F1's Greatest Moment: Villeneuve vs Arnoux, Dijon 1979 - Video

By: Andy Enright

Presented by

Formula One greats Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Armoux battle through the final laps of the 1979 French Grand Prix...


Villeneuve vs Arnoux, Dijon F1 1979

It’s the greatest gloves-off battle in F1 history. Two almost dementedly competitive racers putting everything on the line in a duel that wasn’t even for the win. When Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux went toe to toe at the French Grand Prix in 1979, the red mist produced the most fantastic couple of  laps of action the sport had ever seen.

Pity poor Jean-Pierre Jabouille, fifteen seconds up the road en route to the chequered flag, but subsequently written off as a mere footnote in this Francophone thriller. No fewer than five times in the space of just two laps, Villeneuve and Arnoux swapped places, rubbing and bumping each other to wrestle position from the other. The best thing? When they got out of their cars there were no sulks, no thrown hats, no passive-aggressive whinges to social media as you’d get today. They were both cackling like drains, embracing each other in parc ferme.

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"I didn’t call Gilles a driver. I called him the acrobat of the circuits!" - René Arnoux

"It's a very happy memory, even if I only finished third," he said. "It was a battle against my best mate in F1 – I didn't call Gilles a driver. I called him the acrobat of the circuits! You could only have that kind of fight with Villeneuve; I think we had the same temperament, the same way of regarding racing, the same hunger to win.

"With the cars the way they were back then, you needed to have complete faith in the other driver, because if you collided, you would be flying immediately. He trusted me and I trusted him, so we were able to tap each other seven times. It's true that Gilles was someone who was trustworthy and loyal, both on the track and in life. He was someone I really liked.

Arnoux’s Renault RS10 was far more reliable than the previous RS01 "yellow steam kettle" and probably had the edge on Villeneuve’s Ferrari 312T4. The Frenchman got off to a terrible start at the race, and manhandled the Renault around the Dijon circuit, ruthlessly dispatching legends like dispatching legends one after another. Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Jody Scheckter as he worked his way into a podium position. With two laps to go he came across Villeneuve, battling with worn tyres, and what transpired pitted Arnoux’s power and guile against Villeneuve’s superhuman car control.


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