Bob McMurray pays personal tribute to F1 legend Chris Amon
On Wednesday I heard the sad news that a good friend had passed away after a protracted illness. He was a really nice man with impeccable manners, a soft voice and one with whom I had endless discussions, sometimes animated, about the sport in which we were schooled and which we loved.
Chris Amon was a brilliant driver with a gifted mechanical talent and had a way of mentally driving through any problem with a clear logic, be that problem one of engineering, farming or politics.
He was a friend and confidante of those at the very top of Formula 1, a respected “elder” of the world’s largest car company and personal friend of at least two of the most famous names in automotive history.
He was also an active and impressive member of our small circle of like-minded individuals who band together under the acronym of ‘BOFFF1NZ’ (Boring Old Farts Following Formula 1 in New Zealand) and who try, mostly unsuccessfully, to predict the answers to various obscure questions, in a competitive manner of course, to do with whatever Formula 1 season is approaching.
Grand Prix and Sports Car Legend Chris Amon with his old car, the Amon F101 at the Hampton Downs NZ Festival of Motor Racing in 2011. Picture/ Jana Dixon.
He was husband to Tish and proud father to daughter Georgie and sons Alex and James. He was a farmer, a pilot, raconteur and one of the best people to sit and simply have a yarn with.
Actually, it was best to simply sit with him and listen.
Listen to stories that often could never be repeated, let alone printed, but stories of life on the road in the world of motorsport and told with little reverence but a huge amount of humour and never with any hint of vindictiveness or nastiness.
The stories inevitably got better, and longer, with the odd glass or two of red wine but they never got any less amusing or insightful. Stories of the legendary figures of motor racing like Enzo Ferrari, Lorenzo Bandini, Ludovico Scarfiotti, Moss, Clark, Hill, Chapman, McLaren, Stewart, Andretti and so many more.
Stories of Formula 1, of winning Le Mans with Bruce McLaren, and also the times when he didn’t win — such as when the car he was due to be driving in 1963 was a very slow Sunbeam Alpine, and when asked how the performance could be improved he simply replied “make the ashtray bigger”. Stories of driving in North America in the CanAm series, driving for Ferrari in both sports cars and Formula 1 and hilarious stories from between the races when the era was different and drivers seemed to enjoy life.
He was not only about stories though.
He remained a keen observer of the sport and was a brilliant analyst of a race, pointing out how and why things on the track happened as well as having a finger on the pulse of the sport and its politics.
He was also a fierce supporter of young Kiwi driving talent and followed our young stars’ careers as well as supporting those just starting out. He lent his name and a replica of his famous helmet to be the ultimate trophy for the Toyota Racing Series and had recently become patron of the newly formed Kiwi Driver Fund.
At the many race meetings or social gatherings he attended in New Zealand, never did I see this man ignore a fan or a young driver who wanted an autograph or advice.
He found the time to stop and talk to media people even when he didn’t have the time to do so, and even when it was the last thing he wanted to do.
He was a gentleman in the truest sense.
Was he a world Formula 1 World Champion? No.
Was he a Formula 1 Grand Prix winner? No.
It is, to this day, a source of amazement to all in the sport that Christopher Arthur Amon MBE never actually achieved either of those goals. Pole positions, fastest laps and podium places aplenty but no wins with a “Grand Prix” title, save for the New Zealand Grand Prix in 1968 and 69, the 1969 Australian Grand Prix and the 1971 Argentine Grand Prix – but none of these were world championship events.
He was however recognised as one of the fastest and most talented drivers to have ever been behind the wheel of a racing car.
As is the case with any great man’s passing, many will claim to have been “best friends” or “close personal friends” but in Chris’ case that may well have been true as he was instantly friendly with everybody and made even strangers feel like “best friends” after they had spent time with him.
Many words will be written about Chris but that is not to be seen as people jumping on the “I knew him” bandwagon, for I venture to say that many of those people really did know him, respect him, admire him and simply like him.
He was that sort of bloke.
I first met him in the 1970s and was in awe of him and his peers but never got to know him then.
I last spoke to him on his birthday just two weeks ago, and that feeling of awe remained.
Like many, I will miss Chris and our irreverent chats about Formula 1 but also I was fortunate and honoured to have known him.
Our BOFF1NZ group can never be the same. Chris was very good at it.