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Chris Amon


Reg Parnell (Racing) Lola-Climax Mk4A




1963 British GP (21 July 1963)


With the possible exception of his excellent season at Ensign and his usual terrible luck in his years with Matra, Chris Amon's seventies F1 career is in sharp contrast with his years as a Ferrari racer in the sixties. In those days there was something magic about Chris, the modest and kind New Zealand farmer boy becoming a team leader in terrible circumstances and making the most of it - if only for his luck to deprive his from World Championship success.

One of the youngest Grand Prix drivers ever after being discovered by Reg Parnell, he was still learning the ropes while already acting at the highest level and looked to have his luck terminate a slow start (at least results-wise) to his Grand Prix career before Enzo Ferrari picked him up. Luck is indeed the pivotal word in Amon's career and his claim to fame - being arguably the best driver never to have won a World Championship race (although he won two major non-championship F1 events) - is an unenviable one. More than two decades after his sudden and full retirement to the family's New Zealand farm business, it's still the first thing associated with Chris.

Of course, there is much more behind Amon's aura of being the unluckiest driver in Grand Prix history. That you will find in Tom Prankerd's article on the Kiwi driver.

Reader's Why by Alessandro Silva

The unluckiest driver ever and a great talent wasted photographed in his first F1 season. Talking of his prospects for the 1973 season, Chris Amon said in an interview: "Right now a lot of people do not give us much chance, but we are going to spring a few surprises". This was said before Chris embarked towards yet another catastrophy: he had signed for Martini Racing to drive the Tecno PA123.

How is it that Amon, a driver rated among the top ones, was by 1973 considered an underdog and he never won a Championship race in 13 years of F1 career? Time and again he had proved the equal of the best, starting 19 times from front row with five poles, setting fastest laps and leading races. Every single time fate had intervened. Take the 1972 French GP for instance. On the challenging Clermont Ferrand track there was no one to catch Amon in the blue Matra that day, yet, with a handsome lead, he sustained a puncture. The wheel was changed and he stormed back through the field to snatch third place, but the chance of that first win ever was lost again. Amon had driven for many top teams, Ferrari, Mc Laren, Matra and March, but somehow he had an uncanny capability of leaving them when things were about to turn better. He certainly was not able to choose the people that advised him; besides he had personal worries, since his business ventures had turned sour and his marriage had ended in a divorce, and some weaknesses in his character showed up now and then.

Christopher Arthur Amon is born in 1943 in New Zealand in a family of well-off farmers. Motor racing was his one ambition and by the time he was sixteen he had his first racing car, a tuned Austin A40 which, of them all, had a Bugatti gearbox! His father wanted him to go to agricultural college, but Chris elected to stay home to gain practical farming experience and carry on motor racing so he bought Chris a F2 Cooper-Climax which brought some success, to be followed by a Maserati 250F. Amon reckons that this car taught him more about racing than anything else before or since, but it was not long before a 2.5L Cooper replaced it. Racing the Cooper in the Tasman 1963 series he was spotted by Reg Parnell who became convinced Amon was a champion in the making and he signed up to drive in Europe that season. Chris was still a teenager when he drove one of the Parnell Lolas to a superb fifth place in the Easter Monday Goodwood Meeting. The Lola was a good car in 1962, but in 1963 it was in the second half of the pack. Amon finished seventh in two GPs and narrowly escaped death at the Nürburgring when the steering broke. He had his entry for Le Mans 24hrs race turned down, the organisers considering him too young! The following winter Reg Parnell died and his son Tim took over the running of the team. Tim ran three cars altogether for an all-star team comprising Amon, Hailwood and Peter Revson, but the Lotus 24s with BRM engines were basically uncompetitive. Amon though picked up his first Championship points with a fifth place at the Dutch GP and his practice times were invariably impressive. By the end of that year Amon was thinking of returning to sheep farming in New Zealand, when fellow New Zealander Bruce McLaren offered him a contract with the McLaren Organisation when no one else wanted to know. Bruce thought that Amon would succeed if properly guided. Amon spent 1965 carrying on a program of tyre testing for Firestone with various McLaren models and some odd races in sportscars for Elva and for Ford at Le Mans. He took part in only two GPs for Parnell. The plan for 1966 was to drive alongside McLaren in the new F1 car but the team's idea of using Ford V8 Indianapolis engines was a terrible failure and Chris found himself on the sidelines again with only one GP drive for Cooper at Reims. The highpoint of the year was a win at Le Mans along with Bruce McLaren in the awesome Ford Mk2.

Chris was back to a full-time F1 career when Firestone convinced Ferrari to give him a trial that led to a contract. Famous Ferrari chief designer Forghieri loved Amon considering him in the same class as Jim Clark! Ferrari's team for 1967 comprised Bandini, Parkes and Amon. After two thirds by Amon in South Africa and Monaco, and Bandini's death and Parkes' crash in Spa, Amon found himself the team leader and collected enough points to be placed fourth in the World Championship, his best finish ever. A disappointment came in the Mexican GP when the car ran out of fuel robbing Amon of second place. He won with Bandini early in the year the Daytona and Monza sportscar races in the Ferrari P4. In 1968 and '69 Ferrari was limited by financial problems. In 1968 Amon was leading the Spanish GP only to retire with fuel pump problems and had a good second at the British GP, but there was little else until the Canadian GP when Amon was leading by over a minute when the transmission failed. That winter using a F2 Ferrari with a 6V 2.6-litre engine, Amon cleaned up the Tasman series with a team he ran for himself. In the second GP of 1969, in Spain, Amon had a huge lead but the engine blew up and victory slipped from him once again. After a third in Zandvoort, the car became progressively less competitive and Amon asked to be relieved from his obligations to drive the last three races of the year. He drove the unsuccesful Ferrari 7L in the CanAm series.

Towards the end of 1969 he tried the new Ferrari flat 12-cylinder engine but he made the mistake of not being impressed by it. He started negotiations with the March Engineering organisation. Director and designer Robin Herd was an old friend from the McLaren days and when Jochen Rindt severed his connection with the project, Amon was offered the number one drive for the team and decided to leave Ferrari. He was somehow upset when March sold a car to Ken Tyrrell to be driven by Stewart but he started from the front of the grid in South Africa. At the International Trophy Amon had a fantastic dice with Stewart on a similar car and beat him to record his first F1 victory. He led the race in Monaco before withdrawing and traded the lead with Pedro Rodriguez in Spa, being beaten by inches; he also finished second in the French GP.

The March 701 was heavily criticised in some circles and Amon, easily affected by other people's impressions, became disenchanted with it all. Nonetheless he ended the season with good placings in the last three GPs. March wanted to hang on his services, despite his occasional moods and tantrums, but Matra came out with a financial offer he simply could not refuse. Amon celebrated with a win at the 1971 Argentine GP, a non-championship event. It seemed that he had made the right decision in the end, but the Matra was deceiving with a best of only a third place in Spain. Amon though looked certain to win the Italian GP: with only a few laps to go he lost his visor and was forced to drop back. For 1972 he decided to stay with Matra but the car was very unreliable and seemed to have a habit of developing troubles on the starting line. There were high spots like Clermont Ferrand and Monza: in Italy Amon seemed poised for that elusive win again, only to suffer brake troubles.

That year his new F2 engine business, which he had started with Aubrey Woods, lost a lot of money. Matra decided to concentrate in sportscar racing for 1973 so Amon looked around for another drive. BRM offered him a very lucrative contract but he turned it down and decided to return to March. Somehow during the off-season, something turned sour and March boss Max Mosley announced that Amon had been dismissed from the team. It was clear that the problem was about money, but both Amon and March were the losers because by this time the best drivers had already filled all the driving spots. A sharp decline was starting for Amon. It almost looked as if he was going to be left out of F1, but then the little Italian Tecno firm sponsored by Martini, came along with an offer. The prospects were not particularly bright for in their first GP season Tecno had shown very little promise, however for 1973 there was the choice of two new chassis and a more reliable engine. Neither car was successful and after the Italian GP that Tecno did not enter, Martini and Amon left the team. In the while Amon had some lucrative drives in a BMW saloon car. Chris finished the season with two drives for Tyrrell.

In 1973 blueprints for an Amon F1 car were laid out by an outfit financed by John Dalton; it was going to be another disaster. The project was hopelessly underfinanced and the car (powered by the ubiquitous 8V Cosworth-Hewland package) failed to qualify most of the times during the 1974 season, though it featured some interesting solutions such as titanium suspension. He finished the season in another car again, a Motul team BRM. Amon sat off most of the 1975 season, before being invited to drive for Mo Nunn's Ensign team with which he stayed in 1976. Ensign was a tiny outfit, nonetheless Amon was able to score 2 points at Jarama. Later in the year he tried to qualify a Wolf-Willliams in Mosport, but a bad accident prevented him doing so. Badly bruised, also in his pride probably, he retired to his family farm and quietly disappeared from the GP world. Amon's total of Championship points was of 83 with 97 starts out of 108 entries.

Reg Parnell was Britain's top GP driver in the immediate post-WW II years. Parnell raced successfully until 1957 and then turned his attention to team management. It is in this part of his career that we are interested here. After his retirement from racing, Aston Martin, where Parnell had been works driver for seven years, appointed him as team manager. In this new job Parnell used his enormous experience and he showed to possess a prodigious talent of picking out future top drivers. In addition to overseeing Aston Martin's Marque World Championship for 1959, with also a Le Mans victory after many years of trying, he encouraged and promoted such newcomers as Jim Clark and John Surtees, future World Champions both. After Aston Martin withdrew from racing at the end of 1960, Parnell moved to Yeoman Credit (later Bowmaker) who sponsored a F1 team. With Surtees and Roy Salvadori as drivers, the team raced Coopers in 1961 and Lolas in 1962.

Reg Parnell had talked Eric Broadley into building a Formula 1 Lola car for Bowmaker-Yeoman. A good car came out with a groundbreaking suspension layout. It featured a neat multi-tubular space frame chassis with front suspension by lower wishbones and upper transverse links with radius arms, and rear suspension by upper and lower transverse links and long radius arms. The car finished twice second with Surtees, at the German and British GPs: the best ever finishes for Lola in F1 World Championship. At the end of 1962 Bowmaker withdrew and Parnell opted to continue as a privateer purchasing the cars and the Bowmaker premises in Middlesex.

After a visit to the Tasmanian Series he signed 19-year-old Amon and also signed and promoted Mike Hailwood and Peter Revson. For 1964, Parnell commissioned Les Redmond to design a new car to supplement and eventually replace the Lotus-BRMs he had purchased for the season. However, following an operation, Reg Parnell died on January 7th, 1964 at 53 years of age. The team was taken over by his son "Tim" and was finally disbanded in 1970, when Tim was given the job of team manager at BRM. Tim left for farming in 1974.

The 1963 British GP was yet another win for Jim Clark in that superb year. Surtees came in second for Ferrari after a long battle with Graham Hill who ran out of fuel a few hundred meters before finish. Amon finished seventh.