Former Formula One driver Chris Amon has passed away after a battle with Cancer, his family have announced.
The New Zealand born racer drove for the likes of Tyrrell and Ferrari during his 96 Grand Prix starts, but famously is regarded as ‘The Best driver never to win a Grand Prix’.
Claiming 11 podium finishes and five pole positions during his career which spanned from 1963 – 1976, Amon was a well-respected figure during a time when crashes in F1 were more often than not fatal. Indeed during his time, Carel Godin de Beaufort, John Taylor, Lorenzo Bandini, Jo Schlesser, Gerhard Mitter, Piers Courage, Jochen Rindt, Jo Siffert, Roger Williamson, Francois Cevert, Peter Revson, Helmuth Koinigg and Mark Donohue were all killed in F1 races – although Siffert’s death was in a post season race run to F1 rules.
Making his debut in 1963 with the British based Parnell team, Amon scored his first points with a fifth place finish in the Dutch Grand Prix of 1964. He would not score points again until 1967, driving for the Scuderia Ferrari.
Le Mans success impresses Enzo
Enzo himself was so impressed with Amon’s performance in the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours alongside fellow Kiwi Bruce McLaren that he was offered a seat with the most revered team of them all. In just his second race for the Prancing Horse, at Monaco, he claimed a maiden podium, with third. Three more podiums secured a career best fourth in that season’s championship.
Prehaps Amon’s greatest achievement whilst driving for Ferrari was his Pole lap for the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix, beating the new ‘Man to beat’ after Jim Clark’s death in a F2 race earlier that, Jackie Stewart to first on the grid, by incredible 3.7 seconds.
Trying his best, Amon could never land that elusive first win, often being denied in the cruellest of circumstances. His family, in a statement issued after his death said that “he retained no only a close interest in Formula One – and his very wide range of favourite topics – but also his wonderful sense of humour” – something 1978 World Champion Mario Andretti used when he said that “if he became an undertaker, people would stop dying” such was Amon’s bad luck.
However, despite this conception of him, Amon was never one to say he was unlucky – referring to the deaths of many of his colleagues when he said “I’m luckier than Jimmy (Clark) and Jochen (Rindt) and Bruce (McLaren) – killed in a 1970 CANAM test and Piers (Courage).
Amon also lost many drivers who were his teammates in his 12 year career, including Bandini, Ludovico Scarfiotti, Siffert and Cevert, “I had several big accidents” he said, “but I was never badly hurt”.
The 1971 Italian Grand Prix was Amon’s zenith when it came to bad-luck. Leading the race with just nine laps remaining, his helmet visor broke off. His dropping down to field to P6, gave F1 its closest ever finish when Peter Gethin crossed the line in his BRM , just 0.001 clear of March’s Ronnie Peterson.
Further heartbreak followed with a puncture in France in 1972, before Amon’s career dwindled out to retirement, when he refused to take the start in the 1976 German Grand Prix, where Niki Lauda was badly burnt in a Lap 2 accident. He then headed back home to New Zealand to his family roots of the farm.
During his battle with cancer, his family said in the statement that his sense of humour was “complete with infectious chuckle”
Paddock pays tribute
Many in the paddock today, started their careers, just as Amon’s was ending, and McLaren chief Ron Dennis paid tribute to Amon by saying he was “one of the most likeable men I have met in my long racing career”, adding in a reference to the Kiwi’s Le Mans victory alongside the man “whose name still graces the team which I have devoted my working life”.
Dennis also took the “opportunity to extend the heartfelt sympathies of all at McLaren to a true gentleman, and one of the fastest racing drivers there ever was: the one and only Christopher Arthur Amon”.