Rene Arnoux began his third Formula One season in 1980, emerging as the next great French pilote in an era of enormous Gallic talent. A driver whose style resembled that of Gilles Villeneuve, with a passion second to none, Arnoux gave Renault a combination of aggressive skill and consistency. Team Renault supplied Arnoux and teammate Jean-Pierre Jabouille with the innovative and powerful RE-20, the 'E' for main sponsor Elf, equipped with the evolving Renault-Gordini 1.5 litre twin-turbo V6 which had already turned the racing world on its ear. Unfortunately the engine was not always reliable. A disappointing outing at the season opener in Argentina gave way to victory in Brazil as Arnoux's car proved its mettle.
Jabouille began from the pole with Arnoux in sixth. After a rocket-start, Villeneuve took the lead from third and held it until the first pit stops favoured Jabouille. As well as the Ferraris, the two Renaults battled with the Cosworth-powered Lotus of Elio de Angelis and Williams of Alan Jones, and the Ligiers of Didier Pironi and Jacques Lafitte. When the race settled down, it was between the RE-20s of Jabouille and Arnoux. Pressured by his teammate, Jabouille held P1 until his Turbo let go on the 26th lap, and Arnoux inherited the lead. Driving a grand race for the remaining 14 laps, Arnoux held off de Angelis and Jones to take his maiden victory by a margin of 22 seconds.