Chris Amon, Enzo Ferrari's best test driver



Christopher Arthur Amon was born in Bulls in New Zealand on July 20, 1943. Chris began his career at 17, but unlike several of his colleagues who began their careers in the minor categories, the New Zealander immediately tries his hand at a Formula 1. In fact, his father buys an example of the Maserati 250 F owned by B.R.M. and gives it to his son who certainly does not ask for it to speed through local races.


Chris did very well, so much so that in 1963 he decided to move to the United Kingdom, making his debut in the circus when he is still 19 years old. In the following years, the New Zealander was unable to find a team with which to race permanently, which would allow him to participate in the entire world championship, but managed to create a solid reputation as a test driver, and in 1967 the call came to Ferrari. In the Ferrari 312, Chris manages to get four third places in Monaco, Spa, Great Britain and Germany, ending the season in fifth position in the standings, with 20 points.


He is best in the Sport prototypes category, where the season begins with two victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona and at the 1000 km of Monza at the wheel of the Ferrari 330 P4, paired with Lorenzo Bandini. After the disappearance of Bandini following the accident that developed during the Monaco Grand Prix, Amon tries to honor the memory of his teammate with a victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but due to a puncture and the consequent sliding of the suspension which develops a fire, the New Zealander is forced to abandon the race.


The 1968 season got off to a good start as the car was improved and the New Zealander got three poles and numerous front row starts. During the championship, Chris fought for the victory on three occasions, Spain, Belgium and Canada, but was unable to achieve the victory due to curious mechanical failures.


Hence the legend of the proverbial misfortune of Chris Amon, more than anything else due to the banalities for which such failures occur: for example, in Spain the withdrawal takes place due to the malfunctioning of the petrol pump, which resumed working only after the end of the tender; in Canada the clutch does not press hard, so after 60 laps the gearbox fails, forcing the New Zealander to stop; in Belgium, a stone pierces the radiator, after starting from pole.


In France, Chris must even see his youngest team-mate win a memorable Grand Prix in the rain, after the Belgian decides (rightly) to fit wet tires (the hand-sculpted Firestone R125s) when the sky is still on. it is clear. After the race, the New Zealander is caught banging his head against the wall of the van, while he undresses, cursing and screaming:


"It is not possible that I put my soul into it and I have not yet managed to win a Grand Prix, and a rookie arrives and has a shit like that".


However, the New Zealand driver is lucky, on the occasion in which in Monza he is the victim of a spectacular accident at the Lesmo corner, at over 220 km/h, in which he is thrown out of the cockpit and ends up in the bush. Chris remains lying on the branches of a tree, among the leaves, unharmed.


The final classification sees Chris Amon far from the top positions, as he does not go beyond the tenth position, with only ten points and a second place at the British Grand Prix. Meanwhile, on the advice of Chris, Ferrari makes its debut in the Can-Am championship. Unfortunately, however, the inexperience and the lack of specific material for this championship plays a bad joke on the men from Maranello, and the results will be unsatisfactory.


The 1969 vintage began with strong criticism from Stirling Moss against the New Zealander, accused of not being able to drive in the wet and not being able to make decisions in the salient moments of a race. These statements were later corrected by the English driver, who later recognized Chris Amon as one of the best drivers of his time.


The season is full of expectations, but it turns out to be disappointing, with only a third-place finish in the Dutch Grand Prix and five retirements in the first six races. The Grand Prix raced in Great Britain thus becomes his last race with the red, also due to disputes with the Maranello team regarding the alleged first driver ranks entrusted to Jacky Ickx (factor denied by Foghieri and Ferrari himself), and for economic reasons, formalizing the divorce with the team at the end of the year.


Despite realizing that the new 312 B would be a winning car (and he was right, given that the car that debuted in 1970 nearly won the world championship with Ickx, after solving the teething problems), Chris leaves Ferrari because he is tired. The New Zealander was considered a skilled and meticulous test driver, and one of the fastest pilots of the Circus. This earned him various praises from important personalities such as Mauro Forghieri and Enzo Ferrari himself who said:


"Amon was the best test driver I've ever had".


Proof of this is what happened during a test conducted for McLaren in 1966: Firestone, which had recently entered the circus, gave Amon several sets of tires, but three of these were made of the same compound. Well, Chris always managed to give the same impressions despite the fact that the three sets of tires were presented as new, and therefore hypothetically different from each other.


However, his career has often been characterized by bad luck, so much so that Amon is considered one of the best drivers not to have won a race valid for the Formula 1 World Championship, instead triumphing in two extra-championship Grand Prix in the years following the previous ones with Ferrari. Chris also holds the record for kilometers driven in the lead among those who failed to win a race valid for the Formula 1 World Championship.


With Ferrari, in Formula 1 the New Zealander obtained only five third places and a second place as best result, with a total of 34 points conquered. Christopher Arthur Amon passed away in Rotorua on August 3, 2016.


Andrea Rasponi

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