While the race was significant because it was the first victory for a turbocharged car in Formula One, it is remembered more for the intense fight for second place between Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve and Renault driver René Arnoux. Yes, this celebrated battle was not for the win – Jean-Pierre Jabouille won by nearly 15 seconds in a 1.5 liter turbocharged Renault.
Arnoux passed Villeneuve with three laps to go, but Villeneuve re-passed him on the next lap. On the final lap Arnoux attempted to pass Villeneuve again, and the pair ran side-by-side through the first several corners of the lap, making contact several times. Arnoux took the position, but Villeneuve attempted an outside pass one corner later. The cars bumped hard, and Villeneuve slid wide. Villeneuve then tried an inside pass at a hairpin turn and managed to make it stick. He then held off Arnoux for the last half of the lap to secure 2nd place.
Villeneuve commented afterwards, “I tell you, that was really fun! I thought for sure we were going to get on our heads, you know, because when you start interlocking wheels it’s very easy for one car to climb over another.”
The fight between the drivers was hard, but also fair and is fondly remembered by Formula One fans all over the world.
1979 French Grand Prix – Race Video – Here is the nearly ten minute Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux duel, covering the final five laps, although the famous last lap is the one everyone recalls. The final lap starts at minute 6:15.