circuit, but the mayor of Rio de Janeiro complains about the excessive expenditure incurred for the organization of the race; furthermore, the ban imposed by the Brazilian authorities on car races in the country following the oil crisis calls into question the existence of the grand prix itself, as well as its location. However, before the date set for the Grand Prix, the Confederação Brasileira de Automobilismo confirms that the ban concerns only national races, and that the race would take place on Sunday January 27, 1980, on the Interlagos track, even if the drivers criticize the choose because of the poor safety of the track, so much so as to threaten not to run there.
The GPDA, an association that brings together Formula 1 drivers, will however decide to confirm the presence of its drivers at the Brazilian race, as the organizers have meanwhile committed to almost completely resurfacing the circuit and reinforcing the protections in many points of the track. In the days before the race, an inspection of the track will be carried out by the president of the GPDA, Jody Scheckter, who will detect the presence of bumps on the asphalt at turns 1. Free practice takes place on the Thursday before the race, lasting three hours, and the fastest is Didier Pironi on Ligier in 2'23"06, given that the roughness of the asphalt heavily damages the side skirts mounted on the single-seaters.
On Friday the best time was set by Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who finished in 2'21"40 and set the new track record, while Arnoux was second, almost nine tenths of a second behind. The Renault, pushed by a turbo engine, are favoured by the altitude of the track, 850 meters above sea level, which partly limits the power of traditional engines at atmospheric pressure. Furthermore, another advantage is given by the Michelin tires, since the French house, even in the presence of a high temperature, can offer soft compound tires.
On Saturday the weather conditions change, so that the morning tests are conducted in the rain, while for the official ones it is clear again. However, no one is able to beat the time set by Jabouille on Friday, but Didier Pironi conquers the front row at the expense of René, who fails to go beyond the sixth position, accusing his teammate Jabouille for almost a second. In the race, Gilles Villeneuve is the author of a good start and takes the lead, but the sudden deterioration of the tires will penalize him. On lap 12, the classification sees Jean-Pierre Jabouille in command, followed by Laffite and Arnoux.
However, on the twenty-fourth lap, the race leader retires due to the turbo malfunction: he moves on to lead René, who maintains the lead until the end of the race, thus celebrating his first career triumph, allowing himself the luxury of completing the lap of honor crouched in Patrese's car, because his car stops immediately after the finish line. Once in the pits, in a moment the mechanics of the Regie swoop down on him to embrace him. After the champagne, the celebrations and the pats on the back, Arnoux is ready to tell the salient moments of his magical race:
"All in all, it was an easy win, because the car responded perfectly to the finish line. Even if I must say that my Renault betrayed me at the last bend, probably because the petrol was out, but luckily the victory was already my. I got off to a good start and in a few laps, together with Jabouille and the Ligiers, we managed to make a void behind us. For more than half the race I remained in a waiting position, above all trying to save tires. When Laffite stopped, I was already sure of getting a good position. Then, when my partner Jabouille had to retire, I realized that victory was within reach, even if I was very afraid, because I felt all the responsibility of the team on me, and it was the first time I was in this position".
Towards the end of the race, De Angelis, second at the finish line, had approached threateningly, but René explains the reason that led him to slow down, favoring the comeback of the Italian driver:
"Elio had come close because I had had to round other competitors. Overtaking was the real danger. More than once, other riders hindered me as I passed them, and on one occasion I even risked ending up in the head of the tail".
René Arnoux smiles happily next to his wife. The memory of the battle on the last lap with Villeneuve in the French Grand Prix the previous year, which had seen him succumb, erases it by climbing to the top step of the Interlagos podium.
The encore arrives a month later, on Saturday 1st March 1980, in South Africa. Renault is going through a very fortunate technical moment, given that during the tests that take place at the Paul Ricard on February 13, 1980, the best times are recorded by the French cars. The strength of Viry Chatillon's team, where 140 highly specialized professionals are present, is also evident on the Kyalami circuit where, in the pre-tests on Wednesday, the best time was set by Jean-Pierre Jabouille, and in the first day of testing on Thursday, the two Renaults confirmed their superiority, accentuated by the altitude of the track, which favors turbocharged engines.
The following day, the two drivers confirmed the front row, monopolizing it for the third time in history. At the start, Jean-Pierre Jabouille maintains the lead ahead of Arnoux, but on the fifteenth lap the left rear attack of the anti-roll bar breaks, which however does not limit the progression of René's teammate, as long as, at the lap sixty-two a tire bursts. He thus moves on to lead Arnoux, who is once again able to exploit another technical problem of his teammate, who is forced to park the car along the track sixteen laps from the checkered flag, and wins the second consecutive race. The Régie garage made up of four teams of four mechanics each, four engineers, the general manager Gerard Larousse, the technical director Michel Tetu, and the press officer Marie Claude Beaumont, burst with joy again, even if, as the director admits sportsman Jean Sage:
"This new victory by Arnoux has put us in a lot of trouble. It is inevitable that we will be forced to make a choice on the role that our drivers will have to play".
Given that René should be the second driver, and instead, with this further statement, he becomes the momentary leader of the world championship standings. Luck, however, begins to fail starting from the United States Grand Prix, where Arnoux, after having set the second-best time in qualifying again, does not go beyond the ninth position in the race, due to a puncture, while in Belgium he will be fourth at the end of a good comeback. On the Zolder circuit, the two Renaults, while closing with the fifth and sixth fastest time in qualifying, confirm themselves as the fastest on the main straight, where René reaches 269 km/h, against only 250 km/h recorded by poleman Alan Jones, but not sufficiently agile in the mixed sections.
Starting from the sixth position, in the race, after seventeen laps Arnoux loses control of the car and spun: after restarting tenth, the French driver will be the author of a good recovery, passing first Scheckter and De Angelis, between the thirty-third and the thirty-fifth tour, to then duel with Villeneuve. The Canadian will resist René's attacks, up to the fifty-third pass. The final fourth place guarantees the maintenance of the leadership in the standings, with 21 points, however, in Monaco, not only the French driver loses the leadership of the championship, but it becomes clear that the results at the beginning of the season were due to the height of the places where they were. present the circuits, which favoured the turbo engine of Renault.
Both drivers end up in the rear in qualifying, and are forced to retire in the race. The French team awaits answers from the French Grand Prix, and Arnoux seems to be able to give them thanks to a newfound feeling with the car, which allows him to hit another second place on Saturday. The following day, René fought in the early stages of the race with Didier Pironi, but a problem with the accelerator forced him to be overtaken by his compatriot, Jones and Piquet, and to retreat to fifth position. The RE20 continues not to be competitive, and the Frenchman does not even score points at Silverstone, due to yet another failure of the engine, while in Germany he definitively comes out of the title fight.
The situation seems to change in Austria, where Arnoux wins pole by beating Jabouille, but in the race he quickly recovers the lead, overtaking first Pironi and then Jones. The hope of being able to hit the third win of the season does not last long, given that a problem with the tires, on the twenty-second lap, will force him to make an early pit stop, and only finish ninth, while his teammate wins the Grand Prix.
Arnoux takes the win in Zandvoort, in the Netherlands, where he takes his fourth pole of the year, three tenths behind Jabouille. At the start, René loses the first position, but will recover it thanks to Jones's off-track. However, once again the tires will force him to slow down, once again abandoning the leadership of the race. Piquet wins at the end of a good comeback, while Arnoux overtakes Laffite in the final, arriving at the finish line second. The season finale is stingy with satisfactions: the French driver finishes tenth in Monza, retires to Canada, and crosses the finish line in seventh place in the United States, closing the championship with 29 points in the drivers' standings.
1981 opens with a big news: Renault replaces Jabouille, who broke his legs in Montreal, with Alain Prost. The professor immediately makes it clear that he has not come to be the second driver, closing the first race by climbing on the podium in Brazil, while Arnoux is forced to retire. This start below expectations will be the start to the most difficult season in Formula 1 for the French driver. In Belgium, during the tests, the GPDA - the drivers' union - issues a statement in which it criticizes the presence on the track of thirty cars, a fact that also causes a considerable gathering of men in the pit lane, which in Zolder is of rather cramped in itself, and asks that only twenty-six be allowed to participate in the qualifying session on Saturday.
The request will be accepted, bringing the competitors to only twenty-four, but during the second session the weather conditions will affect the tests, forcing the drivers to mount slick tires only in the last quarter of an hour of testing; surprisingly, René Arnoux, at the wheel of the new Renault RE30, will not be able to improve the 25th time set on Friday. After this unfortunate experience, at Paul Ricard René seems to have the opportunity to dispel the taboo with the home race, but Prost wins his first career success, while the French driver has to settle for fourth place. And it won't even be enough to be the poleman on the Silverstone circuit, given that a few laps from the end of the race Arnoux will be betrayed by the engine.
The only podium that the Renault driver will be able to get will be at the Austrian Grand Prix, where he comes second behind the Ligier of Laffite, to then collect four more consecutive retirements and finish the season ninth in the drivers' standings, with only eleven points. This strange situation did not turn out well even in 1982, as Arnoux started the world championship having to submit to the choice of Renault to entrust the role of first driver to Prost. The professor repays the choice of team principal Larrouse, winning in Kyalami, South Africa, while René, after having made yet another pole, has to be satisfied with the lowest step of the podium.
The situation will worsen from the Brazilian Grand Prix onwards, when Prost will do an encore and enter the fight for the world championship, while Arnoux will not see the finish line in the next five races, except in the United States, on the Detroit street circuit, where he only arrives tenth, and to Zolder, when on May 8, 1982, at 1:53 pm, during official tests, René will lose his great friend-rival Gilles Villeneuve. That loss will deeply affect Arnoux: the French, also thanks to the continuous retirements, will take a while to recover.
In Holland, after starting for the umpteenth time on pole, on lap fifteenth Piquet will be able to overtake Arnoux, placing himself in third place: the French driver's race will however stop shortly after, on lap 21, when he goes straight to the first corner and will go off the track at almost 260 km/h. The car will end up on the barrier made up of a row of tires, but Arnoux will only be able to get out with a severe bruise on his left leg.
The right opportunity will come during the French Grand Prix, as Arnoux will manage to take pole position, two tenths behind his teammate, Alain Prost. In the race, thanks to Piquet's retirement, the French driver is in the lead, but from the pits they ask him to let his team mate pass, as the latter is fighting for the title. However, the desire to dispel the taboo with the home race is too strong, so René ignores the team order and returns to victory after two years. Renault triumphs but splits the team in two, as this decision explodes the relationship with Prost, who roams furiously in the paddock, before ignoring him on the podium, while René enjoys spraying the audience with champagne:
"If at the end of the championship I am missing three points to win the title, I will know who to say thank you to. After the San Marino Grand Prix I had declared that Didier had done well to take advantage of the opportunity. But it was at the beginning of the season, and there was no agreement to establish precedence between the two pilots".
Prost declares, who then adds:
"We, on the other hand, had decided that Arnoux should let me pass. From the pits the sign was displayed to him several times to wait for me and he ignored it. We had agreed on the tactics even ten minutes before the race. Now it's over an hour. friendship, I have one more rival to beat. In any case, he could not have overtaken me if the skirts system had worked properly on my car. I had a terrible effort to drive, and I was just making sure not to let Pironi pick me up. I was sure I would win. At the end of the year. Renault will have to decide, if he doesn't leave, I'll leave".
But René defends himself, declaring:
"My Renault had strong vibrations to the rear wheels. I was afraid of having to stop at every step. For this reason I pulled as much as possible, to have the time necessary for a possible stop. I could not risk making Alain go forward, only to see myself overtake also from the others. I seem to have acted with intelligence".
For his part, Jean Sage, sporting director of the French team, comments on the incident, declaring:
"We read in the newspapers that Arnoux is contacting other teams: he made his choice of him".
But in parallel, to those who ask the French driver if he will switch to Ferrari, the current Renault driver replies:
"I have been hearing this for two years, but for the moment there is nothing concrete. Now I do my races, then we'll see".
Despite the certainty of having to leave the French team, which has helped grow to become a top team capable of competing for the title, Arnoux's good moment also continues in Austria, where he climbs on the podium after finishing second at the finish behind Patrick Tambay. On the occasion of the Italian Grand Prix will come the opportunity to be able to announce his next destination: for the Ferrari fans, who still remember the 1979 duel with the late Gilles Villeneuve, the only driver who can take the legacy of Canadian pilot is only one, Renè Arnoux. Enzo Ferrari, having heard the news that the French driver would have left Renault, in great secrecy, meets the French driver on Wednesday September 8, 1982, and in a moment he finds the agreement that both show they particularly care:
"My best memory, and I have many, concerns the first time I had breakfast with the engineer Ferrari. That day I was very selfish. I came alone, I did not want absolutely no lawyer, no manager. I really wanted speaking in front of a person who had made me dream all my life. I think the Commendatore appreciated my simple approach. We had dinner in the little house in Fiorano, the cook knew how to prepare extremely good dishes, it was not easy to avoid binging. We chatted about places, people, sports and other drivers. Only at the end, did we talk about my future in Ferrari. We immediately found an agreement, because driving for the Scuderia Ferrari had always been my dream, and we parted without signing anything. me, Enzo Ferrari's handshake is worth more than a scribble on a piece of paper".
To make this weekend unforgettable will not only be the announcement, arrived a few hours after the meeting, which will indicate the salary for the season in 1983, since Sunday, in Monza, thanks to an incredible start from the third row, at the end of the first lap René finds himself in front of everyone, and by running a masterful race he reaches the finish line first, preceding his future teammate Tambay and Andretti, but above all being celebrated by his future fans as if he were already wearing the Prancing Horse suit, despite having won by arriving at the finish in front of a Ferrari:
"I wanted to gain the esteem of the Italian people, and I think that by winning I presented myself in the best possible way as a Ferrari driver for next year. People know that I signed for Maranello, they saw me in the photographs. I think I took something away from Ferrari by winning at Monza: in the sense that I gave something to sport and to myself, and sport and Arnoux are two entities that are of great interest to Ferrari. I dedicate the victory to Gilles Villeneuve, who was a great friend of mine and who was a great champion. I also needed Monza to make me understand even more how and how much he was loved. I saw writings for Gilles, sheets with his face drawn. I really touched a love".
The next day, winner of the Italian Grand Prix, in the late afternoon he returns to Maranello. For Arnoux, this is little more than a courtesy visit, an exchange of views and compliments with Enzo Ferrari, but the opportunity also serves to work in the future, given that the driver's measurements are taken to create the seat. Speaking of the following season, René is confident and promises Ferrari to win the 1983 world championship:
"In the life of a Formula 1 driver, money also counts. If a valuable tennis player or a high level golfer can make billions without taking risks, it seems fair that we too expect to be paid well. But what pushes us to run, the real spring is the world championship dream, the pleasure of showing everyone that we are the best, the fastest. Ferrari is a myth, a point of arrival. Over the years I have fought for Renault with all my heart, with the hope of achieving the goal for me and for the team, which has worked to its full potential. Unfortunately, we have not had any luck, and I am looking for this luck where I know it is easier to grab it. At the same time, I realize that next year, with so many turbo cars on the track, it will be even more difficult to reach the world championship, I feel that in Maranello I will have every chance to make my wish come true".
Then, the memory goes back to his Canadian friend and rival, who recently passed away:
"I liked Gilles because he was very good, and because he was pure. He believed in sport, in competitive spirit, in professionalism. He above all, and I too, have received a lot of criticism because we have always tried to go to the maximum, sometimes beyond the barrier of the car's performance. But this is precisely the philosophy with which you have to face the races. In my opinion, being an accountant on the track is a betrayal for the fans".
The Frenchman, having closed his history with Renault, is finally free to concentrate on Ferrari, and begins his sixth season in Formula 1 with the aim of winning the first world championship of his career.
The 1983 season, however, saw the introduction of new rules into the Formula 1 regulations. In a meeting of the International Automobile Sports Federation on October 13, 1982, a strong modification of the technical regulation was decided, which now prohibits side skirts, four-wheel drive and the presence of cars with over four wheels, bringing the minimum weight of single-seaters to 540 kg by forcing the assembly of the flat car bottom, of the minimum height from the ground of six centimeters, of a deformable front structure in front of the pedal set, the reduction of the size of the rear wings, placing a limit on the capacity of the tank to 250 kg and authorizing refuelling in running.
These decisions, also supported by the drivers, would have forced the teams to modify the cars already planned for the 1983 season, and in fact exceeded the Agreement of Concord which had frozen the technical regulations until December 31, 1984. However, after a meeting, held in Modena on October 23, 1982, the manufacturers decided to elaborate a package of counter-proposals, which would have been examined by the Formula 1 Commission on November 3th.
In this meeting an agreement was found between the federation and the teams, and to give the latter more time to modify the cars, in order to respect the new technical standards, it was decided to start the season on March 13th with the Brazilian Grand Prix, and to move the South African race to October. In exchange for accepting the rule that abolishes side skirts, FISA agrees not to change the engine regulations at least until the end of the 1985 season. In any case, these changes put the manufacturers in difficulty, who mostly adapted the cars of the previous year to the new regulation: in fact, even presenting new codes, they are almost all built on the mono-shells of the previous year, as in the case of the Ferrari 126C2B.
For the development of the new 126 C3, Ferrari technicians rely on the Fiat Research Center in Orbassano and the Experimentation Center in Mirafiori, where tests are conducted in the wind tunnel, while all the sporting activities of the Scuderia Ferrari are transferred to the Sports Management, to make it as independent as possible from that intended for production cars. For the first time on a Ferrari, the chassis, designed by Harvey Postlethwaite, acts as a bodywork and is built with composite materials, aluminium, Kevlar, Nomex and carbon fiber, in two heat-bonded half-shells. These new materials, together with reinforcement ribs at key points, will help increase the car's stiffness, and crash tests will highlight the significant increase in shock absorption capacity. For the rest, the new car is nothing more than a slightly modified 126 C2B, given that they are identical engine, which now delivers over 600 hp at 10.500 rpm in race configuration, gearbox and braking system.
The suspensions are also similar, although they have thinner arms to remedy the abnormal wear of the front tires. The rear wing, which on some occasions has side appendages that allow you to circumvent the restriction on the size of the rear wing, is designed according to the new rules, and limits the loss of grip due to the absence of side skirts. Like the previous single-seater, the 126 C3 is also equipped with a controversial system for mixing water with petrol to be injected into the combustion chamber, to overcome problems of overheating of the cylinder walls. On Thursday March 3, 1983, the new Ferrari is presented in the forecourt of the Sporting Direction, and to the journalists present at the event, Arnoux says:
"I think I can win the world championship. It is difficult, if not impossible, to replace Villeneuve, but I will try: we had the same way of thinking, driving and living".
The premises are good, given that the previous day, in the last tests at Fiorano, before sending the cars to Rio, Tambay sets the absolute record. However, the start of the 1983 World Cup will not be as René would have liked. During the Silverstone tests, carried out fifteen days before the debut, engine cooling problems are highlighted that are not present on the 126C2/B brought as a touchstone, so for this, the aerodynamics of the old model are adopted again.
Ferrari has chosen to build an arrow-shaped car, with low and very rear air intakes and radiators placed on the side, but despite being less extreme than the Brabham BT52 and the very special Toleman TG183, this will be carried on the track practically always with very heavy bellies. long and inclined and with the radiators bent forward 45° like the 126 C2B. At the Brazilian Grand Prix, the only completely new car is the Brabham BT52 born from a blank sheet after the regulatory changes made the BT51 tested in October 1982 inoperable. Despite everything, Arnoux starts the championship confident:
"Now I am almost thirty-five, I have competed in sixty-four Grand Prix and obtained four victories: at this point I have only one ambition, to reach the world title, which is why I came to Ferrari. Renault had offered me excellent chances, but at the same time had relegated me last year to a role of second driver, preferring to support Prost globally. And then, when they called me to Mannello and made me clear proposals, precise, I accepted. I'll play all my chances with Ferrari, on par with Patrick Tambay. If he is better and faster than me, I will bow, no problem. But I want to fight until the math, that is the score, puts my back to the wall. What it means to be at Ferrari I have already said more than once. It is the best. It is not an unbeatable team, it does not have the magic wand to win races, otherwise it would be too easy. The great merit is the preparation, the seriousness, the experience. The new Fiorano racing department will also allow us to develop research and studies more quickly. We have an exceptional engine, the best of all. We have to work on the aerodynamics and on the chassis. If we get positive results in these fields, we will not there will be more problems. On the sporting level, I immediately tell the Ferrari fans that I cannot and do not want to make my great friend Gilles Villeneuve forget. I will try, however, with all my perhaps to be his spiritual heir, to put all my ability, my courage, my will to serve the Scuderia, without forgetting the personal goal of winning the world title".
In Brazil, on the second day of qualifying, René Arnoux manages to climb up to sixth place, despite the great heat that hits the circuit: the air temperature reaches 43°, and that of the asphalt 60°, enormously penalizing the turbo power units, which break in series. And during the race it will be the tires that go into crisis, forcing the Frenchman to a poor tenth place on his debut:
"It was a great pain I could not keep the car on the road. The engine continued to have power and ran beautifully but I was often in trouble, especially in the corners. I was able to do a few laps well, but on many occasions I was very slow. We hope in the next race".
Before the next race, René, interviewed by the press, lets himself go to a strong outlet, in which he talks about his opponents, the car, the psychological pressures.The French driver hasn't been in Maranello for long, however he admits:
"It's a constant confrontation, with your teammate, with your rivals. Everything you have done before doesn't count. If you make a mistake, you are immediately stupid. Ours is a ruthless sport. We are paid well, pampered and versed, but stay cold and not feeling the stress, it is practically impossible. The nervous system of the drivers is always put to the test. It is this helplessness that bothers me, not being able to prove every time that you are strong, that you know how to drive well. The truth is that you rarely compete on equal terms. Do you remember the duel with Villeneuve in Dijon? beautiful of my career. Even if lost".
Then, speaking of the initial technical difficulties encountered in Brazil, René declares:
"Why is Ferrari in difficulty at the start of the season? It's simple, ours is not just a Formula 1 team, it is also a prestigious car manufacturer. But it cannot afford, it does not want to, by philosophy, to be fair, to cheat on the regulations, to seek some kind of deception to gain advantage. The same happens to Renault. For years I have had to fight with people who put you in front of the accomplished facts. Once the skirts, then the hydraulic lifts, then the uneven weight, now the flying supplies in the race, and we always chasing, chewing bitter, to try to recover in some way. Now, it will be necessary to wait and see the new car, ready in just over a month. For the moment we must do our utmost, in conditions of inferiority. We have an engine without equal, but starting each time with a load that can be up to 100 kg higher than the others is a significant handicap. The weight-power ratio is decisive in racing cars, more than aerodynamics. less light means consuming more tires, which are very important, subjecting the brakes to excessive effort, giving up more competitive solutions. I am convinced that already here in Long Beach I will be able to begin to climb the slope. I am ready to commit myself fully, to give everything. I do not feel inferior to anyone and I am sure that the team will put me in a position to compete in an excellent race. We begin to collect some points, even not in the very first positions, and then we'll see. I will try to get a good place on the starting grid: on this track it can be decisive. Above all I will try to fine-tune the car, choosing the right tires, in order to compete in a race that is not disappointing. For the fans and above all for myself".
In Long Beach, on the first day of official testing, René sets the best time, ahead of Alain Prost and Patrick Tambay, but during the night between Friday and Saturday, the technicians eliminate the troughs present on the Seaside Way, and the following day his partner. team manages to improve and conquer pole position. At the start, Patrick Tambay keeps the lead of the race, but Keke Rosberg, who started from the second row, immediately tries to get behind the French duo of Ferrari: the collision is inevitable between the Finnish driver and Tambay, while René loses ground and falls into fourth. position. During the first laps of the race, Arnoux begins to be penalized by the deterioration of the tires, and falls back in the standings. Towards the end of the race, René will move up the rankings until he reaches the points, after having lost positions due to a second tire change, and will find himself battling Cheever for fifth place.
The two will approach Laffite, and on lap sixty-seventh the French driver will be able to pass both and get into fourth position. Three laps from the end the classification will change again, following the retirement of Patrese, third up to that moment. Therefore, having reached the finish line, Arnoux manages to complete an exceptional comeback and take the first podium with the colors of the Scuderia Ferrari. Although the car could not guarantee maximum competitiveness, after the encouraging performance in the United States, in France it is expected that Ferrari will be able to repeat itself. Instead, once again, the cars with Goodyear tires are penalized by the compounds brought by the US manufacturer, so much so that in qualifying the drivers are unable to complete even one lap.
As if that were not enough, during the tests the Ferrari broke three engines and three turbines, but despite this, Arnoux managed to conquer the fourth time. The race will be similar to the previous ones, with René forced to suffer from tire decay, first forcing him to lose positions, and then return to the pits to change tires and top up the fuel, plummeting to eighth place in the standings. During the race, the French driver will be able to recover only one position, while the former teammate, Alain Prost wins for the sixth time in the Formula 1 World Championship, and ironically dedicates the triumph to Arnoux, after waiting for this for a year occasion, that is, since he was mocked, in his opinion, by his teammate, now switched to Ferrari:
"I dedicate this victory to the team and to René Arnoux. It was one of my best successes. No, not difficult from a technical point of view, but full of satisfactions. I was driving a new car that started two weeks ago. I couldn't make the slightest mistake. I was so focused that now I have a sore. of tremendous stomach".
In Imola, on the occasion of the first day valid for qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix, despite Ferrari showing serious technical problems with the injection, during the morning free practice René set the best time, ahead of Nelson Piquet and the duo of Renault, Alain Prost and Eddie Cheever. Arnoux manages to get pole by first warming up the tires for two laps, then stopping in the pits to cool them, and then using them again in the fast lap. The following tests on Saturday will be characterized by great uncertainty: first Arnoux lowers his time, beaten shortly after by Nelson Piquet, then Patrick Tambay manages to bring the limit to 1'32"603, so it's the turn of the other Frenchman, Alain Prost, who in turn sees his time beaten again by Piquet.
Then, however, ten minutes from the end of the tests Arnoux manages to beat Piquet's time, thus winning his fifteenth pole position in the Formula 1 World Championship. René, very happy for the feat, is the only one within Ferrari to unbalance himself in a favorable forecast. Undaunted by the crowd that surrounds him and presses him at every step, the little French driver says in his Italian drawl:
"I see only one car crossing the finish line first, Ferrari number twenty-eight. It was a fantastic fight for qualifying. I found the right lap quite easily. In the race, however, it will be different, no one knows what can happen badly. I had a slight understeer problem which could prove to be a racing handicap".
Then, speaking of the Italian cheering towards the Ferrari drivers, Arnoux admits:
"This audience is wonderful, indescribable. I knew about Imola's enthusiasm for Ferrari, but I didn't imagine it would go that far. It made me feel at home. Some say that a racing driver doesn't hear the public, but I say no. If you are cold you may not feel the passion of the crowd, but I consider myself a sentimental one and an audience like this from Imola really helps me a lot".
Uncertainty will also dominate the race, right from its first laps. At the start, the two Ferrari drivers take the lead, with René Arnoux ahead of Patrick Tambay, who passed Riccardo Patrese. But on the third lap the Italian driver moves to second place, and on the fifth lap he completes the run-up, taking the lead after taking advantage of the tire problems that penalize Arnoux's driving. The French driver returns to the pits to make a stop on lap twenty-first, dropping to fifth place, while on lap thirty-three, when Patrese changes tires, he loses over twenty-three seconds, against the fifteen used by Tambay, thus giving up the first position. Arnoux can only go back to third place. On lap fifty-five Patrese approaches Patrick Tambay, who finds engine problems, managing to snatch the first position, but shortly after, however, arrived at the Variante Alta, he goes off the track. The French driver returns to the command of the race and keeps it up to the checkered barrier, while, in the meantime, René Arnoux also loses control of the car and spun, allowing Alain Prost to take second place. At the end of the race, the disappointment mixed with the satisfaction for the audience involved René, who admits:
"I am very happy for the pole position, for the Ferrari victory, and for being on the podium. I am very happy for this joy of the public. So, I should be satisfied with the day, but no, because for me the satisfaction is of win races. I led six laps in the lead, and I believed in victory. Then, something to the tires...".
In Monte Carlo, on Thursday the fastest is Alain Prost, but René Arnoux is following again; the positions will remain blocked even after the Saturday session, as rain falls on the Principality, and therefore no rider is able to improve the times obtained on Thursday. The adverse weather conditions will also continue on Sunday morning, and then reappear, albeit modestly, up to about half an hour before the start, which sees Alain Prost keep his head, while René is immediately passed by Eddie Cheever and by Keke Rosberg. The French driver's race soon ended, as he collided with Laffite's car on lap six. Subsequently, Arnoux's Ferrari crashed into a curb, damaging the left rear tire and the electronic control unit.
On the first day of testing of the sixth round of the season, held on the Spa circuit, René is unable to go beyond the fifth time. And just as it had happened a few weeks earlier in Monte Carlo, rain and cold in Belgium do not allow the drivers to improve the performances obtained on Friday. The adverse weather will then lead the drivers to criticize the conditions of the track, which will also threaten not to take part in the race. These, however, will decide to postpone the decision regarding the holding of the Grand Prix to Sunday, after having carried out the warm-up.
Shortly before the start of the race, the sky is cloudy, but the dreaded rain does not appear in the following minutes. So, after the first start is canceled, at the second start De Cesaris is again the quickest to take the lead, followed by Alain Prost, Patrick Tambay and René Arnoux. In the following laps, despite the tightness of the tires penalizing Ferrari again, the French driver managed to contain Nelson Piquet's attacks, until on the seventeenth lap the Brazilian driver managed to overtake him at the Eau Rouge. Arnoux's race, already difficult for him, ends on lap 23, shortly after refuelling and returning to the track in seventh place, due to engine failure. Back in the pits, René does not hide his disappointment:
"Maybe I'm cut off from the championship, I'm too far behind in the standings, even if it's too early to give up. The first set of tires deteriorated abnormally, I couldn't pull to the maximum. Then the engine stalled".
In Detroit, site of the East United States Grand Prix, on Friday, again the rain welcomed the first practice session. These weather conditions favor naturally aspirated cars, but the following day the climate will be completely different, as conditioned by the sun and rising temperatures, so much so that those drivers who had achieved the best times in the first phase of the qualifying session will be favored. as humidity builds up will make the track very slippery. For the sixteenth time in his career, it is René Arnoux who takes pole, hooking up Stirling Moss in the special all-time ranking:
"Starting from pole position gives me a lot of confidence. On this circuit overtaking is difficult with the same car. It is the sixteenth time in my career that I start in front of everyone. I just hope I won't have any surprises".
Unfortunately, however, the next day the surprise will arrive in the middle of the race. Meanwhile at the start, Patrick Tambay remains stationary on the grid, while Nelson Piquet immediately takes the lead, ahead of Arnoux. But favored by a different race strategy, which involves refueling in the middle of the race, René will take the lead on lap 10. The twist, as anticipated, will occur on lap 32, when Arnoux will be forced to retire due to an injection problem.
"For once we had made all the right choices, the right tires, the perfect refuelling with the very good mechanics, I was blocked on my way to a great victory. The races are like that, you can't complain, however, this' year I am really hit by bad luck. We hope that in the next Grand Prix, in six days, the situation will be reversed and that we will be able to collect the results of the work we do".
Perhaps due to a strange case of fate, the turning point of this season for the French driver will arrive on the track named after Gilles Villeneuve. In the first practice session, Patrick Tambay set the best time, overthrowing his teammate Arnoux with ten minutes left. But on Saturday, Ferrari will confirm the good performances of Friday, placing its drivers again in the first two positions, but this time it is René who takes pole, ahead of his teammate, and in the race the Ferrari driver will keep the lead. of the race, gaining about half a second per lap on his pursuers, and imposing a very high race pace, until he reached the finish line first.
"It was easy and terrible at the same time. Easy because the car was perfect, superior to the others. Terrible because I was afraid that something would happen to me, that the curse that had haunted me since the beginning of the season would strike again, perhaps at the last moment. The hardest moments? In the first part of the race when I saw in the rearview mirrors that the rear tires were deteriorating, they made horrible bubbles. I was afraid they would burst. So the uncertainty of refuelling, the plans changed because Tambay was in trouble. I was going through a difficult period. Not for me, because I had faith. There was no pressure even from Ferrari, it was outside that people were murmuring and I felt the tension. Before leaving for Detroit, in Maranello, I saw the engineer. He told me: don't worry, you'll see that things will work out. In the United States I realized that I could win, and I made up for it. A double satisfaction, finishing first on the circuit named after Giles Villeneuve".
The victory obtained relaunches Arnoux in the race for the world title:
"I got into the fight for the world championship. Anything is possible. So far we have had a competitive car on slow tracks, similar to the one at Fiorano. Now I will train a lot also for the starts, which with the turbo are not easy".
In Great Britain, at the Silverstone circuit, Scuderia Ferrari finally presents the new 126 C3, designed by Harvey Postlethwaite, the first car produced in Maranello with a carbon fiber monocoque, but with the mechanics, suspension and aerodynamics of the 126 C2. Thursday July 14, 1983, on the first day of testing, characterized by a great heat, Alain Prost is the fastest, but on Friday the Ferraris climb the rankings, and Arnoux gets pole position again, the eighteenth in his career, while Patrick Tambay completes the first row. At the end of the tests, René appears very happy and convinced that the 126 C3 will allow him to continue his climb to the top of the world rankings:
"The car is more balanced than its predecessor. It brakes better, it is superior in many small details which ultimately translate into a noticeable advantage. I think I can go even faster, even if attacking Prost is very difficult. This is a circuit where the the driver must also have courage and take risks in the very fast corners. It is not easy to resist the temptation, in some points of the track, to lift your foot slightly from the accelerator".
At the start, a duel immediately develops between the two Ferraris, in which Patrick Tambay manages to prevail over René Arnoux. The race continues with the cars from Maranello that, fast on the straight, lose ground against the rival cars in the corners. This allows Alain Prost to get close to René, and pass him on the fourteenth lap at the Copse corner. Shortly after, Piquet too, taking advantage of Arnoux's dubbing on Thierry Boutsen, passes the French driver, and settles in third place. Once again, Arnoux's car suffers from the deterioration of tire performance: the Goodyear tires, used by Ferrari, are unable to guarantee good grip, given the great heat in which the race takes place. Therefore, on the thirty-second lap the French driver stops in the pits to change the tires and top up with fuel, subsequently returning to the track in seventh place, but again the problems with the tires will prevent him from going beyond the fifth-place finish.
"The pressure went through the roof in the rear tires, and the car became very difficult to drive even though it had a fantastic engine. Even the braking was longer than usual, there was nothing we could do to contain our rivals. For me the climb to the world championship becomes very hard. I was hoping for a victory after starting from pole. I even got overtaken at the start, because we had chosen harder tires, which skated, I thought I would take a few more points, it went very badly".
Arnoux's comeback starts from Hockenheim: in Germany, the first day of testing is dominated by Ferrari, with Patrick Tambay ahead of René Arnoux by a tenth, while the rain on Saturday will not allow any of the drivers to improve the times set. the previous day, allowing Ferraris to maintain their positions. At the start, Patrick Tambay sprints well and places himself in front of Arnoux, but the Frenchman overtakes his teammate and takes the lead on the second lap. This time the tires do not betray the French driver, who returns to the pits for the scheduled stop on the 23rd. The speed of the Ferrari mechanics will allow the driver to re-enter the track second, behind only Nelson Piquet, and subsequently resume the lead, as the speed of the Brabham mechanics will not be sufficient to allow the Brazilian driver to keep him in first position. In the final laps there will be mechanical problems on the gearbox of René's car, but this does not prevent the Frenchman from winning and moving to 14 points from the top.
"I could very well resist if, fifteen laps from the end, fourth gear hadn't broken. I had to fight with my teeth, but I couldn't stop Prost from overtaking me. Fourth speed is crucial on a track where you have to deal with a lot of Fast corners. It still went well for me that I was able to finish. Right after crossing the finish line, the gearbox pinion must have slipped off, and I had to stop not to destroy everything. As for the title fight, Prost's success really becomes a blow to us. I don't give up, I'll try to fight with all my strength, but it's not easy. Now my rival will only need to score points a few times to end the season in a winning way".
In Austria, René returns to be the fastest in the first day of testing, ahead of team mate Patrick Tambay by four tenths, but in the second session, the latter snatches the best time from Arnoux, by only 64 thousandths, as the driver French will be penalized by the failure of the engine, which yields half an hour after the start of qualifying. The Frenchman could, at this point, use the forklift, but this is adapted for Tambay, and the short time available does not allow Arnoux to return to the track. On the Österreichring circuit, Patrick Tambay maintains command of the Grand Prix at the start, while Alain Prost attacks René Arnoux unsuccessfully.
On lap 22, Patrick Tambay, penalized by a slow dubbing on Jean-Pierre Jarier, was passed by his teammate and Nelson Piquet. Six laps later, Arnoux returns to the pits for refuelling Then, on lap 32, the French driver attacks Piquet, who returned to the track first, having cold tires, is almost overtaken. The Brazilian held the position, however, from lap 37, the BMW engine of his Brabham suffers a loss of power, forcing him to reduce the boost pressure, and give the lead position to Arnoux. It seems made for René, who has the chance to win the race easily. However, on lap 48, the French driver hesitates at the Flatschach corner, also due to a problem in fourth gear, and is passed by Alain Prost, who shares the same technical problem as the Ferrari driver. Alain Prost crosses the finish line first, followed by René Arnoux, who will see his engine surrender a few meters after the finish.
Patrick Tambay closed fourth, while disappointing the other Ferrari driver René Arnoux who only got the twelfth place. The Italian cars had not taken part in the tests carried out in July, so they found themselves in the need to fine-tune the cars in more detail. Arnoux also suffered engine problems both on the owner car and on the forklift. He also disappointed Brabham's behavior. The Frenchman, twelfth on Friday, only moved up to tenth place. At the start René Arnoux recovers three positions, while on the second lap he is already sixth, after passing De Angelis. On the fifteenth lap, at the first corner of the track, René Arnoux overtakes Cheever, who thus climbs to fifth place. Then, on the twenty-first lap, taking advantage of a dubbing, Arnoux tries to surprise Patrese, but the Paduan driver manages to keep third place. The French driver will try again, successfully, the next lap. On lap 39, Arnoux makes a quick pit stop, which allows him to enter the race while maintaining third place.
On the forty-second lap, Alain Prost attacks Nelson Piquet at the Tarzan corner, but blocking the front wheels: the car flips and hits Piquet's. The Brazilian loses control of his Brabham, and ends up in the escape route, retiring. Prost continues, but a few hundred meters later, a new wheel lock forces him to go off the track, and to the first abandonment of the season. René Arnoux is surprisingly in command of the race by a large margin, even if he will complain, during a dubbing of Bruno Giacomelli, about the attitude of the Toleman driver. René Arnoux wins for the seventh time in his career, ahead of team mate Patrick Tambay, with Scuderia Ferrari taking its thirty-sixth one-two. Now, there are only eight points behind Alain Prost in the championship.
"Honestly, I didn't expect it. I was determined to attack, to play all out, but with little hope. In practice, I hadn't been able to qualify regularly, and I was in the fifth row with the task of recovering. disputed the test with the reserve car, as the one destined for the race had recorded some problems of a strange nature, which still have not been resolved today. The technicians and mechanics of my team were exceptional, and I dedicate the victory to them. they took the chassis of the other machine and mounted the mechanics of the first on it. Maybe I could have finished first even without the accident between Prost and Piquet. I earned a lot in every lap, thanks to the tires that became better and better with the passing of the kilometers. Exactly the opposite of what we feared. Now the world championship is open: I'm not saying to have him close at hand, because Prost is always the favorite, but I can fight, there are possibilities. The appointment is for Monza".
The third to last Grand Prix takes place in Italy, on the Monza circuit, where the enthusiasm around Ferrari and Arnoux is very high, despite at first the presence of the Scuderia Ferrari being questioned by a strike announced by the board of factory, due to the lack of signature on the renewal of the metalworkers' contract. On the first day of official testing, 50.000 spectators flock to the Brianza circuit. With a warm but cloudy climate, the two Brabhams of Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese are the two fastest cars, while René Arnoux is third. On Saturday the ranking situation is reversed, with Patrese taking his second pole position, while Tambay and Arnoux chase the Italian driver. In the race, Riccardo will keep the lead, but is followed by Nelson Piquet, who manages to pass the two Ferraris in the sprint. On the second lap, Arnoux recovers the third position passing his team mate, and will subsequently grab the second position, after the retirement of Riccardo Patrese. The race will offer no further excitement, except for the fact of a brief fight between Arnoux and Cheever, which will die out quickly, as the Renault driver will lose the use of fourth gear. While not winning, the second place guarantees Arnoux, to recover further points and move to only two points behind Prost, given that the former teammate, during the race, ran into the second consecutive retirement.
"I have only two points behind Prost and I still have a decent margin over the Brazilian, which is why I also consider myself among the favourites, more and more, considering the reliability of the Maranello cars. We always reach the finish line and are often among the very first ones. Yesterday at Monza it didn't go too well, in the sense that we didn't have the chance to win. As it happened at Silverstone, our car was slightly slower, perhaps because of the tires that don't perform as they should when it's hot and stressed. It’s not a question neither of choice nor a responsibility of the American manufacturer that supplies us with the tires. Unfortunately, the radials have an advantage precisely because of their construction and their nature".
The world’s dream, however, almost definitively fades during the European Grand Prix, which takes place at the Brands Hatch circuit. On Friday, Arnoux is only seventh, as the tires do not last more than one lap, while Tambay is even eleventh, as he is penalized by engine problems. The next day, both René and Patrick manage to recover positions, conquering the fifth and sixth place. The race, however, will once again be fatal for Ferrari: at the end of the first lap, Arnoux is seventh, Tambay ninth. Making up ground is difficult, and on lap 20 René loses control of the car and ends up spinning, stopping on the curbs of the Stirling corner.
Aided by the commissioners, the French driver returns to the track, but now detached from the points area. The tightness of the tires, as at the beginning of the season, will again condition the continuation of the race of the French driver, who finishes ninth, one lap behind Nelson Piquet, who wins his tenth career victory, ahead of Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell. After this race, Prost leads the championship standings, with two points ahead of Piquet and eight points over Arnoux: winning the world championship, at this point, seems impossible.
"I know very well that it is an impossible undertaking, but I will not consider myself beaten to the last meter of the race. I will have to win, hope that Prost does not get more than sixth place and Piquet does not go beyond fifth position. I hope that the fight between the Brabham driver and the Renault driver will give me some chances to enter, they too will be with water in their throats".
The last race of the season takes place in South Africa, in Kyalami. Fatality has it that the government has banned the importation of hydrocarbons on its national territory since July; this would have forced the teams to use local petrol, 93 octane, of poor quality, therefore, to remedy the technical problems that could arise, it was decided to allow the teams to use 104 octane aviation petrol. A few days before the race, however, Brabham, having learned that the import ban has lapsed, decides to bring 1.500 liters of petrol normally used during the championship onto the track, on which, among other things, there are already time fears of irregularities expressed by competitors: having discovered the abolition of the ban, the other teams obtain the maintenance of the derogation from the use of aviation petrol.
The first official tests see Patrick Tambay's Ferrari two tenths ahead of Nelson Piquet's Brabham, and Alain Prost by more than half a second, while René Arnoux is the victim of a curious accident, given that in the first stage of practice, the Frenchman is forced to pull his car up to the edge of the Clubhouse, due to an electrical problem, and in an attempt to help the stewards move the car, the left front wheel hits him in the ankle. Transported to a Johannesburg hospital, the x-rays will rule out a fracture, but will show a strain. The heat of the following day will allow only ten riders to improve the time on Thursday, including Arnoux, who will be able to recover the fourth place by beating the time of the day before Prost, who on Friday had to settle for only the tenth time of the day, also due to a wrong choice of tires.
At the start, the Brabham of Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese immediately take the lead, stealing the first position from Patrick Tambay, while Arnoux loses several positions: on the fifth lap, Niki Lauda takes the seventh position to the Frenchman, who sadly, four laps later stops with the engine melted. Thus ends the dream of becoming World Champion for René, who is disappointed and forced to return to the pits, while Nelson Piquet, with the third place obtained at the end of the race, taking advantage of the retirement of Alain Prost, wins his second title. Arnoux concludes the best championship of his career, placing himself in third place. René Arnoux will recount a few years later:
"Enzo Ferrari sent us a telegram of congratulations, demonstrating how much he cared about winning that championship. For me it was a consolation prize, because if in the Detroit race, which I was dominating, I hadn't had an electrical fault, I could have I'll win the drivers' title. Unfortunately, a tin solder of the electronic control unit, which managed the injection, gave way. We decided to mount it in the race, but maybe we could wait, who knows. That solder was worth a few lire. Instead I arrived in South Africa with very little hope of winning against Piquet's Brabham, and Prost's Renault".
Despite winning the constructors' title, for the 1984 season Enzo Ferrari replaced Patrick Tambay with Michele Alboreto, making an Italian driver wear the Prancing Horse suit again after eleven years. Alboreto shows off from the first tests, being faster than Arnoux. The French driver, however, hopes to be able to respond on the track, and thus prove that he can finally win the world championship, but the 1984 season does not start in the best way: René is forced to a double retirement in Brazil and South Africa.
The 126 C4 seems to be able to change the fate of the world championship in Belgium, in Zolder, but for Arnoux comes a new disappointment: Alboreto takes pole, and wins the first Grand Prix with Ferrari, while the Frenchman takes half a second in qualifying, and in race, in addition to not keeping the pace of his teammate, due to a bad start, ends up behind Warwick. Arnoux re-establishes the hierarchy in the team in San Marino: in the official tests on Saturday he is sixth, while in the race he recovers several positions, finishing second, behind Prost who has returned to McLaren.
In the following Grands Prix, the Frenchman seems to be the only one able to counter the two McLarens, and despite a Ferrari still struggling on the flying lap in France, with another comeback, Renè gets an important fourth place to limit the damage, arriving ahead of Prost, seventh. In Monaco, despite the bad weather, after the two Ferraris show signs of awakening in qualifying, the French driver manages to get on the podium thanks to the disqualification of the German Stefan Bellof.
The Circus moves to Canada, where Alboreto's car shows reliability problems again, while that of Arnoux allows the latter to finish the race in fifth place, but two laps behind the winner Piquet. Worse will go to Detroit, given that the French driver is only fourteenth in qualifying, and the next day, in the wet, he makes a mistake and retires. The same fate touches Dallas: started from the fourth square of the starting grid, the Ferrari driver remains stationary in the reconnaissance lap. Arnoux redeems himself by completing his last feat of his career, giving life to a furious comeback, and thanks to the mechanical problems on Prost's McLaren, and Lauda's error, he manages to finish second behind Rosberg, but above all to twelve and a half points from the top of the drivers' classification.
The hope of being able to get back in the running for the world championship as in 1983 vanishes when he returns to Europe. In fact, Arnoux will no longer get on the podium, alternating placements in the points with disappointing performances, such as in Holland, where he ends the eleventh race, but above all in Monza, an occasion in which he does not even reach the finish line. This, while in the second part of the season Alboreto changes gears, finds the feeling with Ferrari, and with three podiums in the last five races he closes in fourth place in the drivers' standings, overtaking Arnoux, sixth with 27 points. The season finale places Arnoux under the crosshairs of the Italian press. In the last Grand Prix of the season, in Portugal, journalists are hitting Arnoux as usual, who leaves the press conference after criticizing his disappointing race conduct with journalists:
"The car was perfect, the tires too, I've never been in such good condition to go well, it's just a pity that I was behind the wheel. I'm sorry for Ferrari, for the mechanics and technicians who worked so hard, while then I have ruined everything. So why didn't I push harder? Because I'm a donkey, if I knew how to drive I'd do something good, but it's my fault, let's put it this way. Even in the tests I was a donkey? Of course, you saw what a splendid car I had in the tests. Forget it, I already know: it is I who do not know how to drive, indeed, you know what I say? I am really good for nothing".
At the same time, part of the team also loses faith in the Frenchman, prompting Enzo Ferrari to expose himself to defend Alboreto, and to criticize Arnoux, to whom he indicates that he has no reason to complain. But because pushed by the sponsor Marlboro, the founder of the Maranello car manufacturer is convinced to reconfirm Arnoux also for the 1985 vintage, but his history with Ferrari lasts for a little longer. The new car, signed 156-85, seems to have been born well, so much so that on his debut in Brazil Alboreto takes pole, and is second behind Prost in the race, while Arnoux, despite taking an important gap from his teammate, closes fourth.
"It's okay anyway. I suffered a lot, but I managed to finish fourth in the standings. The car is fine, I only experienced a little understeer, but we are with the best. That is with McLaren. Now the circuit is waiting for us. 'Extorted where I hope to make an even more concrete and positive race".
Yet, Enzo Ferrari is not happy with the French driver's performance, who now seems unmotivated aboard the Maranello cars. Therefore, on Tuesday April 16, 1985, keeping faith with the image he has always given of himself, through an 11-line press release, Ferrari dismisses Arnoux from the Scuderia Ferrari, as guilty of poor performance, even if the text sets forth the spontaneous resignation of the French driver:
"Enzo Ferrari received today in Maranello the driver René Arnoux who explained to him the personal reasons that in relation to his current physical form lead him to ask to be exempted from his current commitments. Engineer Ferrari, noted with regret. of Arnoux's decision, expressed his gratitude to him for the valuable collaboration during the last two French".
After leaving Maranello, René will remain stationary for the rest of the championship, and after the transition to Toleman has vanished, he will sign with Ligier. The four-year period with the French team did not start badly, but Arnoux soon realized that it was not possible to repeat the prestigious results obtained with Renault and Ferrari. 1985 opens with a fourth place obtained at the end of qualifying, in Brazil, and continues to finish fifth, while in Monaco and France he reaches the finish line sixth, ahead of his new teammate Laffite.
The French driver obtained other good placings in Great Britain and in Germany, where he finished fourth. Indeed, at Silverstone the French driver could have even reached the podium if he hadn't had to stop twice in the pits to change the tires, which degraded too quickly. During the year we will then talk about his possible abandonment of the team, as René does not seem to agree with the adoption of Alfa Romeo engines, considered unreliable, but this does not prevent the French driver from obtaining, in the final season, two seventh places in Portugal and Australia, closing the drivers' standings in tenth place, with 14 points.
The results, however, will deteriorate starting in 1987. A few weeks before the start of the season Arnoux is the protagonist of a serious accident on the Jerez track, where his car goes off the track at about 300 kilometers per hour, being injured not seriously. Having recovered in a short time, during the last seasonal tests René will express himself harshly towards the Alfa Romeo engines, accusing the technicians of the poor reliability of the engines. These statements will contribute to the breaking of the contract between the French team and the Italian manufacturer, even if Fiat, which had recently taken over Alfa Romeo, will play an even more important role. The Ligier is therefore forced to have to resort to Megatron engines and to skip the first Grand Prix of the season.
Returning for the San Marino Grand Prix, Arnoux will not start due to a problem with a suspension, but at the Belgian Grand Prix he will be able to get a sixth place and therefore a point, which will prove to be the only useful result achieved. during the season, as the rest of the year will be characterized by various withdrawals and placements outside the points. The 1988 season will not be that different from the previous year. The French car does not allow Arnoux the opportunity to take away some satisfactions, despite the fact that Ligier had made available a new chassis and had concluded an agreement with Judd for the supply of engines, considered to be of good quality.
The cause of the failure will turn out to be an incorrect design of the car by Michel Tetu, who had placed the tank behind the engine, contrary to what usually happened. Arnoux will even fail to qualify twice, while in the race his best result will be a poor tenth place, obtained at the Portuguese Grand Prix. The retirements will instead be frequent, reaching nine in sixteen races. Arnoux will therefore close the season without scoring any points. 1989 will also prove very difficult for the transalpine driver. The new car will again be uncompetitive, so much so that René will miss qualification in three of the first five races. Demotivated by yet another flop, Arnoux is no longer able to express the best of his talent, his performances on the track prove it, since they will often be lower than those of his young teammate Olivier Grouillard.
At the Canadian Grand Prix, however, Arnoux will conquer a fifth place of great importance for the team, as it allowed them to avoid participating in pre-qualifying. This is the last great performance of his career, given that a few weeks later he will also be the protagonist of an accident, during a few days of testing, at the Silverstone circuit, from which he will fortunately come out unharmed, despite the crash having occurred over two hundred kilometers. timetables. At the end of the year, disappointed with the trend of recent years, René understands that the time has come to announce his retirement from Formula 1, closing his last season with two points obtained. In his career, in the 149 races disputed, René Arnoux has obtained seven wins, twenty-two podiums, eighteen pole positions, twelve fastest laps, 2.571 kilometers in the lead and 181 points.
The Transalpine, both before becoming a Formula 1 driver and after his retirement, also collects many participations in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, whose best result is a twelfth place with the Dodge Viper team in 1994, while in 1988 he founded the Dams team, together with Jean Paul Driot, who will win numerous Formula 2 championships. Until 2007, René participated in the three races of the Grand Prix Masters Championship, together with Piquet, Mansell, Patrese, Fittipaldi, and former teammate Tambay. In 1997, the French driver even joined the journalist Gianfranco Mazzoni during the national television commentaries of RAI. Even today, René willingly returns to Italy, perhaps, also because years later, that wound from being forced to leave Ferrari remains open:
"It was a difficult but not traumatic farewell. When I left Modena, I cried. Ferrari had entered my heart, I felt great and I had lived strong and intense moments. I moved to Ligier, but until 1996 I often returned to Montale, where I had a home".
René will always remain in the hearts of the fans, not only for the famous duel with Gilles Villeneuve, but also for the determination with which he has always raced in the race. Precisely for this reason, even if he is the transalpine rider who has never won a world title, Arnoux is considered a true champion. Although without a crown.