THE TOP 20 F1 GP DRIVERS WHO DID NOT WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP
Brought to you by 'The writer formerly known as BlackJackFan'
Disclaimer: Back in late 2013 my friend put together this ultimate list of F1 drivers who did not make it on to the, err..., ultimate list of F1 drivers. I recently stumbled across the series again, and re-read it. Just as back then it entertained me a lot, with a nostalgic feeling of how I waited impatient each week until the next chapter came.
So I told him about my trip down memory lane and asked if he would object if I was to publish the series on my tribe. Luckily for us he's a reasonable man, and after a trade for an alibi for last Thursday night I got permission to share all of this with you (haha).
There are many list about F1 on the internet, but somehow those are always about the same drivers (usually those drivers even end up on the same place, give or take one place). But this one is a bit different. First of all, there's the size of it. Unlike most lists this one has a separate article for each driver, not just the standard 12 sentences summary of a whole career. I know all of you like a good read so, naturally you're allowed to cheer at his point. Secondly, it's based on a different point awarding system than most sites, but more of that later.
So without any further ado I present to you: The top 20 F1 GP drivers who did NOT win a championship.
. . . was born in 1948, in Isere, France, and competed in F1 from 1978-1989. He beat Tambay to the 1973 Formula Renault Championship, and won the Formula Super Renault series in 1975. In 1976 he was just beaten to the European F2 title by Jabouille, but won in 1977, and headed for F1.
Unfortunately his entry into F1 was with the grossly under-financed Martini team which departed the sport before the end of the season. Of the first fourteen races Arnoux was only entered in half, and only finished in three. He was able to get a drive with the Surtees team for the final two races but it was also their final days so… no improvement there then.
Meanwhile Renault had been struggling with their turbo car for two years. At that time the regulations allowed either 3.0 litre, normally-aspirated, or 1.5 litre super-charged engines. Renault’s single entry was the only car on the grid attempting to prove the turbo route was the way to go, and had been quietly failing miserably… recording only four finishes in two years! Mclaren-Honda does not seem so bad now, does it Fernando?
For 1979, with perhaps no other option, Arnoux accepted a seat alongside Jean-Pierre Jabouille. He was probably right not to be expecting much, but… while Jabouille only scored points on one occasion (an incredible win in the French GP), Arnoux finished in the points three times – twice in second place, and also a third place after a four-lap, wheel-banging fight with Villeneuve’s Ferrari, behind Jabouille in France, where the two Renaults had also locked out the front row of the grid. Arnoux later took two poles (against Jabouille’s four), and two fastest laps, to finish eighth in the Championship. After the race at Dijon, Arnoux and Villeneuve clapped each other on the back with Arnoux later saying it was the best race of his career. Many commentators still say it was the best end of a F1 race – ever…
The end of that race was so good that it almost went unnoticed that Jabouille gave Renault its first win. A win that was completely French: the driver, car, engine, tyres and oil where all French, and it happened during the GP of France! What's more, it was the first ever turbo-charged win in F1.
Arnoux: "Gilles came alongside me at the same braking point where I had got past. This time he was on the inside and I was on the outside. It was an interminable moment. All I could see of him were his eyes. He looked at me, I looked at him. We realised this was just the start, and it wasn't ending anytime soon. We touched six times. But, we knew we could trust one-another. The last two laps were incandescent. The plot was simple: one of the two overtook and the other overtook again as soon as possible. It's true, that day my Renault was better than his Ferrari, but over the last few laps I'd had fuel surge problems which acted as a "performance balance", as you would say today. In the end the cars were more or less equal.'
For 1980, despite the power of the engine, and the speed of the new ‘ground-effects’ car, Renault were still the only turbo-charged car in 1980, and with all but Ferrari and Alfa Romeo still relying on the Cosworth DFV. Arnoux was on pole for three consecutive events, posted four fastest laps, and won twice, at Interlagos and Kyalami, at which point he was (perhaps to everyone’s surprise) leading the World Championship… but the cars were less successful later in the year and Arnoux finally finished sixth.
1981 was the year that Ferrari joined the slow swing to turbos, along with Toleman/Hart, and the injured Jabouille was replaced by newcomer, Alain Prost, after his debut season with McLaren had not been to his liking… and he quickly stamped his superiority on Arnoux. They were apparently at each other’s throats from the first race onwards.
In a somewhat turbulent year Arnoux finished on the podium just once, and in the points just three times, to finish 9th in the Championship. Prost only finished six times, but with three victories, two 2nd places and one 3rd. For Arnoux ‘the war seemed to be over’, and the battle to be the first French World Champion was possibly starting to rankle him.
To give a little background, for non-Frenchmen & women, France had virtually ‘invented’ Grand Prix motor-racing (which is why it’s not called ‘Great Prize’, Gran Premio, Hauptpreis, or even vIpoSmoHmeH tev, [Klingon] – don’t you just love Bing?), as well as F1, in 1950, and French drivers were desperate to be crowned Champion.
In the 60’s Ligier and Beltoise had tried; the 70’s had provided Cevert, Jarier, Depailler, Jabouille, Laffitte, and Tambay; and finally Pironi and Arnoux who, by 1980, were the only drivers likely to take the laurels. And then, along came Prost. In the same way that Stirling Moss, in the 50’s, preferred to take his successes at the wheel of a British car, the French also yearned for a French Championship Constructor, and only Renault and Ligier were likely to make the grade.
1982 : The matter came to a head at the 1982 French GP when Arnoux, in the lead, refused to yield his place to Prost, who had a slightly better chance at the Championship (although Prost was lying 5th with just 19 points…), denying there had been a pre-race agreement. Arnoux had started from pole, and dominated the race, and was not in the mould of Barrichello/Massa… Not for Prost, anyway. Although at that point in the season Arnoux had just one 3rd place to Prost’s two wins and a 2nd, by year’s end Arnoux and Prost had out-qualified each other 8:8, and each had taken 5 poles… They both won two races apiece, while Arnoux had one second place to Prost’s two. In the three races where they both finished Prost scored 21pts. to Arnoux’s 15.
If Prost had taken the win he would have still finished 4th in the Championship, and Arnoux would still have finished 6th. Perhaps it was more, Catch-22 than Multi-21. Perhaps it was more a ‘Prost-order’ than a ‘Team- order’… and perhaps many will sympathise with Arnoux’s attitude.
At the end of 1982 Arnoux was probably mightily pleased to receive an offer from Ferrari, after Prost had allegedly informed Renault, one of them had to go. ..
By the time they reached Monza Arnoux had signed Ferrari’s contratto, and went on to win, in front of the two Ferraris which, apparently, the tifosi, knowing Arnoux was to be their new man, whimsically regarded as a Ferrari 1-2-3… With two other podium finishes, Arnoux again finished sixth in the Championship.
Also in 1982 Arnoux had one of his more spectacular crashes, when the entire wheel & upright unit came away at more than 200kph as he was braking for the very slow Tarzan at Zandoort. Arnoux hit the tyre barrier and almost took off.
At Ferrari Arnoux had a different year, taking four poles, two fastest laps, three wins, and four additional podiums, to place third in the Championship ahead of Tambay, putting Ferrari back on top in the Constructors Championship. With two races to go Prost led Arnoux by just two points. In the penultimate round at Brands Hatch Prost was fourth but Arnoux failed to score but, in the final race both Arnoux and Prost retired and Piquet pipped them both, relinquishing the lead to teammate Ricardo Patrese, to safeguard his own car.
Some drivers reach a peak in their career (Mark Webber in 2010?), as Arnoux did in 1983, and if they fail to strike home they often don’t get another chance. This is one reason why some drivers have appeared in this list…
In 1984 Arnoux was now joined by Michele Alboreto who, after three years with Tyrrell (two as No.1), had pulled himself into the No.1 spot at Ferrari to finish third in the Championship, with one win and and three more podiums, with Arnoux back in sixth, with four podiums. Ferrari (57 pts.) lost out to the all-conquering McLarens (143pts.) of Lauda and Prost.
For 1985 every car on the grid was turbo-charged, after Tyrrell and Minardi changed, mid-season. In the first race Alboreto was on pole but finished second to Prost while Arnoux came home fourth, scored three points… and finished the season in the same situation – 18th with just those three lonely points. What Just Happened…
After that first race Arnoux was seen to storm out of Enzo’s Maranello office, having been peremptorily sacked. Neither Arnoux nor Ferrari has ever explained, or even given a hint, why. Arnoux virtually disappeared and didn’t compete again that year despite several teams needing replacement drivers – either Arnoux was persona non grata, with the entire circus, or he declined any offers. Perhaps he was paid by Ferrari to stay away from the sport. It was almost like the old Hollywood legend: ‘You’ll never eat breakfast in this town again!’
Nigel Roebuck (of Autosport) wrote: “I do know why he was kicked out of Ferrari, but explaining it is very difficult, for a variety of reasons, some of which are delicate…”
Lionel Froissart appears to know the reason but will not talk about it, although he says that, contrary to many rumors, René was not fired because of a hypothetical relationship with a Ferrari family female, which only led mischievous reporters to suggest it might have been a Ferrari family male…
Perhaps when the protagonists are no longer with us the story might come out, although it’s bound to then be distorted by time, and myth… but it is a unique (I think) mystery of F1.
The FIA also now had a bout of ‘mystery’ by actually banning ‘atmospheric’ engines altogether for 1986. A rule that was then rescinded in 1987 and then, for 1989 they changed their minds completely, and banned turbo-chargers… It puts me in mind of British comedian, Tommy Cooper “Turbo…aspirated. Aspirated…turbo.” The 80’s were like a foreign country – they did things differently then… (with a nod to Thomas Hardy).
Certainly 1986 lays claim to having the most powerful engines ever in F1, the figures having doubled since 1980 when Renault claimed 550-600bhp, to the Cosworth’s 500. Six years later BMW claimed an estimated 1,350bhp for the special qualifying ‘grenade’. [NB: ‘estimated’ – at that time, apparently, engineers didn’t have the machinery to measure power outputs over 1,000 bhp.]
1986 also saw the return of Arnoux (otherwise where would this article be?), now with Ligier, still full of his old fire… but the Ligiers were not to repeat former glories and, although Arnoux finished in the points six times, to take 10th in the Championship, his next three years with the team were disastrous, mainly because they lost their engine supplier when Renault pulled out, and suffered annually with under-powered and unreliable mills from Megatron, Judd, and Cosworth.
In 1987 Arnoux had one sixth place, and nine retirements… that one point giving him 19th in the Championship, and 1988 was even worse, with eleven retirements or failure to qualify causing his non-classification in the Championship. And in 1989 he managed one 5th place, to finish 23rd in the Championship And that was his career; numerous flashes of brilliance, some incredible performances, some lack-lustre showings, when he didn’t seem to be in the mood, but… “on his day, [he] was as quick as there was. I recall days when his presence in a race went completely unnoticed – but also those, when he was really on his game, that were breathtaking, as at Montreal in 1983, when he simply drove away from everyone.” (Nigel Roebuck, writing in MotorSport). Arnoux had put his Ferrari 1/10th sec. ahead of Prost on pole, and finished 42 secs. ahead of Eddie Cheever’s 2nd place Renault.
In Dallas, in 1984, Arnoux put in a quite extraordinary drive. The conditions were terrible, with temperatures over 100 degrees, and a badly breaking track surface – half of the 26 starters ended in the wall. Arnoux qualified fourth, but his car wouldn’t start on the grid, and he began the race from the back. By the end of the first lap, he had passed half a dozen cars and was closing on the leaders. By the mid-point, Arnoux was fifth, and eventually moved into second… where he finished just 22 secs. down, and the only other car on the lead lap!
At the end of Arnoux’s career he was sometimes accused of ‘blocking’, and once collided with Gerhard Berger which put both of them out. However Berger claimed his brakes were fading and he had misjudged the situation. Maybe Berger was the last of the 50’s-style gentleman drivers?
At the final event of 1989, in Australia, Arnoux announced his retirement, at the age of 41! After dry practice and qualifying, rain arrived before the race-start and the teams were given 30 mins. to reset their cars for the treacherous conditions, during which Arnoux was second fastest behind Ayrton Senna. The race itself was a total organisational shambles and is best forgotten.
Arnoux ended his twelve-year career with a tally of eighteen pole positions – more than any other non- Championship-winning driver. A place on this list is justified on that ground alone.
In his retirement the ever-quiet, and usually enigmatic, René Arnoux also had a couple of appearances at Le Mans, commented for RaiTV, and did ice-racing with Laffite, but is perhaps most ‘famous’, though mostly unknown, for being the ‘A’ in the DAMS F3000 and sportscar teams, with Jean-Paul Driot. He also set up four kart circuits in France, and owns two factories. He currently lives in Paris, has maintained good relations with Renault and is frequently called to demonstrate, and race, one of the Renault turbos in historical events.
There is an amusing anecdote that Arnoux was Chapman’s choice for Lotus in 1978… until Ronnie Peterson became available. Arnoux had already bought a bloodhound to celebrate that he still called: Lotus.
Of that 1979 French GP Arnoux says: “The duel with Gilles is something I’ll never forget, my greatest souvenir of racing. You can only race like that, you know, with someone you trust completely, and you don’t meet many people like him. He beat me, yes, and in France, but it didn’t worry me – I knew I’d been beaten by the best driver in the world.”
Finally… on Arnoux being fired by Ferrari. A scouring of British, French, Italian and German websites disclosed they all just copy the same rumour. This writer has no desire to just repeat rumour but it would be dishonest to write about Arnoux’s career and not mention that he ‘sat out’ the 1985 season, after the first race. And perhaps that’s all that’s needed here.
To be continued, next Saturday.