In the hot seat



The greatest driver never to win a grand prix is not bitter. In fact, Chris Amon considers himself lucky. But as he admits, why didn’t he quiz Mauro Forgkeri before turning his back on Ferrari’s flat-12?

Do you remember racing a Maserati 250F as a teenager in New Zealand as a special time? Kim Forrester, London

Yes, it was one of the highlights of my career. I learnt to drive on our farm, sliding around in agricultural vehicles, and you drove the 250F the same way! It was a wonderful car.

When did you realise that you could mix it with the best? Rob Winkley, Surbiton, Surrey

I did what would later become known as the Tasman Cup, in 1963. I raced a 2.5-litre Cooper against people like John Surtees, who was in a 2.7-litre Lola. From that I knew the potential was there — but I didn’t have the confidence at that time.

Why did Australia and New Zealand produce so many great talents in your era? Kevin Morrison, Essex

That’s a very simple one. We had the chance to race against the best drivers, who would come down to Australia and New Zealand for the Tasman Series to escape the European winter. It allowed young local drivers to be talent-spotted. That’s what happened to me.

Do you think Scott Dixon is New Zealand’s next big Formula One talent? Ella Davies, Horley, Surrey

Down here we hope so! He’s won in every formula he has raced in. I can’t say I’m that taken with the Indy Racing League, but what impresses me is the way he holds back and then works his way up to always be there at the finish. He knows how to pace himself And from what I read, he did a good job in the Williams tests. I think he could do very well given the opportunity.

Were you surprised how competitive the Rodriguez BRM was in the 1970 Belgian GP? Colin Watt, Fulham,

Yes! Pedro only qualified sixth and had to pass Jackie [Stewart] and Jochen [Rindt] before he got to me. I remember looking in my mirrors, seeing this white-and-brown car and thinlcing, ‘Where did he come from?’

Does it bother you to be known as the best driver never to win a grand prix? Peter Smith, Capel, Surrey

Not any more. It bothered me for a long time, but as the years pass you remember the good times over the bad. I suppose the interesting thing is that I’m probably better known now because I didn’t win one!

Would the Amon F1 car have worked with more time and money? David Brennan, Cornwall

Yes, I think it would have. I’m still sure of it to this day; there were things on that car which were ahead of its time. But I just remember the experience as a nightmare.

Do you believe in bad luck? David Clawley, Gloucester

Hmm. Well, the question is do you make your own luck? As I’ve got older I’ve gained this reputation for having bad luck. But my standard answer to that question is that to have raced in the 1960s and survived to reach the age of 60, I have to consider myself lucky.

Ferrari V12 or Matra V12? Dave Roberts, Horsham, Sussex

They were both lousy! Neither was a match for the DFV, which was another reason why I left Ferrari. I wanted parity on engines.

Did you ever drive the Ferrari flat-12? Frank Cherry, New Malden

Yes, I did. I tested it at Modena in the August of 1969. It’s a day that I remember very well, because the car was l0mph quicker than the V12 down the straight. But we had such an appalling year in ’69 that I was ready to move on. I consider Ferrari’s Mauro Forghieri one of the greatest designers and engineers in the history of racing, and I just wish that I had talked to him about it more before I decided to go to March for 1970.

Is It true that you abandoned your Ensign at the side of the track after Niki Lauda’s crash at the Nürburgring in 1976? Tim Pickets, SiIloth Cumbria

No. I came back to the pits [and decided to pull out of the race]. I had had some major accidents in that car and was appalled by how long it had taken the marshals to get Niki out of his car. I thought to myself, ‘If I crashed today, how long would it take for them to get to me?’ I did feel later that I had let the team down; Mo Nunn’s team was small, but its car was quick.

Given identical cars, I’d say you out-drove everyone except Jackie Stewart in 1970. Would you agree? Nuno Correia, Neves, Estarreja, Portugal

Well, in ’70 it was not that clear-cut I wish it had been, believe me. Jackie and I were in March 701s, but we ran different tyres and shock absorbers and so on. I remember races where I was ahead of him and others where he was ahead of me. His March worked at Brands Hatch and mine didn’t, for example. I have a lot of respect for Jackie and over that season he was more consistent but he also had a better organisation behind him in Tyrrell, which had already won a world championship the previous year. It was very different at March; I joined believing that it was going to be a one-car team, but it turned into more of a customer organisation.

How did you get on with Enzo Ferrari? Clayton Begg, Essex

Very well. I was apprehensive of meeting him because of his reputation, but we never had a problem. I think it might have been partly because of my age; I was only 23 when I joined Ferrari. Even when I told him I was leaving he was fine about it and wished me good luck.

What was Murray Walker like as a co-driver on the recent Targa New Zealand? lbar Murphy, Wexford, Ireland

He was brilliant. I’ll remember it as one of the best weeks I’ve ever spent. He was so accurate and switched on, probably more so than me! His map reading was excellent. I’d never met him before. In fact, Murray had only met one of the three New Zealanders [Amon, Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme]. That was at a Silverstone test when Murray inadvertently got in Denny’s way in the pitlane and was told abruptly to move!

What went wrong with the Amon F2 engine? David Stark, Newcastle

To be honest, I can’t answer that. I’ve blocked that whole time out of my mind. It was something I shouldn’t have got involved in and probably distracted me from what I should have been doing at that time.

Clermont-Ferrand made Jochen Rindt feel sick. How did that racetrack rate In terms of driver enjoyment for you? Vincent Mason, London

I think it’s probably number one. I loved Spa, too; anyone who says that must be slightly mad, but there were such great corners at that track and at Clermont-Ferrand, too. I liked Monaco and the Nürburgring, until they modernised the latter; in 1976,I might have felt differently if the ‘Ring’s hedges had still been in place.