Rene Arnoux recorded his first win in more than two years at the French Grand Prix, defying team orders to lead home Renault team-mate Alain Prost. Didier Pironi brought home his Ferrari in third to extend his lead in the drivers' championship to nine points.
A pair of French drivers at the head of the field delighted the home fans, but Prost was clearly unamused. On the eve of the race Renault had agreed that with Prost in a better position in the championship, team orders would apply if Arnoux was leading. But as he extended his lead in the last few laps, he repeatedly ignored signals from the pits.
"I had 23 seconds lead on Alain with ten laps to go and I was not prepared to sacrifice all that time," Arnoux explained. "I thought I might have to make a pit stop because of bad vibration … if I had been five or ten seconds ahead I would have eased up, but it was not possible with such a lead." Renault was officially unconcerned, insisting Arnoux "will give Prost every support in the remaining races". Privately the management were fuming as five times Arnoux had been given clear instructions to let Prost pass. Within weeks Arnoux was in discussions with Ferrari and he moved teams at the end of the season.
The Renaults, on the front of the grid, led from the start with Pironi slotting in behind, but the BMW-powered Brabhams of Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese, with half-full fuel tanks, soon moved into second and third. But Patrese's engine coasted to a stop, the engine belching flames, on the eighth lap and Piquet suffered a similar, if less dramatic, fate a few laps later. Thereafter the turbos dominated with Keke Rosberg, a minute-and-a-half back in fifth, the best of the normally-aspirated finishers.
Niki Lauda's hopes of a podium finish ended when he pitted for new tyres only to find his McLaren pit crew working on the car of team-mate John Watson. He pitted again next time round but was by then back in 12th.
The veteran Jochen Mass was rushed to hospital after a spectacular crash on the 11th lap when his March was clipped by Mauro Baldi's Arrows, sending it flying over a barrier into catch fencing where it caught fire.
More than a dozen spectators were injured although only two required hospital treatment. Mass escaped with minor injuries but it was to be the last of his 114 grand prix appearances.