1943 - 2016

For­ever the man ‘who never won a grand prix’, Chris Amon had tal­ent as great as any


Chris Amon: even the name said I watched the glam­orous young star, then aged 19, on the crest of an early wave in an old David McKay-en­tered leaf-spring Cooper-Cli­max 2.5, drift­ing and plac­ing, drift­ing and plac­ing. He was a god of a driver, a prodigy – just as ev­ery­one said. In foggy black-and-white pho­tos, we fol­lowed Chris’ early F1 life: the Par­nell Lo­tus 25, the Lon­don at, the Cooper S. The Bea­tles and Chris­tine Keeler wore the head­lines; Chris was an ex­tra, a star wait­ing to shine.

He was fe­ro­ciously quick in early McLaren sportscars, the Brucede­vel­oped Ford X1 Spy­der, and the Cooper-Maserati F1 car. Just as Bruce was turn­ing to F1, though, Fer­rari rang Chris Amon with an of­fer too good to refuse: as well as join­ing Lorenzo Ban­dini in the F1 team, Chris would race sports pro­to­types, CanAm, F2 and Tas­man. He and Lorenzo won the 1967 Day­tona 24 Hours and Monza 1,000km with the Forghieri-de­signed Fer­rari 330 P4. They were the golden boys of Ital­ian mo­tor­sport. Then, at Monaco, Lorenzo died in a ery ac­ci­dent. Aged 23, and with only three Fer­rari drives be­hind him, Chris was sud­denly the new Main Man at Maranello.

He should have won plenty of F1 races with Fer­rari through to the end of 1969. Chris nearly won the 1968 Bri­tish GP on his 25th birth­day: he was beaten by the su­pe­rior power of Jo Sif­fert’s Rob Walker Lo­tus 49B-Cos­worth. At Sainte Jovite, near Mon­tréal, on a fast, un­du­lat­ing, ow­ing cir­cuit that Chris put right up there with Oul­ton Park and Cler­mont-Fer­rand, he dom­i­nated the 1968 Cana­dian GP, mi­nus clutch. He was lead­ing by over a minute, his down-and up-shift­ing as smooth as silk, when the steel ring be­hind the clutch di­aphragm nally failed with 18 laps to run. Only two weeks be­fore, Chris had walked away from a ti­tanic test­ing ac­ci­dent at Monza, when some­thing broke on his Fer­rari as he en­tered the Les­mos, which were much quicker then than they are to­day.

There were golden mo­ments, too: end­less test­ing at Mo­dena, long lunches with Enzo Fer­rari. In the 1968 Aus­tralian GP at Sandown Park, Jim Clark (Lo­tus 49T) and Chris ran wheel-to-wheel for the en­tire dis­tance, with Jim nally win­ning it by a nose. I spoke to Chris this year about how we should cel­e­brate 50 years since that race in 2018. “I’d love to,” he said. “That was one of the most en­joy­able races of my ca­reer. Noth­ing wrong with be­ing beaten by Jim Clark…” I added (be­cause I knew Chris wouldn’t say it) “But it was a power cir­cuit. Jim had a good 30-40 more horses than you…”

At Long­ford, in sup­port of the 1968 Tas­man race, Chris drove McKay’s 4.2-litre, quad-cam V12 Fer­rari P4 Spy­der on the record­break­ing edge. Af­ter ad­mit­ting pre-race that “con­di­tions will have to be per­fect if I’m go­ing to stretch it,” he set 182.9mph (294km/h) be­tween the trees on the Fly­ing Mile at an av­er­age of 119.3mph (192km/h) – 0.2s quicker than Jim Clark’s pole time in the Lo­tus 49T. In­deed, later that year, in Au­gust, at the F1 Gold Cup, Chris wowed the crowds at Oul­ton Park’s Old Hall cor­ner (be­low left) with four-wheeldrifts com­pa­ra­ble only with Jim Clark’s con­trol of a Lo­tus-Cortina.

In­ex­pli­ca­bly, though, Chris would never achieve solid re­sults com­men­su­rate with his tal­ent. Down­cast by the per­for­mance of the Fer­rari V12 along­side the new Ford Cos­worth DFV, Chris left Fer­rari for March-Cos­worth in 1970. The new Fer­rari at-12 proved straight away to be at least a Cos­worth match and Jacky Ickx a win­ner. Even so, Chris raced right up there with fel­lowMarch driver Jackie Ste­wart, won the Daily Ex­press Tro­phy race at Sil­ver­stone, and was at-out be­hind Pe­dro Ro­dríguez’s oil-leak­ing BRM at Spa, wait­ing for the BRM en­gine to blow, as it al­ways did, when, for once, the V12 went the dis­tance: Chris had to live with sec­ond place. He switched to Ma­tra for 1971-72 and should have won at Monza, where he was lead­ing, at last free of the bunch be­hind him, when he reached up to re­move a vi­sor tear-off. As he did so, the en­tire vi­sor fell away – and, with it, Chris’s race.

I saw Chris at Cler­mont in 1972, blow­ing away the eld in the blue, func­tional, high-revving Ma­tra MS120D. The V12 wail pierced the moun­tain cir­cuit like a dag­ger. Chris’s throt­tle ap­pli­ca­tion and gear-chang­ing were Tech­ni­color pure. The inevitable punc­ture robbed him of a win but for me this was al­ways Chris’s race; in­deed, Cler­mont ’72 in my mind will al­ways be Chris Amon.

The lat­ter part of Chris’s ca­reer was blighted in the main by un­com­pet­i­tive cars – the Tecno, his own Amon, the En­sign. He stretched them all to break­ing-point but al­ways looked smooth, even when hold­ing them on 30° of op­po­site lock. He was a fu­sion, on any cor­ner, of Alain Prost, Jackie Ste­wart and Jochen Rindt.

In 1977 Chris re­tired with his wife, Tish, to New Zealand. I knew him as a friend who would al­ways oblige and as a ge­nius of a rac­ing driver de­void of ego. “The cars just need more power and no aero,” he would say, when­ever we talked about F1. “And what’s with all the run-off area? It’s as if the driv­ers in­tend to use it or some­thing…”

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