Flashback: René Arnoux dashes from podium to payphone in Canada

For two decades Maurice Hamilton reported from the F1 paddock with pen, notebook and Canon Sure Shot camera. This month we are at an all-important payphone in the media room with René Arnoux after his win at the 1983 Canadian GP


Maurice Hamilton

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René Arnoux’s victory in the 1983 Canadian Grand Prix was his first in a season that had seen six different winners in the previous seven races. Having claimed three pole positions thus far, Arnoux finally pulled off the sort of dominant race performance he had been threatening for some time. Clearly wishing to savour the moment, the Ferrari driver kept his winner’s laurels in place long after leaving the podium.

Here he is in the media centre, which was some distance from the pitlane, but a necessary stopping-off point given the traditional expectations of sports writers in North America. At European tracks, it was a free-for-all once the trophies had been handed out, the winner usually being corralled into a scrum with his home media. In the case of, say, Arnoux, Patrick Tambay or Alain Prost, it was too bad if you couldn’t understand French – assuming you could get close enough to listen in the first place.

In the USA and Canada, members of the press were accustomed to having the victor (in whatever sport) brought to them for questioning; a civilised precursor of what is choreographed to a bland degree in Formula 1 today. Arnoux was only too happy to make the journey to the media room and be the centre of attention for only the fifth time in as many seasons of F1. That done, he was ushered to one side by a French radio reporter and directed towards a payphone in a nearby hallway.

In the post-race procedure for newspaper journalists, this corridor was a vital place. The payphones on the wall were the only means of filing your story back to whatever part of the world you had come from. It involved speaking to the operator and asking for a collect (transfer-charge) call to your newspaper switchboard where, you assured the disinterested operator, the receptionist would be happy to accept the call and put you through to a copy-taker.

That was the easy bit. Then came 20 minutes or so of making yourself heard above an infernal din as your neighbours, in a similar position, shouted their stories across in the knowledge that deadlines back in Europe were becoming extremely tight.

With the press conference having finished and journalists yet to descend on the payphones, Arnoux is casually giving a first-hand account to a radio station. He would win two more races in 1983 and then, typical of such inconsistent brilliance, spin away his slim championship chances at Brands Hatch. After that, his number as an F1 winner was up.