The son of a New Zealand sheep farmer, he drove for Ferrari from 1967 to 1969 and scored numerous top-three GP finishes, including a third at Monaco in his first race for the Scuderia, aged just 23. In 1967, he came third four times.
In 1968, he really should have won the world title. The Amon/Ferrari combination was the fastest of the season. He was on pole three times, on the front row of the grid for eight of the 12 races and led numerous GPs. Yet he was repeatedly robbed of victory, usually by trivial mechanical failures.
The son of a sheep farmer, Amon left New Zealand at 19 and drove for Ferrari from 1967 to 1969
He led the Spanish GP when a fuel pump fuse blew. In Spa in Belgium, he was fastest in qualifying by almost four seconds and was dicing for the lead until a stone punctured his Ferrari’s oil radiator. In the British GP, he came a close second after a race-long duel for the lead. In the Canadian Grand Prix, Amon was cruising to victory, only to suffer a gearbox failure.
Amon led the second race of the 1969 World Championship season, the Spanish GP, by 40 seconds before an engine failure. He left Ferrari at the end of that disappointing year, believing he’d enjoy more success with a smaller British team powered by the then-dominant Cosworth V8 engine. It was a bad move. Ferrari in 1970 had a fine year, using a new flat-12 powered F1 car, the 312B. New team leader Jacky Ickx won three races and came a close second in that year’s world title.
Amon came second at the 1968 British Grand Prix in a year where bad luck saw him fail to win the world title
He may never have won a World Championship GP but Amon enjoyed success in many other forms of motor sport. His Ferrari contract included sports car racing, and he memorably partnered Lorenzo Bandini to win the 1967 Daytona 24-hour race in a 330 P4. That was one of the Scuderia’s greatest victories, with Ferrari famously finishing first, second and third. He also won that year’s Monza 1000 km sports car race and helped Ferrari win the 1967 World Sports Car Manufacturers’ Championship.
He also won the 1969 Tasman Series for Ferrari, the last time it was an international championship. Held in New Zealand and Australia over the F1 winter off-season in January-February, the Tasman Series was for detuned F1 cars or similar. Driving a V6-powered Dino 246 – in essence, a more powerful Formula Two car – Amon won four of the seven races, including the New Zealand and Australian GPs. Among the drivers he beat was defending World Champion Graham Hill.
Amon won the 1969 Tasman Series in his Ferrari Dino 246 Tasmania
Amon had left New Zealand as a 19-year old in the early ’60s after being spotted by English F1 team owner Reg Parnell. He’d seen Amon racing an old Maserati 250F and reckoned only Fangio had driven a 250F so well. By the mid ’70s, the Kiwi had made no secret of his desire to return to New Zealand. He eventually retired from F1 after Niki Lauda’s horrendous Nürburgring crash in 1976, aged 33. He went back to run his family sheep farm with his wife Tish in 1977. He died of cancer, aged 73, in 2016.
He was once asked, long after his retirement from motor racing, about his notorious bad luck. No, he replied. He was one of the lucky ones. So many of his friends and teammates from that era had been killed, ‘and I’m still here’.