It has gone down in F1 folklore, without a doubt - the most thrilling battle of all time, one fought out between two true gladiators of the sport, artists behind the wheel, a breath-taking, no-holds-barred duel...and it wasn't even for victory. So how does Ren? Arnoux remember Dijon 1979 now, more than three decades on?

Arnoux, of course, was one of its two protagonists; the other was Gilles Villeneuve, still in many people's minds the greatest F1 driver who ever lived, in the purest form of the word, at least. Between them, they produced a show that had fans absolutely on the edge of their seats. Forget Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen - this was the real deal.

Never mind that 15 seconds up the road, Jean-Pierre Jabouille was en route to Renault's breakthrough grand prix success - and on home soil, too - because in truth, hardly anybody noticed. Instead, all eyes were utterly fixated upon the struggle over second.

Five times in the space of just two laps, Villeneuve and Arnoux passed and re-passed each other - rubbing wheels along the way - as they energetically duelled over the runner-up laurels in the French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois, and they emerged from their cars once the chequered flag had fallen grinning like Cheshire cats. Can you seriously imagine that happening now?

Indeed, it might have been all-out war inside the cockpit, but away from the racetrack, Arnoux and Villeneuve were firm friends, and the Frenchman still clearly regards the scrap with fondness as he recollects his epic overtaking-fest with a driver he describes as always hard - but always fair.

"It's a very happy memory, even if I only finished third," he told Crash.net. "It was a battle against my best mate in F1 - I didn't call Gilles a driver, I called him the acrobat of the circuits! You could only have that kind of fight with Villeneuve; I think we had the same temperament, the same way of regarding racing, the same hunger to win.

"With the cars the way they were back then, you needed to have complete faith in the other driver, because if you collided, you would be flying immediately. He trusted me and I trusted him, so we were able to tap each other seven times. It's true that Gilles was someone who was trustworthy and loyal, both on the track and in life. He was someone I really liked.

"Now, we're in 2011, and every quarter-of-an-hour I'm still talking about it! It was more than 30 years ago that we had that duel, so if people are still talking about it now, it shows it really touched a lot of people - the fans as much as the drivers. I was just speaking to someone, who said, 'what a race at Dijon - my best memory from F1', and then asked, 'but who won that day, you or Gilles?' I said, 'no, it was Jabouille!' People don't remember that part of it anymore... It really was a great episode in my F1 career."

Arnoux went on to lament the fact that such battles are a rarity in the more sanitised, corporate, PR-dominated modern era of F1, musing that penalties of the kind handed out to Lewis Hamilton on several occasions this season for excessive on-track aggression would never even have been contemplated back in his day.

"Yes, it's a shame," he reflected. "With so many touches over those final laps, I don't think we'll see the like of it again - we've not seen anything else like it in the following 30 years. There are drivers who touch, but only in one corner, and that's it. I think if they were to do what we did now, they would maybe end up in prison...

"It's difficult. When a driver collides with another, it's never done consciously or willingly. Yes, it could be avoided, but I think it's a bit of a shame because it penalises a guy for a simple mistake. I think from time-to-time, there are some severe penalties that are not justified - but that's the new way of the sport, the new discipline..."

As to the current state-of-play in F1 2011, Arnoux believes that despite the recent inroads made into Sebastian Vettel's crushing early-season dominance by McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari - the young German has prevailed just once in the last five outings - there will nonetheless be no stopping the Red Bull Racing steamroller over the run-in to the end of the campaign, as the defending world champion speeds on to a second consecutive title triumph.

"I think Vettel is really very strong," the 63-year-old remarked. "His world championship last year has given him a very good stability and peace of mind. Now, he is driving really well. You need to look after the engine, because you only have a certain number per season, and then you can see that if you take too much out of the tyres, you get into difficulties and might have to stop once more than the others. He is very mature for his age to be able to deal with all that.

"Sure, he's got a very good car and a very good team - otherwise he wouldn't be able to win - but I think put it all together, and everyone else is suffering. The other cars need to progress technically for their drivers to be able to go off in pursuit of Vettel, but I think for this year the championship is settled. He can practically go on holiday and leave the rest to fight over second place.

"[Fernando Alonso] is doing everything he can. There are some circuits where his car is better [than at other circuits], and I think the Ferrari is developing well, but he knows that in front of him he has a very strong driver with a very competitive car. It's difficult to begin a race when you're someone like Alonso, knowing that if he finishes second, it's about the best he can achieve. He could perhaps win another couple of grands prix [in 2011], but I think the championship now is no longer possible.

"Hamilton, from time-to-time, produces some superb charges, but then he falls away because his tyres have gone. He needs to know how to manage them, because that is part of the race now, too. He is making quite a few mistakes. He won the championship in 2008, but he has made several mistakes since - and now the championship this year is beyond reach, I think. It will be really difficult for him to win it this year.

"[In F1 today], you need to be in a big team. It's always the same ones scoring the major points, and if you're not in one of them, it's not even worth hoping you can figure in the top four or five positions in the world championship."

To relive the legendary Arnoux/Villeneuve Dijon duel, simply click here

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