Rene Arnoux played a big part in Renault’s early F1 history as the second man to race for the marque, the second to take a pole position, and the second to win a Grand Prix.
Born in Grenoble in 1948, Arnoux was associated with the manufacturer from an early stage, competing in Formula Renault and Super Renault as he worked his way up the ranks, winning the European title in the latter category in 1975. He also had some outings in F2 and F5000, and for a while was even a Lotus F1 test driver, although the deal didn’t lead anywhere.
In 1976 he graduated fulltime to F2. Driving a Renault-powered Martini he won three races and finished runner-up in the highly competitive FIA European Championship, losing by just a point to Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
He made amends the following year by winning the title, beating names such as Eddie Cheever, Didier Pironi, Bruno Giacomelli, Ricciardo Patrese and Keke Rosberg. That year he also drove a works Renault at Le Mans, sharing with Pironi and company veteran Guy Frequelin, although the car retired early.
In 1978 at the age of 29 Arnoux finally moved into F1 in company with Martini team. The new team had to fight its way through pre-qualifying, but in the races he managed it Arnoux finished a respectable ninth on three occasions. Alas Martini ran out of money before the end of the season, but Arnoux kept his hand in with two outings for John Surtees.
Everything changed in 1979 when Arnoux was hired to partner Jabouille at Renault as the manufacturer embarked on a full season with two cars for the first time. He soon proved to be a good choice, taking his first podium with third at Dijon after a famous battle with the Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve on the day Jabouille scored the team’s first win. He was also second at Silverstone and Watkins Glen, and took his first two poles in Austria and Holland.
In 1980 Arnoux usually outpaced his team mate. He scored his first victory in Brazil, and followed up with another at the next race in South Africa. A third victory escaped him, although he did take an impressive run of consecutive poles in Germany, Austria and Holland later in the year.
For the 1981 season Alain Prost joined Arnoux at Renault. The two Frenchmen would become fierce rivals as Prost quickly established himself as a strong force in the camp. It was to be a frustrating season for Arnoux as he took three more poles but scored just a single podium when he finished second in Austria.
The 1982 season proved even more disappointing. The RE30B was very fast and Arnoux started from pole five times, but he was plagued by bad luck in the first part of the year. However he won in France and Italy to take his overall Renault tally to five wins in his four seasons with the team.
In 1983 Arnoux joined former F2 colleague Patrick Tambay at Ferrari. He proved very competitive, taking four poles and three race wins, and finished third in the championship.
The following year’s car was not so competitive, but two seconds and two thirds helped him to sixth place the end of the year. He finished fourth in the opening race of 1985 in Brazil, but was unexpectedly dropped by the team, leaving him without a job for the rest of the year.
In 1986 Arnoux used Renault turbo power once again when he joined Ligier, alongside his old pal Jacques Laffite. He finished fourth first time out in Brazil and a total of six finishes in the points saw him a respectable eighth in the championship.
The French team ended its relationship with Renault at the end of the season, and changed engine suppliers three times over the next three years as it tried to create a competitive package. Sixth in Belgium in 1987 and fifth in Canada two years later were Arnoux’s only decent results during that period as his career fizzled out. He dropped out of F1 at the age of 41 at the end of 1989, with a total of seven wins and 18 poles on his CV.
For a while he made occasional appearances in sportscar racing, while coaching Brazilian driver Pedro Diniz. He also resumed his relationship with Renault, regularly driving the company’s old cars in demonstration runs.