Should Chris Amon be inducted into the Motor Sport Hall of Fame? Ed Foster makes his case
The greatest driver never to win a Grand Prix? The unluckiest driver in the history of Formula 1? They are easy phrases with which to label Christopher Arthur Amon, who passed away in August this year. However, he didn’t see himself as unlucky even if Mario Andretti once said of him: “If Chris became an undertaker people would stop dying”. Despite leading seven world championship races he never did win a Grand Prix.
When he had lunch with Simon Taylor back in 2008 his reply, when asked about being unlucky, was: “I have a standard answer to that. People tell me I am the unluckiest F1 driver of my era, but actually I’m the lucky one. I’m luckier than Jimmy and Jochen, and Bruce, and Piers. Luckier than my team-mates Bandini, Scarfiotti, Siffert and Cevert. And there were others, guys who were my friends, people I raced with every weekend. I had several big accidents that could have killed me; I broke ribs, but I was never badly hurt. Clark never drew blood until Hockenheim. Rindt rarely hurt himself, either. But unfortunately you only need one accident.”
What he should be remembered for is his speed, something he had in abundance even when driving inferior cars (which he found himself in more often than not). He was also a gentleman on and off the track.
The son of a sheep farmer, Amon started his racing career behind the wheel of an Austin A40 before progressing to a 1500cc Cooper-Climax and an old Maserati 250F. Spotted by Reg Parnell in Australia, he was on the F1 grid at the age of only 19. His first championship points – aboard a Lotus 25 – followed in 1964 and, after two years of one-off F1 races for Reg Parnell Racing, Ian Raby Racing, Cooper Car Company and his own ‘team’ he was asked to join Ferrari for 1967. The year before he had won the Le Mans 24 Hours for Ford.
He won the first two sports car races he entered for the Scuderia and after Lorenzo Bandini was killed, he found himself as Ferrari’s number one aged just 23. Six podiums was all he had to show for the following three seasons and, with an increasingly fractious relationship between him and Ferrari, he left for March in 1970. Stints at Matra, Tyrrell, BRM and Ensign followed, but still the Grand Prix win eluded him even if he did win two non-championship races – the 1971 Argentine GP and the 1970 International Trophy at Silverstone.
Jacky Ickx admitted that Chris was faster than him and called him “magnificent” – a fitting label from a five-time Le Mans winner. Mark Hughes, in his obituary of Chris, explained just how talented the Kiwi was and wrote of his giant of a performance in the 1972 French Grand Prix.
“His day of days was probably at Clermont Ferrand in 1972 with Matra. ‘Just every now and then you get a little feeling that perhaps there’s no-one out there who can do it quite as well as you today,’ was how he summarised that day when we spoke about it 27 years later. Having put the new MS120D on pole almost a second clear of the field, he proceeded to leave Stewart, Fittipaldi, Ickx, Hulme et-al in his dust, effortlessly extending his lead each lap around this most demanding and dangerous of tracks. Finally, it seemed, he was going to crack it. But no. A puncture. After limping to the pits for a replacement tyre, he was back in eighth place as he rejoined. In the remaining laps he was even more mesmerising, breaking and re-breaking the lap record as he charged back up to third place, just shy of depriving Fittipaldi’s Lotus of second at the flag. It was probably one of the greatest drives of anyone’s F1 career. Ever.”
After retiring from the cockpit Amon stayed away from racing. He visited the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 1997 and was asked to Ferrari’s 60th anniversary celebrations in 2007. However, the invitation arrived only three days before the event. He emailed di Montezemolo saying: “If I’m around for the 75th, can you give me a bit more warning?” He sadly won’t be, but memories of him sideways in the 1968 Ferrari 312 at Oulton Park will never fade.