French GP 1979
JULY 1, 1979
French GP, 1979
With the two Swedish drivers in Formula 1 having died: Ronnie Peterson after an accident at Monza and Gunnar Nilsson a few weeks later from cancer, there was no money for a Swedish GP in 1979 and so there was a gap between Monaco at the end of May and the French GP at Dijon. The five-week break was used for testing and a lot of the cars were modified. Just after Monaco James Hunt announced that he was quitting F1 and so he was replaced by Keke Rosberg. Patrick Depailler blew all hopes he had of a successful season by breaking both his legs in a hang-gliding accident and so Ligier asked Jacky Ickx to take over its second car. Derek Daly also decided that he was wasting his time with Ensign and went back to Formula 2. Ensign tried to hire Tiff Needell but he was denied a superlicence and so the drive went to Patrick Gaillard. The entry also included Bruno Giacomelli in the Alfa Romeo, Arturo Merzario and Hector Rebaque.
Renault had made a big effort to be competitive in France and the result was that Jean-Pierre Jabouille and won pole with Rene Arnoux second fastest. Then came Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari) and Nelson Piquet (Brabham). The third row featured World Championship leader Jody Scheckter (Ferrari) and Niki Lauda in the second Brabham while the top 10 was completed by Alan Jones (Williams), Jacques Laffite (Ligier), Clay Regazzoni (Williams) and Jean-Pierre Jarier (Tyrrell). With ATS withdrawing Hans Stuck because of a fight with Goodyear only Gaillard and Merzario failed to qualify.
In the race Villeneuve took the lead with Jabouille second, Scheckter third. Arnoux made a poor start and dropped to ninth. The early part of the race witnessed Arnoux climbing back through the field. By the 10th lap he was fourth and on lap 15 he took third place. At the front Villeneuve's Ferrari began to handle less well and on lap 47 Jabouille moved ahead as Villeneuve fell back towards Arnoux. Piquet blew his chances of a good position soon afterwards by spinning from fourth place (having overtaken Scheckter) and so the place went to Jones. In the closing laps Arnoux caught Villeneuve and on lap 78 he went ahead. On the next lap, the penultimate lap, Arnoux's engine began to splutter and Villeneuve was back ahead and for the last lap the pair indulged in a wild battle as they ducked and dived and banged wheels. At the last corner Arnoux drifted a little wide and Villeneuve was able to go down the inside and the two crossed the line just two-tenths of a second apart. Jones was fourth, Jarier fifth and Regazzoni sixth.
Renault's first victory and the first for a turbocharged engine marked an important turning point in F1 history. The turbocharged engine had become competitive.