Chris Amon

Chris Amon is widely recognised as the greatest driver never to win a Grand Prix. He led seven championship races but lady luck never smiled kindly on this talented and personable New Zealander.

Impressing in New Zealand and first steps in Europe

The son of a sheep farmer, he raced an Austin A40 around the family farm during his teenage years. Soon competing at nearby Levin, he hillclimbed a 1500cc Cooper-Climax and raced an old Maserati 250F by the start of the 1960s. Amon was spotted by Reg Parnell at the start of 1963 when racing a 2.5-litre Cooper-Climax at Lakeside in Australia.

Impressed by the 19-year-old, Parnell invited him to join his independent Formula 1 team for 1963 and Amon scored successive seventh place finishes with the old Lola Mk4A-Climax. He drove a Lotus 25-BRM throughout 1964 and fifth in the Dutch GP delivered Amon’s first championship points.

He joined compatriot Bruce McLaren’s fledgling team in 1965 to race a sports car while awaiting the first McLaren F1 car to be ready. But he won national events at St Jovite and Silverstone that year with the McLaren/Elva M1A. He also rejoined Parnell for a couple of GPs that year but retired from both.

Le Mans winner for Ford signs for Ferrari

Both Amon and McLaren were members of Ford’s works sports car team in 1966 and they shared the winning Ford GT40 Mk2 as the marque finally beat Ferrari at Le Mans after three years of trying. That victory re-established Amon as a talent to watch and he signed for Ferrari in 1967 to race in both F1 and sports cars.

He won his first two endurance races for the Scuderia (the Daytona 24 Hours and Monza 1000 Kms) and found himself as de facto number one of the F1 team when Lorenzo Bandini was killed. Third in four of the first six GPs that season, Amon finished fourth equal in the 1967 F1 World Championship.

Fourth in the opening GP of 1968 in South Africa, he started the next three races from pole position. He was second in the British GP after dicing Jo Siffert for the lead and won the Tasman Cup at the start of 1969.

Formula 1’s unluckiest driver comes close to victory

Amon’s relationship with Ferrari had grown ever-more fractious by this point so he moved to the new March concern for 1970. On the front row for his debut in the South African GP, he won the International Trophy at Silverstone and finished second in the Belgian and French GPs.

The New Zealander signed for Matra-Simca in 1971 and the season started with non-championship victory in the Argentine GP but it was ultimately another tale of frustration. Third in Spain, he qualified on pole at Monza and was leading when he inadvertently removed both of his tear off visors and so dropped out of the leading pack to finish sixth. Victory in the 1972 French GP seemed assured before a puncture forced him to the Clermont-Ferrand pits with third scant consolation.

Matra withdrew at the end of the year so Amon rejoined March for 1973. However, before the season had begun, he heard on New Zealand radio that he had lost the drive following a dispute concerning his retainer. An ill-judged move to Tecno and a couple of outings in a third Tyrrell during 1973 cemented the feeling that Amon would never win a championship race. He turned constructor in 1974 but the Amon AF101-Ford was never as quick as its creator/driver.

A reminder with Ensign before retirement

The career of one of the racing’s most talented but unlucky protagonists was on the wane although his impressive half-season in the nimble Ensign N176-Ford during 1976 reminded F1 of his prowess. Fifth in Spain and third on the grid in Sweden for Mo Nunn’s minnows were among his finest achievements.

Chris Amon made a one-off appearance in St Jovite’s 1977 Can-Am race before retiring to his New Zealand farm.

Non Championship Races