My greatest race: Rene Arnoux
United States Grand Prix (Dallas), 1984
A terrible car, crumbling track and starting in last place gave Rene Arnoux the perfect motivation to put on the performance of a lifetime.
Really, I don’t have a best race. for me, the greatest thing was just 11 years in Formula One, being able to do what I did, with good people, especially the mechanics. I felt a special bond with them because that’s how I’d started. I won races with Renault and Ferrari and, of course, the race with Gilles Villeneuve at Dijon in 1979 was special; but maybe, if you push me, the Dallas Grand Prix in 1984 was the most satisfying.
That year the Ferrari 126C4 was not as good as the C3 had been the year before when, if I hadn’t lost fourth gear at Zeltweg or my electrics at Detroit, I could have won the championship. The ’84 car was much more difficult to drive; it wouldn’t turn in and then had a lot of oversteer on the exit. On fast circuits like Zeltweg it was bad but on slow to medium tracks like Dallas it was easier.
We had big problems with the track, which had never been used for racing before. The temperature was so high the surface was melting in qualifying and there were big arguments before about whether the race was going to happen. Maybe it helped me that the track was so bad because it made everyone’s car difficult, but I managed to qualify on the second row, which was good for that year.
But when the race did go ahead, it was almost without me. On the grid for the warm-up lap my engine would not start, maybe because of the heat. But by the time they got it going everyone had left the grid and so I had to start from the back. I was angry and it gave me a quite different feeling for the race than is normal before a Grand Prix – not nervous but with big anticipation and motivation.
The only thing you can do in a situation like this is attack, so in a way it’s easy; you don’t have anything else to think about, your only instinct is to do the maximum, and so your mind really is empty of thoughts about the car or tyres or other drivers. All that was in my head was motivation, pure anger.
The track, of course, was still very slippery as they had the same problems with it as in qualifying it just fell apart but for me that day it was not a problem, just as the heat wasn’t. The car felt good – the engine was strong and the tyres stood up and I was in good shape myself. Others were crashing all around me or their cars were breaking; Niki Lauda, I remember, crashed into the wall, but there were lots of others. So really, everything was in place for me to do well the situation, the car and me.
I got a few cars at the start but after that it took quite a few laps to tackle a group that was caught behind Thierry Boutsen’s Arrows; I got by him after about ten laps, and this put me about half way up the field. The next car I remember passing was my teammate Michele Alboreto who didn’t make it too difficult for me. There were many more I passed but I don’t really remember – I don’t think I remembered at the time, I was just in a rhythm, passing cars whenever they appeared.
Still I was driving flat-out; I remember a few times my back wheel touched the wall – not hard, but it touched. I got up to around fourth place then Nigel Mansell, who was leading, stopped and Alain Prost hit the wall.
That left just Keke Rosberg’s Williams ahead of me and still I was going really fast – the car still felt good. In my mind, I was thinking that a win was possible.
There were five or six laps to go and I was still able to really push, but he was just too far ahead. With some more laps maybe I could have won because I don’t think his car was as competitive by the end. But, even so, to finish second in such a way was not a disappointment after starting from number 26.
At the end my engineer came to greet me. He looked at the car and said “did you hit the wall?” and I told him I had, yes, on a few occasions. He said it was a miracle that I’d not got a puncture and pointed to a broken rear wheel. It was my best result that year and even though it was a frustrating season after Ferrari had been so strong in ’83, I still treasure my memories from that time. It was a team with a very special ambience and nice people. It felt a very special thing for me just to be a Ferrari driver, just to be told by Mr Ferrari himself when I returned to the factory “congratulations, you did a good job”.