Chris Amon – the former Formula 1 driver dubbed as the sport’s unluckiest – has passed away, aged 73, after a battle with cancer.
Amon was a member of the well-known trio of New Zealand drivers, alongside Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme, to race in Formula 1 in the 1960s and early 1970s, although he would sadly never reach their levels of success. That being said, he did win both the 24 Hours of Dayton and 24 Hours of Le Mans, the latter being achieved in 1966 in a Ford GT40 alongside McLaren.
Amon’s talent and speed were rarely in doubt, but the same could not be said for his ability to find himself in the right team or car at the right time. Frequent mechanically-induced retirements – along with the odd crash, to be fair – blighted his potential and gave him the unwanted sobriquet of the most talented driver never to win a World Championship Grand Prix, as well as for driving for the most number of teams in the sport’s history.
“He was endowed with tremendous natural talent, but he was never sufficiently organised to take advantage of his own ability. He was always signing for the wrong team at the wrong time.” – Jackie Stewart, Jackie Stewart’s Principles of Performance Driving (1986)
Born in the small town of Bulls in New Zealand’s North Island, Amon grew up as the sole child on his parents’ sheep and cattle farm. He learned to drive by the age of six and his interest in motorsport was struck in his early teenage years after reading a magazine report about the 1956 French Grand Prix.
After leaving school, he started racing an Austin A40 Special in local events before graduating to a 1.5-litre Cooper Climax. Later on, he got his hands on a World Championship-winning Maserati 250F – while it was getting very long in the tooth, he showed well in a field that included the likes of Stirling Moss.
It was in 1962 that Amon earned the break that would propel him to Europe. Spotted by fellow racing driver-turned team owner Reg Parnell, he was invited by the Englishman to race for his eponymous team the following year. After showing well in pre-season events at Goodwood and Aintree, he made his Formula 1 debut as a 19-year-old in a year-old Lola Climax. He started eight races that year, with a pair of seventh places being his best result.
He stayed on at Parnell’s team for 1964 – now driving a BRM-powered Lotus – and earned his first points’ finish with fifth place at Zandvoort. Parnell’s team secured the use of BRM engines for 1965, but only if the team ran Richard Attwood as its driver – Amon was sidelined but for a pair of race outings when Attwood was injured, neither of which he finished.
Just two further outings came in 1966, but Ferrari was willing to take a risk on this young driver and hired him for the 1967 season as its fourth driver. By mid-season, Amon was the only one left: Lorenzo Bandini was killed at Monte Carlo, Mike Parkes was badly injured at Spa-Francorchamps, and Ludovico Scarfiotti fell out with the management and was fired. Four third-placed finishes were the highlight en route to finishing fifth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
He should have won the championship the following year. He started from pole position four times, but failed to finish on seven occasions in eleven races as his Ferrari 312 suffered countless reliability woes. The 1969 season was even worse: he finished just once – on the podium, no less – in seven outings.
Frustrated by the Italian team’s woes, Amon jumped ship to the March Engineering team for 1970, where victory at the non-championship International Trophy proved to be a rare highlight, before moving to the French Matra equipe in 1971. He lost a comfortable lead in the 1972 French Grand Prix at Clermont-Ferrand thanks to a puncture…
He moved on to the Tecno team for 1973 – their car was hopeless – and then underscored his total lack of luck by deciding to build and enter his own car. The AF101 was a weak chassis and the venture was a total failure: he retired from the car’s first race, withdrew from the second before the start and failed to qualify for two more races before the team closed down due to financial problems.
His career had a brief revival with a few outings for BRM and Ensign, and he had one further outing with the Wolf-Williams merger at the 1976 Canadian Grand Prix. After being T-boned in qualifying, a shaken but uninjured Amon elected to retire from Grand Prix racing.
With almost 100 Grands Prix to his credit – nineteen of which were started from the front row of the grid – Amon’s best results were a trio of third-placed finishes. If ever a man and machine could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, that unfortunate mantle would rest with Amon.
He retired from racing for good after one CanAm outing and his seat was taken by the then-unknown Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve, whom Amon would subsequently recommend to Enzo Ferrari.
Amon returned to New Zealand to manage the family farm for many years. In later years, he moved to the town of Taupo and enjoyed a stint test driving vehicles for the locally-produced Motor Show television series and later served as a consultant for Toyota New Zealand.
He was awarded an MBE in 1993, inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 and involved in the redesign of the Taupo Motorsport Park circuit which played host to the A1 Grand Prix championship. A supporter of nurturing young local talent, Amon’s name was lent to the Chris Amon International Scholarship to provide funding to each winner of the New Zealander Toyota Racing Series.
Amon was twice married, first in 1966 to the American actor Barbara Anne McLain, and then in 1977 to Tish Wotherspoon, with whom he had a daughter, Georgie, and twin sons, James and Alex.
|Full Name||Christopher ‘Chris’ Arthur Amon, MBE|
|Born||20 July 1943, Bulls (NZL)|
|Died||03 August 2016, Rotorua (NZL)|
|Years in F1||1963-1976|
|First GP||1963 Belgian Grand Prix|
|Last GP||1976 German Grand Prix|
|Grands Prix||96||Non-starts||12 (4 DNQ; 8 DNS)|
|Best Finish||3 x 2nd places||Points||83|
|Fastest Laps||3||Pole Positions||5|
|1963||Formula 1, Reg Parnell Racing Lola MF4A / Lotus 24, 6 races, 2 DNS, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1964||Formula 1, Reg Parnell Racing Lotus 25, 8 races, 1 DNQ, 2 points, 16th overall|
|1965||Formula 1, Reg Parnell Racing Lotus 25 / Ian Raby Racing Brabham BT3, 2 races, Not Classified|
|1966||Formula 1, Cooper Car Company Maserati T81, 1 race, Not Classified
Formula 1, Chris Amon Racing Brabham BRM BT11, 1 DNQ
24 Hours of Le Mans, Shelby-American Ford GT40, 1st overall with Bruce McLaren
|1967||Formula 1, Scuderia Ferrari 312, 10 races, 4 podiums, 20 points, 5th overall
24 Hours of Daytona, Ferrari 330 P4, 1st overall with Lorenzo Bandini
|1968||Formula 1, Scuderia Ferrari 312, 11 races, 3 poles, 1 podium, 10 points, 10th overall|
|1969||Formula 1, Scuderia Ferrari 312, 6 races, 1 podium, 4 points, 12th overall
Tasman Series, Ferrari 246T, 4 wins, 6 podiums, 1st overall
|1970||Formula 1, March Engineering Ford 701, 13 races, 3 podiums, 23 points, 8th overall
Formula 1 BRDC International Trophy, March Engineering Ford 701, 1st overall
|1971||Formula 1, Equipe Matra Sports MS120B, 10 races, 1 pole, 1 podium, 9 points, 11th overall|
|1972||Formula 1, Equipe Matra MS120C/D, 11 races, 1 DNS, 1 pole, 1 podium, 12 points, 10th overall|
|1973||Formula 1, Martini Racing Tecno PA123B, 4 races, 1 DNS, 1 point, 21st overall
Formula 1, Elf Team Tyrrell Ford 005, 1 race, 1 DNS, 0 points
|1974||Formula 1, Chris Amon Racing Ford AF101, 1 race, 2 DNQ, 1 DNS, 0 points, Not Classified
Formula 1, Team Motul BRM P201, 2 races, 0 points
|1975||Formula 1, HB Bewaking Team Ensign Ford N175, 2 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1976||Formula 1, Team Ensign Ford N174/N176, 8 races, 2 points, 18th overall
Formula 1, Wolf-Williams Racing Ford FW05, 1 DNS
Images via Getty, LAT, Motorsport Magazine, Reuters, The Cahier Archive
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