Flashback: Rene Arnoux’s first Grand Prix victory

rene-arnoux_renault_interlagos_1980

On 27 January 1980, Frenchman, Rene Arnoux won his first Formula 1 race, triumphing at the Brazilian Grand Prix for Renault, in what was the ‘coming of age’ season at the highest level for the French manufacturer.

Renault, of course, pioneered the first F1 turbo era, turning what started as the laughing stock of the paddock project into a race-winning engine that went on to deliver a magnificent era of the sport.

Jean-Pierre Jabouille’s victory at the 1979 French Grand Prix for Renault was the first for a turbo-powered F1 car, and Arnoux’s win, at Interlagos, 22-years-ago was the second.

Looking back on that race, held on the daunting long version of the legendary venue in Sao Paulo, it should be noted that it nearly did not happen; drivers led by Jody Scheckter were appalled and even fearful of the poor track surface, they were split 13/13 on whether to proceed with the race or not, at the 11th hour they agreed to go ahead.

Qualifying, at 760 metres above sea level, revealed the immense torque and speed of the turbo engines versus the normally aspirated brigade. Jabouille claimed pole ahead of Didier Pironi in the Ligier-Ford, Arnoux was only good for sixth on the grid.

This is how the 1980 Brazilian Grand Prix unfolded:

  • Drama starts early in the Renault garage, during the warm-up, Jabouille’s turbo cracked and he requested the spare car, but team boss Gérard Larrousse opts to change the turbo.
  • Start: Gilles Villeneuve, third on the grid in the Ferrari, made an excellent launch, darting between Pironi and Jabouille and leading into Crowthorne. Laffite also passes the pole sitter who is relegated to fourth place. Arnoux chasing the leaders.
  • 2nd lap: Villeneuve goes backwards with the ill-handling Ferrari, Jabouille, Pironi, Laffite and Arnoux get by the Canadian.
  • 3rd: Laffite and Arnoux, in his mirrors, overtake Pironi who stops the next lap with a damaged skirt.
  • 5th: Jabouille leads from Laffite (3.5s), Arnoux (5.8s) and de Angelis (9s) who are chased by Villeneuve, Scheckter, Piquet, Patrese and Mass.
  • 10th: Jabouille leads ahead of Laffite (2.8s), Arnoux (8.8s), de Angelis (11.4s), Jones (20.7s) and Piquet (36.1s.). Follow Patrese, Mass, Prost and Watson. Much further Villeneuve and Pironi are back in the peloton.
  • 15th: Jabouille leads from teammate Arnoux (9.9s), de Angelis (11.5s), Jones (30s), Patrese (70s) and Prost (78s). Piquet’s left rear suspension collapsed following his puncture. The Brabham goes violently into the background, without harm to its pilot.
  • 17th: Jabouille leads comfortably, while Arnoux in second has de Angelis all over him.
  • 22nd: Jabouille ahead as Arnoux sets the fastest lap in the race (2.27:31s), the leader ups his pace.
  • 25th: Disaster for Jabouille who pits from the lead with a broken turbo, Arnoux leads in the other ‘healthy’ Renault. Over ten seconds in front of de Angelis. Pironi overtakes Patrese with Prost ambushing the Italian a few corners later
  • 27th: Arnoux leads ahead of Angelis (11.4s), Jones (43.2s), Pironi (94s), Patrese (98s) and Prost (100s). Villeneuve, Mass, Rosberg and Zunino follow.
  • 30th: Arnoux 16-seconds ahead of de Angelis. Jones is quietly moved to third place, albeit fifty seconds adrift. Prost and Patrese battle for fifth place.
  • 31st: Prost is quicker than Patrese on the corners, but the rough Italian benefits from more power on the straights. The mano to mano between the two pilots thus drags on.
  • 32nd: Arnoux starts to lap backmarkers with ease as the race settles down.
  • 38th: Arnoux now has a twenty-second margin over de Angelis.
  • 40th and last lap: René Arnoux wins his first Formula 1 race and runs out of gas on his victory lap, before celebrating on the podium with second-placed de Angelis and third-placed driver Jones. Pironi was fourth, Prost fifth and the final point to Patrese in sixth.

It was an important victory for Arnoux and Renault. Although they only won two more times that year to finish fourth in the constructor’s championship out of 16 teams that season.

Two weeks after Arnoux’s win in Brazil, at Kyalami for the South African Grand Prix, the Renault’s were in a league of their own, the turbos thrived in 1,700 metres altitude of Johannesburg.

Jabouille took pole but Arnoux went on to win his second race in a row. Thereafter the season was one of slim pickings, turbo technology was in its infancy and DNFs too frequent at that stage of the programme.

Arnoux finished sixth in the 1980 F1 drivers’ standings.

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