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…
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.
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.