Christopher Arthur Amon MBE (born 20 July 1943 in Bulls, New Zealand) is a former motor racing driver. He was active in Formula One - racing in the 1960s and 1970s - and is widely regarded to be one of the best F1 drivers never to win a championship Grand Prix. His reputation for bad luck was such that fellow driver Mario Andretti once joked that "if he became an undertaker, people would stop dying". Apart from driving, Chris Amon also ran his own F1 team for a short period in 1974. Away from F1, Amon had some success in sports car racing, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966.
Chris Amon was born in Bulls, New Zealand, as the only child of wealthy sheep-owner Ngaio Amon. On leaving school, he persuaded his father to buy him an Austin A40 Special, which he entered in some minor local races and hillclimbs. He progressed to a 1.5 litre Cooper and then an old 2.5L Maserati 250F, but only began to draw attention when he drove the Cooper-Climax T51 which Bruce McLaren had used to win his maiden Grand Prix.
In 1962 Amon entered the Cooper for the New Zealand winter series, but was hampered by mechanical problems. However, Scuderia Veloce entered him in a similar car, and, in the rain at Lakeside, he performed well. One of the spectators there was the English racing driver Reg Parnell who persuaded Amon to come to England and race for his team. In a test at Goodwood Amon continued to impress and was on the pace in the Goodwood International Trophy and Aintree 200 pre-season races.
For the 1963 Formula One season the Parnell team were using the year old Lola Mk4A, powered by 1962 spec Climax V8 engines. Amon was teamed with the very experienced Maurice Trintignant for the first race of the season at Monaco and his Grand Prix career started with what was to become typical bad luck: Trintignant's Climax developed a misfire, so he took over Amon's car.
At the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix Amon was partnered by Lucien Bianchi and started ahead of him from fifteenth position. After nine laps, however, an oil fire ended his race. He continued to experience mechanical problems at the Dutch, Mexican and German Grands Prix; and after an accident in practice for the Italian Grand Prix left him hanging out of his car's cockpit with three broken ribs, he missed both the Italian and United States rounds.
Amon usually qualified in the midfield and generally outpaced his team-mates, who included his good friend Mike Hailwood. His best results of the year were seventh at the French and British Grands Prix. During this time, however, Amon's social life was attracting as much attention as his driving. He was a member of the Ditton Road Flyers, the social set named after the road in London where Amon shared an apartment with American Peter Revson, Hailwood and Tony Maggs.
Parnell was nonetheless impressed with Amon's results in what was regarded as less-than-competitive machinery and promoted him to team leader. Parnell died from peritonitis in January 1964 and his son Tim took over the team.
In a series of four pre-season races in Britain and Italy, Amon recorded three fifth places at Snetterton, Silverstone and Syracuse. He failed to qualify for the first F1 race of the season, the Monaco GP, but at the next race, the Dutch GP, he scored his first World Championship points. The rest of his season, however, was blighted by mechanical problems.
Parnell was offered BRM engines for 1965, but only if it ran Richard Attwood as its regular driver. Reluctantly, Parnell agreed and Attwood took Amon's place. Spotting an opportunity, Bruce McLaren quickly signed Amon for his new McLaren team, but when no second McLaren F1 car materialised, Amon could only drive in CanAm races.
At the French GP Amon rejoined Parnell to stand in for an injured Attwood. For the German GP Amon was promoted to second Parnell driver, but mechanical failure again forced an early retirement. His last drive before Attwood's return, a non-championship race in Enna, Sicily, also ended in retirement.
During 1966 Amon continued to race for McLaren in CanAm. He was intended to drive the second McLaren M2B but difficulties with engine supply meant that the team never made the intended expansion to two cars. (James Garner's character Pete Aron's helmet and car livery in the film Grand Prix were modelled on Amon driving a McLaren, which caused the movie makers to have to encourage other cars to be painted in the 'Yamura' colours and other drivers (Bruce McLaren included) to wear Amon-style helmets.)
However, an opportunity arose to drive for the Cooper F1 team after Richie Ginther left them for Honda. Amon drove for Cooper at the French GP and was scheduled to drive for them for the rest of the season, until the more successful John Surtees left Scuderia Ferrari to join Cooper and Amon found himself dropped.
Amon made one other F1 appearance during the year, driving a Brabham BT11 powered by an old 2L BRM engine at the Italian GP under the banner of "Chris Amon Racing". He failed to qualify.
Amon did however score his biggest success to date when he partnered Bruce McLaren in a 7-litreFord GT40 Mark II at the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour race, spearheading a formation finish. He subsequently received an invitation to meet Enzo Ferrari at the Ferrari home in Maranello, where he signed to race for Ferrari in 1967 alongside Lorenzo Bandini, Mike Parkes and Ludovico Scarfiotti.
Amon's first year with Ferrari did not begin auspiciously. En route to Brands Hatch for the pre-season F1 Race of Champions, he crashed his road car and, following race practice, had to withdraw. Tragedy then struck the Ferrari team when Bandini died following a crash during the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix, Parkes broke both his legs at the Belgian Grand Prix and, in the aftermath, Scarfiotti went into temporary retirement. Amon therefore became Ferrari's only driver for the rest of the season, until joined by Jonathan Williams for the final race in Mexico. At the end of 1967, Amon had achieved three third places and finished fourth in the Drivers' Championship.
Amon's Ferrari contract also included sports car racing and he began 1967 by winning the Daytona 24 Hours and 1000km Monza events with Bandini in the 4-litre Ferrari 330-P4. He finished the year partnering Jackie Stewart to a second place at Brands Hatch.
1968 was the year aerodynamics first played a significant role in F1 car design and early on Amon worked with engineer Mauro Forghieri to place aerofoils on the Ferrari 312. He then won the first two rounds of the Tasman Series before narrowly losing the series to Jim Clark.
After the first race of the F1 season in South Africa, Amon achieved pole positions in three of the following four races (at the Spanish, Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix) but ever-present mechanical problems meant he secured only a single Championship point from them. Throughout the rest of the season he never qualified lower than fifth place and nearly scored victories at the British and Canadian rounds. In Britain he duelled to the line with Jo Siffert's Lotus 49B and in Canada he dominated the race despite a malfunctioning clutch. Seventeen laps from the finish, however, his car's transmission failed and a distraught Amon had to be consoled by Jacky Ickx. From at least ten promising starts that season he was only able to finish five races and score ten Championship points.
Amon began 1969 with success driving the Ferrari Dino F2 in the Tasman Series, but in F1 his abysmal luck continued. Despite six starts from top-six positions, he was only able to achieve a third-place at the Dutch GP. Ferrari's F1 V12 engine was too unreliable and although its replacement had proven very fast in testing, it had suffered many mechanical breakages. Amon had no reason to believe it would be any more dependable than the V12, so although the new engine was clearly more powerful, he decided to leave Ferrari for a Cosworth DFV powered team. Ironically, the new flat-12 engine would become one of the best F1 engines of the 1970s.
During 1969 Amon continued to drive for Ferrari in World Sportscar Championship events outside F1, partnering Pedro Rodriguez to a fourth place in the BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch and coming second at 1969 12 Hours of Sebring, but retiring from the 1000km Nürburgring and 1000km Monza races, all in the Ferrari 312P sportscar. He also drove in a few CanAm races. His last race for Ferrari would be the 1970 1000km Monza, where he finished as runner-up.
For the 1970 Formula One season, Amon made what was to be the first of several moves to smaller, newer teams. March Engineering had been formed the previous year to build custom chassis for Formulas 2 and 3, but quickly moved into F1, designing and building the March 701. Amon and Siffert were signed as drivers, with IndyCar driver Mario Andretti making an occasional appearance in a third car. March also sold their 701 chassis to Tyrrell, where Jackie Stewart drove it to its first victory in that year's Spanish GP.
Amon won the pre-season Silverstone International Trophy, but once the F1 season began he found himself prevented from converting good qualifying positions into good results. He qualified second behind Stewart's Tyrrell March for the season-opening South African Grand Prix only for his own March to overheat within fourteen laps. Amon then qualified sixth for the Spanish Grand Prix only for his March's Ford-Cosworth DFV engine to expire within ten laps. He qualified and ran second in the 1970 Monaco Grand Prix until his suspension failed twenty laps from the finish. This was the race where Amon refused to drive unless his entry number was changed from 18 – the number under which his then team-mate Lorenzo Bandini had crashed and died in Monaco – to 28.
Amon's close second place from a third-place start at the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix finally gave the March works team their first points finish, but after qualifying fourth for the next race, the Dutch Grand Prix, his car's clutch broke after just one lap. Amon duplicated his Belgian result at the 1970 French Grand Prix, but thereafter only achieved one further result of note in the year, a third place from sixth in Canada.
In 1971 Amon once again scored a pre-season victory, this time at the Argentine Grand Prix. Once the F1 season had begun, he managed to covert a third-place start at the Spanish GP into a third-place podium finish and scored a couple of fifth places in the South African and French GPs. Apart from these results, however, his run of poor F1 returns continued. At the Italian GP he qualified in pole position and despite a poor start to the race looked as if he would capitalise on it – until, that is, the visor on his helmet became detached. Amon had to slow to avoid risking a major accident, thereby allowing other drivers to catch and overtake him. He finished the race in sixth place, scoring just one Championship point.
During the year Amon also competed in the non-championship Questor Grand Prix at the new Ontario Motor Speedway, where he qualified second and, despite suffering a puncture during the race, managed to finish fourth.
In the 1972 Formula One season Amon achieved a handful of points-scoring finishes, but only one podium appearance, at the French GP. Here he achieved the fifth and final pole position of his career and was leading the race until a puncture forced him to pit, but he charged back through the field, annihilating the circuit's lap record to finish third.
With the money he had made from motorsport, Amon decided to set up a racing engine firm with former BRM engineer Aubrey Woods. Amon Racing Engines supplied Formula 2 engines to a few drivers, but the company quickly became too expensive to run and was sold to March for a loss.
Matra decided to end their participation in F1 at the end of 1972, so Amon found himself looking to return to March as a driver. The place, however, was given to Jean-Pierre Jarier, purportedly for financial reasons. Amon therefore signed for another recently-formed F1 team, Tecno.
Tecno had entered F1 the previous year, having been a successful chassis-builder for other Formulæ. Their first year in F1 proved to be dismal, however, so they had jumped at the chance to sign Amon in the hope he would help transform their performance.
Unfortunately, the team went from bad to worse and wasn't able to field the Tecno PA123/6 until the fifth GP of the season, the Belgian GP. Amon managed to finish in sixth position, but was unhappy with the car. He commissioned Gordon Fowell to build a replacement and although Amon commented at the time that it was "the best chassis I've ever sat in", it too proved virtually undriveable. By the time of the Austrian GP, four races from the end of the season, Amon's patience had run out and he left the team. He would later claim that the months he spent with the team "felt like ten [seasons]".
Tyrrell offered Amon a third car - the 005 - in which to drive the last two races of the season. After a mediocre first outing at the Canadian GP, he and Jackie Stewart withdrew from the final race of the year, the United States GP, following the death of their teammate François Cevert during qualifying.
For the 1974 F1 season Amon revived Chris Amon Racing. Gordon Fowell designed the car, the F101, which featured a single central fuel tank, titanium torsion bars and a forward driving position. Structurally, however, it proved to be weak and was not ready for an F1 appearance until the fourth race of the season, the Spanish GP. Amon was only able to qualify 23rd, thanks to brake-disc vibration that only became worse with the tyres for the wet race that followed. Despite cautious driving, a brake shaft finally broke and Amon was forced to retire after 22 laps.
Following further work and testing, Amon returned for the Monaco GP and qualified twentieth, but, thanks to mechanical problems, he was unable to start the race. Further problems and illness meant Amon was not able to reappear with the F101 until the Italian GP, three races from the end of the season, but this time he was unable to qualify. That sealed the fate of both the car and Chris Amon Racing, leaving Amon to drive the season's last two races with the faltering BRM team. He would later reveal that he had turned down a chance to join the Brabham team earlier in the season.
Apart from a Tasman Series victory in January 1975, Amon's racing career seemed once again to have stalled. However, a chance meeting with Morris Nunn of Ensign led to two GP drives in the Ensign N175 at the Austrian and Italian GPs. Although the results were unremarkable, he and Nunn worked well together, so Amon joined Ensign for the 1976 F1 season.
Ensign's first race of the season was the South African GP where Amon qualified 18th and finished 14th. Thereafter results began to improve, with Amon qualifying 17th and finishing 8th in the USA West GP; qualifying 10th and finishing fifth in the Spanish GP; and then qualifying eighth for the Belgian GP. More points then seemed likely from the race until his car lost a wheel 19 laps from the finish and Amon was lucky to escape unhurt from the ensuing accident. He then achieved an incredible 3rd grid position start for the Swedish GP and in the race looked as if he would join Tyrrell drivers Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler on the podium, until suspension failure threw him from the track after 38 laps.
Amon had again been lucky to escape serious injury and decided to miss the next race, the French GP. He returned for the British GP, qualifying in 6th and running 4th in the race when his Ford-Cosworth DFV engine developed a water leak. Rather than risk losing an engine, his team called him in to retire.
At the German GP problems dogged his attempts to qualify well, but it was Niki Lauda's now infamous crash during the second lap of the race that had a far greater impact. He refused to restart the race and Nunn fired him from the team. Amon declared his retirement from the sport and returned to New Zealand.
"I'd seen too many people fried in racing cars at that stage. When you've driven past Bandini, Schlesser, Courage and Williamson, another shunt like that was simply too much. It was a personal decision..."
(Amon, on his retirement in 1976)
However, Walter Wolf contacted Amon and persuaded him to drive for his Wolf team in the North American races near the end of the season. After recording some promising times in preparation for the Canadian GP, however, Amon was involved in a heavy collision with another car during qualification and once again was lucky to walk away unharmed. He didn't then take part in either the Canadian or United States GPs.
Amon turned down an offer of a fulltime F1 drive for 1977, but did attempt a return to CanAm racing in 1977 with a Wolf-Dallara WD1. However, after only one race he quit, saying "I'm just not enjoying this anymore". His place was taken by the young and then unknown Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, whom Amon would later that year recommend to Enzo Ferrari.
In the meantime, Amon returned once again to New Zealand, this time to retire from F1 motor racing for good.
After his retirement from F1, Amon dedicated himself to running the family farm in New Zealand's Manawatu District for many years. Nowadays he is retired and lives in the lakeside town of Taupo in New Zealand's North Island. In the early 1980s he became more well-known in New Zealand from test-driving vehicles on the TV motoring series Motor Show and later consulted for Toyota New Zealand, tuning the 1984 Toyota Corolla and subsequent cars for sale there. He also appeared in TV commercials for the company, where much was made of the acclaim he won from Enzo Ferrari.
Despite never winning a championship Formula One Grand Prix, Amon won eight non-championship GPs, the Silverstone International Trophy, the 1000km Monza, the Daytona 24 Hours, the Tasman Series and, perhaps most significant of all, the famous 24 Heures du Mans (alongside Bruce McLaren). Many of these races attracted some of Amon's otherwise more successful fellow F1 drivers, all of whom he was able to beat.
In Formula One, Chris Amon took part in 96 Grands Prix, achieving 5 poles, leading 183 laps in 7 races, reaching the podium 11 times and scoring a total of 83 Championship points. A biography 'Forza Amon' by journalist Eoin Young charts Amon's racing career and gives some insights into his personal life. The book makes clear one point on which Amon himself disagrees with most commentators, the issue of his bad luck. Amon has pointed out on several occasions that he competed for a decade and a half in Formula 1 and survived some serious accidents, notably in 1976, whilst others, including friends like Bruce McLaren, suffered serious injury and death.
Among racedrivers, humility is understandably not a dominant gene. Yet here is Chris Amon, reflecting on the 1968 racing death of Jim Clark: "If this can happen to Jimmy, what chance do the rest of us have? I think we all felt that. It seemed like we'd lost our leader." In 1995, Amon was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.
Formula One World Championship results
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)
- Bruce McLaren Trust Official site - contains numerous articles covering Amon's racing with McLaren
- Grandprix.com biography
- New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame
|Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
A. J. Foyt
|Tasman Series Champion
|BRDC International Trophy winner