Team orders? 'No way!' said René Arnoux as he seized home French GP win


40 years ago, the home crowd at Paul Ricard had plenty to cheer about as René Arnoux led home a Gallic 1-2-3-4 at the 1982 French Grand Prix. But it was a result tinged with treachery after Alain Prost had been promised the win

Rene Arnoux ahead of Alain Prost in the 1982 French Grand Prix

Arnoux had volunteered to give up his lead to team-mate Prost... until the prospect of a home win loomed large


You have taken pole position at your home grand prix driving for what is ostensibly your national team. You then lead the race, and once a pair of pesky rivals blast past and blow up in a cloud of turbo boost, victory is in your grasp. The trouble is you’re out of contention for the world championship and in a team meeting after final qualifying you actually volunteer  – volunteer – to hand the race, if the need arises, to your team-mate, who still has a shot at that crown. And that need is now. So… what are you going to do?

If you are cheeky little René Arnoux, ferociously quick over one lap and whose respect for Alain Prost is (and will always remain) well under control, you win that race – and to hell with what you said last night! That was the scenario that played out 40 years ago when Arnoux led Prost home at Paul Ricard, not only for a Renault 1-2, but also a French 1-2-3-4 thanks to Didier Pironi and Patrick Tambay finishing third and fourth in their Ferraris. And all on the same day Bernard Hinault won the Tour de France for a fourth time. Sacre bleu!

Rene Arnoux leads at the start of the 1982 French Grand Prix

Arnoux led from the start. Team-mate Prost wouldn’t get a look-in

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

Imagine the kerfuffle this weekend were Esteban Ocon of the modern Renault team, now known as Alpine, to pull a similar stroke over Fernando Alonso or vice versa. Except, of course, Alpine has little hope of enjoying anything like the performance advantage its predecessor boasted in 1982. What we know as Alpine is largely the same team that won two world titles as Renault with Alonso in 2005-06, that also carried Michael Schumacher to his first crowns as Benetton in 1994-95 and was even in the same race (even if it wasn’t really in the same race) as Arnoux and Prost in July ’82, as Toleman. It’s a great team, still packed with a talented bunch of tight-knit engineers. Yet right now, it’s hard to see how it will rise further than its current position, battling McLaren to be the fourth-best F1 team, a full 156 points behind third-placed Mercedes after just 11 of the 22 races. That thought just might have occurred, of course, to Ocon and 40-year-old Alonso, who is more than doing his bit to keep the Alpine end up. Where exactly is this fine team heading – and will it ever get anywhere near where either driver needs it to be?

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Still, while we might question Alpine’s potential there’s no reason as it stands to doubt Renault’s commitment to F1, given the combined strength of grand prix racing’s popularity today and the dollar-churning cartel – sorry, I mean entirely upstanding franchise-style set-up – that makes a place on the grid so prized, and thwarts the likes of Michael Andretti from having a crack at the big time. In contrast, back in the summer of 1982, Renault’s ongoing presence at the pinnacle was on shaky ground in the wake of a disastrous reliability record that was busy ruining what could have been a world title walkover.

Ahead of the French GP, Jean Sage, Gerard Larrousse and the rest of the original Renault factory team were feeling the heat in the wake of a string of engine failures. Just look at the numbers from that year. Prost and Arnoux claimed 10 pole positions between them (five each) and led 14 of the 16 races across the season. Yet they won only four, split evenly, with Prost finishing fourth in the standings, 10 points behind champ Keke Rosberg in his down-on-power Williams-Cosworth. Even Pironi outscored him, despite the horrendous Hockenheim accident Prost inadvertently triggered that abruptly ended Didier’s career.

But at least Renault had France in July. Even if the shine of French motor sport’s greatest day was a little tarnished by Arnoux’s apparent treachery…

Renault pitboard showing Alain Prost as No1 ahead of Rene Arnoux in the 1982 French Grand Prix

Pitboard shows the team’s preferred running order. Arnoux had other ideas


It’s said that in a team meeting after final qualifying Arnoux himself had suggested he give up the victory if required, given how Prost was still in with a shout of the crown that had already slipped away from him. Sage was “grateful” for the gesture.

Come race day, the pair of yellow cars led the field away in front of an expectant home crowd – until the equally potent Brabham-BMW turbos blasted past, Riccardo Patrese leading Nelson Piquet. Gordon Murray’s cars were running light, of course, thanks to a cunning plan to sprint away before making the first fuel stops seen in an F1 race for decades. That had also been the plan at Brands Hatch a week earlier. And just as in the British GP, neither of the Parmalat BT50s got far enough to make their historic pitstops, thanks to embarrassing engine failures. Renault wasn’t the only major car maker struggling to contain the globules of horsepower it was unleashing on F1 in this still-nascent turbo era.

That left the Renaults well clear for a glorious home 1-2. Except they were still in the wrong order. And Prost was hobbled by a split in one his RE30B’s ground-effect skirts. And Arnoux wasn’t about to back off to wait for him either.

Rene Arnoux crosses the line to win the 1982 French Grand Prix

Arnoux crosses the line to win

AFP via Getty Images

Let’s allow Motor Sport’s Denis Jenkinson to pick up the story.

“Slowly the laps ticked by and Prost fell more than 20 seconds behind his team-mate,” writes our man. “With Prost being Renault’s only real hope of a creating a world champion on points the team manager signalled to Arnoux to slow down and let Prost win, but as seems fashionable in the 1980s teams order were ignored” – note Jenks’s disapproving tone – “and Arnoux led his team-mate home to a Renault 1-2 in their own GP.

“There was such relief in the French team after all the troubles they have suffered this season that everyone celebrated and ‘explanations’ were left for another day.” Although in reality, not for long. Prost was fit to burst and soon spelt out that it was either he or Arnoux who would be out the door for 1983 – and René was already half-way there given channels were already open for his eventual move to Ferrari.

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So why had Arnoux gone back on his word? Silly question really. A proud Frenchman with a reputation for, let’s say, allowing passions to rule his head, giving up an open chance to win his home grand prix? Of course he changed his mind!

“Yes, I thought about it later that [Saturday] night and began to have other thoughts,” he told Motor Sport’s Mark Hughes 20 years ago. “It was not as if Alain was close to winning the championship. There were still a lot of races to go and we were both a long way off in the points. But it could have gone the other way later in the season. Then I thought, ‘Let’s just see what happens in the race’.

“I wasn’t just ahead of Alain, I was half a lap in front. I slowed down and still I was pulling away from him, so I thought, ‘No way!’ And took the win.”

Fair enough? Well, not really… but be honest, what would you have done? More pertinently, what route might Alonso have chosen? Or Ocon, for that matter, given he’s hardly shy about pressing his own agenda…

Rene Arnoux on the podium with Alain Prost and Didier Pironi after the 1982 French Grand Prix

Prost looks down as Arnoux looms over him from the top step of the podium


Last word to Jenks and an amusing little postscript to the 1982 French GP, after which Ken Tyrrell was said to have tried to orchestrate a protest against the Renaults through Williams, given that Rosberg had finished as the first non-Frenchman in fifth. “Funny chap!” exclaimed Jenks of Uncle Ken. “Imagine trying to get anyone to listen to a protest against a French team who had just won the French GP. I suppose if Ferrari win the Italian GP at Monza some FOCA idiot will try and protest. The English are an insular lot and never learn.”

Quite right, Jenks. Quite right.