- July 20, 1943
- August 03, 2016
- New Zealand
- Not Active
Chris Amon, a former racing driver from New Zealand, who was active during the 1960s and 1970s, is considered by many as the best F1 driver who never won the F1 championship Grand Prix.
He recorded 96 starts in the Formula One with eleven different teams, scoring five pole positions and eleven podiums but without wins. Amon was more successful in sports car racing, winning some of the greatest endurance races, such were 24 hours of Daytona (1967) and 24 hours of Le Mans (1966).
Son of the sheep owner became the racing legend
Christopher Arthur Amon was born on July 20th, 1943, in Bulls, on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. His father Ngaio Amon was a wealthy sheep owner and Chris persuaded him to buy his first racing car Austin A40 Special. Chris used this car in some local circuit races and hillclimbs before he switched to single-seaters, first to 1.5-litre Cooper and then to 2.5-liter Maserati 250F. During 1962 and 1963, Amon was racing with Maserati and Cooper T51 (Climax), gaining some good results.
Reg Parnell brought Chris to Europe
The English racer Reg Parnell saw Chris in one race and invited him to England, to drive for his team. On April 15, 1963, Chris impressed the crowd finishing fifth in the Glover Trophy, the non-championship F1 race at Goodwood Circuit. Twelve days later Amon finished sixth in the non-championship F1 race at Aintree Circuit. In both events, Amon was driving Reg Parnell's Lola Mk4A (Climax). In May, Chris was ready for debut in the Formula One Championship at Monaco Grand Prix, but Maurice Trintignant gets his car.
F1 debut at 1963 Belgian Grand Prix
Amon debuted in Formula One Championship in the second round, at Spa-Francorchamps on June 9. He retired after ten laps due to an oil leak. He retired again two weeks later at Zandvoort, this time, because of broken water pump. In his third race, the French Grand Prix in Reims, Chris finally reached the finish in the seventh place. He was seventh again in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Amon was injured in practice for the Italian Grand Prix, so he missed both the Italian and United States rounds. In the Mexican round, Reg Parnell's team switched to BRM-powered Lotus 24, but Amon retired again.
First championship points at 1964 Dutch Grand Prix
In January 1964, Reg Parnell died and his son Tim took over the team. Amon remained with the team for the 1964 Formula One season, in which the team had new Lotus 25. Although Amon scored some good results in non-championship races, the start of the championship was disappointing, as he failed to qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix. Two weeks later, in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, Amon finished fifth and took first points. Later in the year he retired six times and finished only one race, in the 10th place at the French Grand Prix.
Le Mans debut with Shelby Cobra
During 1964, Amon expanded his sports car racing activities, driving Ferrari 250 GTO and Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. In June, he debuted at 24 hours of Le Mans, sharing the #6 B.S. Cunningham's Shelby with Jochen Neerpasch. They were 17th on the starting grid but didn't finish the race.
In 1965, Amon was replaced in Parnell's team by Richard Attwood, so he focused on sports car racing. He participated only in two Formula One races when Attwood was injured, at French Grand Prix and German Grand Prix,but retired in both races.
Amon and McLaren together since 1965
Amon signed an agreement with Bruce McLaren, but McLaren's plan to run the second F1 car failed, so Amon was driving McLaren's Elva cars in sports car races. He scored two victories at the Canadian Circuit Mont-Tremblant and in the Martini Trophy at Silverstone. Chris was also driving the Ford GT40 in the World Sportscar Championship. At 1000 km of Monza, he shared the car with Umberto Maglioli but they retired. At 1000 km of Nurburgring Amon's co-drivers were Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren, they finished 8th.
Pole position and retirement at 1965 Le Mans race
At Le Mans race, Phil Hill and Chris Amon had a pole position in the #2 Shelby American Ford GT40, but they retired after 89 laps after mechanical issues.
For 1966, Amon was still under contract with McLaren, but the team had no second F1 car and Chris again focused on other racing series. He competed in six races of the Canadian-American Challenge (Can-Am), driving McLaren M1B and reaching two podiums, to finish sixth in the points.
In February 1966, Amon debuted at 24 hours of Daytona, sharing the #96 Ford GT40 MkII with Bruce McLaren. They finished seventh overall. The highlight of the year and probably the highlight of a career was 1966 24 hours of Le Mans race.
Epic victory together with Bruce McLaren at 1966 Le Mans
Amon partnered Bruce McLaren in the #2 Ford GT40 and they participated in the historic 1-2-3 victory for Ford. Three Ford cars crossed the finish line together, with Ken Miles in the #1 car slightly ahead of Bruce McLaren in the #2 car. According to the rules, the winning car was one which complete the greatest distance. Both cars completed 360 laps, but the #2 car started the race 8 meters behind #1 car, so McLaren and Amon were declared winners.
Enzo Ferrari invited Chris to Maranello
In 1966 Formula One season, Chris participated only in two races, finishing 8th with Cooper T81 at French Grand Prix and entering his own Brabham BT11 in the Italian Grand Prix, but failing to qualify. Despite not so good result in F1, Amon was invited by Enzo Ferrari to meet him in Maranello, where they signed a contract for 1967.
Amon became leading Ferrari driver in 1967
Amon's Scuderia Ferrari teammates in 1967 were Lorenzo Bandini, Mike Parkes and Ludovico Scarfiotti and it was his most successful year in a career, as he finished fifth in the standings, tied in points with four-placed John Surtees. Chris scored his first F1 podium at 1967 Monaco Grand Prix, finishing third behind Denny Hulme and Graham Hill. The race was marked by horrific accident of Amon's teammate Lorenzo Bandini, who was burned in an accident on lap 82 and died three days later.
The other teammate Mike Parkes broke both legs at the Belgian Grand Prix, in which Chris again finished third. After that race, Scarfiotti announced a retirement, so Amon became Ferrari's only driver for the rest of the season. He was third again at the British Grand Prix and one more time at German Grand Prix. With four podiums Amon collected 20 points, same as John Surtees. Surtees had one victory, so he was classified fourth and Amon was fifth.
Endurance victories at Daytona and Monza
Amon's Ferrari contract also included sports car racing so he competed in the Can-Am and International Manufacturers Championship. The season started with two great victories at 24 hours of Daytona and 1000 km of Monza. In both races, Amon's partner in the Ferrari 330 P4 was Lorenzo Bandini.
At 1967 24 hours of Le Mans, Amon and Nino Vaccarella retired after 105 laps in the Ferrari 330 P3. Chris Amon and Jackie Stewart brought the second place to Ferrari at 6 hours of Brands Hatch and the Italian manufacturer took the championship title by one point over Porsche.
Lots of pole positions, but no victories
For 1968 Formula One season, Chris stayed with Ferrari. Before the F1 championship started, he competed in the Tasman Series in New Zealand and Australia. After two wins in eight races, he finished second, behind Jim Clark.
In the 1968 F1 season, Chris reached the points in the season-opening South African Grand Prix, finishing fourth. After that, Amon took pole positions in three of the following four races but managed to finish only Dutch Grand Prix in the sixth place. At the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, Chris finished second after a close fight against Jo Siffert. In the Canadian Grand Prix, Amon led 72 laps and then the transmission failed. Although he was one of the fastest drivers in the field, Chris managed to finish only four races and he was classified tenth at the end of the year.
Amon was 1969 Tasman Series champion
The season 1969, Amon's third with Ferrari, was even worse. He finished only one race in the first six events, taking third place at Dutch Grand Prix. The V12 was unreliable and it forced Amon to leave the team.
Outside Formula One, he won the 1969 Tasman Series title, winning four of seven races with Ferrari 246T. In the Canadian-American Challenge Cup, he scored three podiums in eight races and finished sixth in the points.
Amon also drove Ferrari 312P in the 1969 International Championship for Makes, partnering Pedro Rodriguez in fourth place at Brands Hatch and Mario Andretti in second place at the 12 Hours of Sebring. At 24 hours of Le Mans, Amon's co-driver in the #19 Ferrari 312P was Peter Schetty, but they retired early after an accident.
Lap record at Spa-Francorchamps, missed the victory for 1.1 seconds
For the 1970 Formula One season, Chris moved to the March Engineering, to drive Cosworth-powered March 701 alongside Jo Siffert. Amon won the pre-season BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone. In the F1 Championship, he recorded three consecutive retirements before reached first podium with March at Belgian Grand Prix. Although he set a new lap record at Spa-Francorchamps, Amon missed the win by 1.1 seconds behind Pedro Rodriguez.
Amon repeated the second place at French Grand Prix, finishing seven seconds behind Jochen Rindt. Later in the season, Amon scored one more podium at Canadian Circuit Mont-Tremblant, finishing third. With 23 points, Amon finished 8th in the final classification, what is his second-best F1 season in a career.
During 1970, Amon competed with March in the Can-Am, but also with Ferrari in the endurance races. His last race with Ferrari was 1000 km of Monza in April when he, Ignazio Giunti and Nino Vaccarella drove the #3 Ferrari 512S to the fourth place.
Matra was Amon's new team for 1971
By the end of the year, disagreements with March co-founders Max Mosley and Robin Herd forced Chris Amon to change the team. He joined Equipe Matra Sports for the 1971 Formula One season. On January 24, 1971, he scored one more non-championship victory, at the Argentine Grand Prix. In the season-opening South African Grand Prix, Amon finished fifth and then scored his only podium with Matra, finishing third at the Spanish Grand Prix. Later in the year, he scored more points at Circuit Paul Ricard and Monza (started from pole), to finish 11th in the final classification. The season was also marked by a major accident at the Nürburgring on lap 7, which sidelined Amon for the next race at the Österreichring.
Outside Formula One, Amon participated in the 1971 Tasman Series and scored two podiums in five races, finishing fifth in the points. He also joined his Matra-teammate Jean-Pierre Beltoise at 1971 24 hours of Le Mans, to drive Matra MS660. They started 16th but retired due to mechanical problems. They participated also in the 1000 km of Paris at Autodrome de Linas-Montlhery but retired again.
Last F1 podium in a career
In 1972, Amon stayed with Matra and repeated the similar Formula One season as the year before, with one podium and five more point scoring races, to finish 11th in the final standings. The third place at the French Grand Prix at Charade Circuit was Amon's last F1 podium in a career. In that race, he also achieved his fifth and last pole position. He led in the race until the puncture forced him to pit. When returned to the race, he broke the lap record and managed to finish third, behind Jackie Stewart and Emerson Fittipaldi.
During 1972, Amon launched a firm with former BRM engineer Aubrey Woods. Amon Racing Engines supplied Formula 2 engines to a few drivers, but the company quickly became too expensive to run and was sold to March for a loss.
Matra won 1972 Le Mans, Amon retired
Amon had just one race outside F1 during 1972 – 24 hours of Le Mans. He had a good result in the Le Mans test, sharing the Matra MS660 with Francois Cevert and setting the second fastest time. In the race, Amon shared the car with Jean-Pierre Beltoise. They started third, took the lead, but engine broke on lap 3 and they retired. The other two Matra cars finished the race and scored 1-2 victory for the French manufacturer.
Tecno and Tyrell in 1973 F1 season
Matra left Formula One at the end of 1972, so Amon had to move to another new team - Martini-sponsored Tecno team. The team wasn't able to enter the competition until the fifth round, the Belgian Grand Prix. Amon started 15th and finished 6th, taking one point. It was the only points he collected, as he retired in three races and left the team after Dutch GP, unsatisfied with the car.
For the last two rounds of the season, in Canada and the United States, Amon joined Tyrrell to drive their third car. He finished tenth at Mosport Park. At Watkins Glen, Amon and his teammate Jackie Stewart withdrew from the event after the third teammate Francois Cevert was killed during qualifying.
Successful season in the European Touring Car Championship
Parallel to F1 part-time schedule, Amon had time to compete in completely new motorsport discipline for him – the touring car racing. He entered the European Touring Car Championship with BMW Motorsport. His partner in the BMW 3.0 CSL was Hans-Joachim Stuck. They won the 6 hours of Nurburgring. In the same car, Stuck and Amon participated in the 24 hours of Le Mans but retired after damaging a car in an accident.
Unsuccessful revival of Amon's private team
For the 1974 Formula One season, Amon revived his team, the Chris Amon Racing. Gordon Fowell designed the car, the Amon AF101, which used Cosworth V8 engine. It wasn't ready for racing until the fourth round of the season, the Spanish GP. Amon qualified 23rd and retired in the race after 22 laps. The team skipped Belgian Grand Prix and returned to the Monaco Grand Prix. Amon qualified 20th, but mechanical problems prevented him from starting. Further problems with cars caused that Amon appeared only in two more races, at German Grand and Italian Grand Prix, failing to qualify for both races. In the last two rounds of the championship, Amon was driving for BRM team, finishing ninth at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
Mo Nunn hired Amon at the end of 1975 season
In 1975, Chris competed in the Tasman Series. With one victory in eight races, he finished fifth in the points. In the Formula One, Amon's career was on waiting until the end of the season, when he joined the Team Ensign to participate in two championship events, at Austrian and Italian Grand Prix races. He finished 12th in both races.
Ensign's team boss Morris Nunn and Chris Amon resigned the contract for 1976 season. After finishing two races without points (South Africa and US West), Amon recorded his last points finish in a career at Spanish Grand Prix in Jarama. He finished fifth. Later in the season, he finished one more race, in the 13th place at Monaco Grand Prix.
After Lauda's crash, Amon decided to retire
The famous crash of Niki Lauda at the 1976 German Grand Prix at Nurburgring Nordschleife, induced Amon's decision about retirement. He refused to restart the race after Lauda's accident and Mo Nunn fired him. Amon declared his retirement and returned to New Zealand, saying that he saw too many people died in racing cars during his career.
Amon withdrew from his last F1 race
However, Walter Wolf persuaded Amon to drive for Wolf-Williams team in the North American races at the end of the season. During qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix in October 1976, Amon was involved in a dangerous accident with Harald Ertl. He was lucky to walk away unharmed and he decided not to start the race. It was the end of his Formula One career.
Amon's last official race in the Can-Am series
His last official race was the Can-Am race at Mont-Tremblant on June 12, 1977, in the #2 Walter Wolf Racing's Wolf-Dallara WD1. He was second on the starting grid but retired in the race. After the race, he said that he doesn't enjoy racing anymore. Gilles Villeneuve was his replacement in the #2 car.
After his retirement from racing, Amon was running the family farm in New Zealand. In the early 1980s, he became known in his home country also as a test driver in a TV series Motor Show. He was also a consultant in the Toyota New Zealand. In 1995, Amon was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.
Biographical insight into legend's life
Twenty-six years after his last race, 60-year-old Chris came out of retirement to join motorsport commentator Murray Walker as a navigator in the 2003 Dunlop Targa New Zealand rally. They competed with Toyota Camry Sportivo. In 2004, Amon also participated in the EnergyWise Rally with Toyota Prius.
A biography 'Forza Amon', by journalist Eoin Young, was published in 2003. Young is a New Zealander and insider in the world of motorsport since the early 1960s, so his book is the best insight into a life of the New Zealand's racing legend who never won an F1 race, but his biggest win was survival in almost hundred races during the most dangerous period of Formula One.
Chris Amon died on August 3, 2016, in New Zealand.