During his long, impressive Formula 1 career, René Arnoux drove for three major teams: Renault, Ferrari and Ligier. With seven wins and 18 pole positions, he remains to this day the second-most successful French F1 driver behind Alain Prost. Exactly 30 years ago he contested his final season of Grand Prix racing – a good occasion for AUTOMOBILSPORT to review the career of this colourful character. Etienne Bourguignon interviewed the now 70-year-old champion at his home in Lausanne.
AUTOMOBILSPORT: You started your career in karting at the age of 12. In 1972, aged 24, you won the ‘Volant Shell’ on the Magny-Cours racetrack. A success that earned you a seat in Formula Renault backed by Shell in 1973. At the end of your first-ever single-seater racing season, you achieved something that no one had done before: you won the title outright, beating the likes of Didier Pironi and Patrick Tambay, winning seven out of 20 races. For the following season, Shell unexpectedly pulled out of its sponsorship and 1974 became effectively a lost year for you.
Arnoux: Yes, what a waste! I had just won the Formula Renault Eurocup in my first attempt. Shell had warned me that offers would come from other teams. They told me that they wanted me to stay with them and drive a Surtees Formula 2 car which they sponsored. Since Shell had backed me from the start, I stayed with them. John Surtees too wanted me in his team, which was great. Unfortunately, as time went on Surtees never received any money from Shell. I’d already moved to England and was working as a mechanic with Team Surtees whilst waiting to get back behind the wheel. Out of nowhere, Shell suddenly pulled out, and my F2 season was over before it had even started. I was left without a drive in ’74 and was utterly disappointed.
AUTOMOBILSPORT: In 1975 Elf came to the rescue, backing you for another season in Formula Renault. You repaid them with a second title in a Martini Mk15.
Arnoux: That year, from the moment I got the help of Elf thanks to the support of their marketing boss François Guiter, I won a lot of races and won the title. When the championship was over, Mr Guiter told me: ‘René, watch out, you will receive offers from other people. I suggest we do the F2 championship together.’ I answered: ‘Mr Guiter, it’s up to you! You decide, and I’ll drive.’ Finally, we shook hands, didn’t sign anything and went into Formula 2 together without a contract.
AUTOMOBILSPORT: You went into Formula 2 with constructor Tico Martini, whom you had worked with before. Your teammate was Patrick Tambay, and you also had your first encounter with a certain Jean-Pierre Jabouille in F2. After a very close season, the title was decided at the last race in Hockenheim. …
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by Etienne Bourguignon
Photographs: The Cahier Archive, Sammlung Etienne Bourguignon, McKlein, Klemantaski, Sammlung Nils Ruwisch, Motorsportimages, Kräling