OBITUARY: Chris Amon 1943-2016
Chris Amon was a lucky bloke.
He was born into a sheep farming family at Bulls, near Palmerston North, an idyllic part of the North Island of New Zealand.
Amon would have ordinarily enjoyed a simple and safe life following his father’s footsteps on the property, but a racing career called where he would chisel out what was initially supposed to be a season of Formula 1 into 13 years during the most dangerous time in grand prix racing.
An ace with a sublimely eloquent style, Amon was frightfully fast behind the wheel of a grand prix car.
He drove for a wide collection of teams, most notably Ferrari from 1967-1969.
In 1966 Amon along with fellow New Zealander Bruce McLaren took victory at the Le Mans 24 Hour race and thus stopped Ferrari in its tracks after the Prancing Horse had dominated La Sarthe previously in that decade.
Enzo Ferrari enlisted Amon’s services with the Kiwi seeing tragedy just two races into his time with Ferrari in 1967 when team-mate Lorenzo Bandini was killed at Monaco.
He was living in an era where the mortality rate was off the scale.
So great was the risk of death, drivers knew full well that several of them in any given year would not survive the season without a fatal crash.
Amon was, in competition as in retirement, a gentleman who had a calming disposition which was in keeping with his silken driving style.
A firmly grounded individual, Amon believed he was far from a hero having survived the most deadly era in grand prix racing history.
Starting in 96 F1 races, Amon landed five pole positions, 19 front row starts and 11 podium finishes. He had led races and had victory well and truly under control only for some misfortune to cruelly intervene.
Like the time his visor parted company with his helmet at the Italian Grand Prix in 1971 inside the final 10 laps when he was leading from pole position. The record books show he greeted the chequered flag in sixth.
There were other times Amon was seemingly on his way to victory when a tyre decided it no longer wanted to remain inflated or when other such cruel twists messed with destiny.
Through his career Amon enjoyed stints at various teams where his team-mates through his F1 days, which concluded at the end of 1976, included John Surtees, Jochen Rindt, Jacky Ickx, Pedro Rodriguez, Jo Siffert, Francois Cevert and Jean-Pierre Beltoise.
He enjoyed a long association with Toyota New Zealand over several decades with the company often utilising his input for road cars while the winner of that country’s rapid-fire Toyota Racing Series receives a trophy in the driver’s honour.
Amon maintained a close involvement in the activities of a long list of topline international level Kiwi drivers including reigning World Endurance Champion Brendon Hartley, who co-incidentally hails from the same region of the North Island, 2015 Le Mans winner Earl Bamber, GP2 driver Mitch Evans and IndyCar dynamo Scott Dixon.
When Bamber won Le Mans last year, Amon told Speedcafe.com that it fulfilled one of his two ambitions.
“One of my ambitions has been to see a Kiwi win again at Le Mans and the other is to see a Kiwi back in Formula 1 in a decent car, not something around the back of the field,” Amon commented.
Amon enjoyed a glorious life and grand prix career where success cannot be measured by the obvious winning yardstick alone.
The unluckiest driver never to win a grand prix may be a true sobriquet, but in many regards Amon was lucky; lucky to survive an era of great danger and lucky to have endured such a long standing career at the highest level of motor racing.
Statistics, in Amon’s case, paint gross untruths about a man whose ability went far beyond having zero grand prix wins to his name.
A fierce and gallant competitor, Amon was a winner in so many other respects.
Speedcafe.com offers its condolences to Amon’s family and vast network of friends.
Another great loss for racing: Chris Amon. We had recently caught up for the Bruce McLaren movie. R.I.P. my friend. pic.twitter.com/p1dCW6o5qk
— Emerson Fittipaldi (@emmofittipaldi) August 3, 2016
Saddened to hear the passing of Chris Amon. A true Legend and inspiration to many. Thoughts are with his family and friends.
— Scott Dixon (@scottdixon9) August 3, 2016
Sad to wake up to news that Chris Amon passed away. I feel privileged to have swapped a couple of stories with him & call him a mate #NZHero
— Brendon Hartley (@BrendonHartley) August 3, 2016
Terribly sad to be given the news that Chris Amon has passed. An inspiration to many of us from down under.You will be missed my friend. RIP
— Mitch Evans (@mitchevans_) August 3, 2016
The value of a racing driver cannot only be measured with GP wins. He was a hero of the best era of Motorsport. RIP Chris Amon
— Emanuele Pirro (@Emanuele_Pirro) August 3, 2016