Modern day F1 is boring, a procession, or so the grumpusses would have you believe. They’ll bleat about how there are no real heroes anymore and that overtaking has to be assisted by gadgets and gizmos – of course, it’s not all been thus. There was a time when the sport was treated to wheel-to-wheel action on a regular basis.
As far as no-holds barred duels go, the epic battle between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux at Dijon-Prenois in 1979 has gone down in Formula 1 history as possibly the most famous of all time.
Images abound of the scarlet Ferrari and the yellow Renault repeatedly banging wheels over the closing laps of the French Grand Prix held at the Burgundy circuit, and the two drivers climbing out of their cars once the chequered flag had fallen grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats.
Such a fight would never be allowed to happen in the modern day version of the sport, or if it was it would no doubt result in a variety of punishments and penalties, but for those present on that summer’s day almost 30 years ago it was ten minutes of pure magic that will never be forgotten.
Having exhausted his tyres in order to maintain the lead for more than half the race, Villeneuve’s fading Ferrari first fell prey to Jean-Pierre Jabouille’s Renault before coming under pressure from the sister French machine of Arnoux – despite the latter suffering from fuel pick-up problems – with just under ten laps remaining.
After hounding the French-Canadian for a handful of laps, Rene finally found a way by on lap 76, but Gilles – never one to give up without a fight – almost immediately snatched the position back again with an incredible manoeuvre into the first corner, smoke billowing from all four tyres as he left his braking incredibly late.
The pair would continue to swap places, bang wheels, run off the track and back on it again all the way to the finish line, but when the flag was dropped it was Villeneuve in front, having prevailed in the most frantic, no holds-barred scrap F1 has ever produced. Almost 15 seconds up the road, meanwhile, Jabouille had succeeded in taking not only his but indeed Renault’s maiden grand prix victory.
Funnily enough, after what the crowds had just witnessed behind him, that didn’t really seem that important.