When Bruce McLaren was laying his company’s original plans for an F1 bid in 1966 it was originally intended that the team should field not one but two M2Bs in each round of the World Championship. One was to be driven by Bruce, the other by a mild-mannered and boyish young Kiwi named Chris Amon, one of the most talented racing drivers to emerge from that country. And without doubt the unluckiest.
The power unit for the M2B was to be a reduced capacity 3-litre version of the 4.2-litre Ford V8 stock block Indy engine, but it soon became clear that taking on an engine development programme at the same time as they were building a new F1 machine meant that McLaren had bitten off more than it could chew. Such was the pressure on their technical resources that mostly there was just a single car fielded for Bruce and it was usually a scramble to get that ready while Amon was left to twiddle his thumbs.
Even by this early stage in his career, Chris was rightly hailed as a really top line driver, although his unerring ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong moment would bug his progress to the end. His pace in the Group 7 McLaren-Ford sports cars was prodigious, but his move to Ferrari at the start of 1967 precluded him from tapping into the seam of gold that was McLaren’s five year domination of the emergent Can-Am series. Later, a return to Bruce’s squad for a planned Indy 500 programme in 1970 fell apart when Chris felt spooked by the proximity of the Brickyard’s unyielding outer wall and he decided to give the race a miss.
During Chris’s three seasons with Ferrari, he could never quite nail down that elusive Grand Prix win. Throughout his career he started no fewer than 19 times from the front row of the grid, but close second places in the 1968 British GP (for Ferrari) and a similar result for March in Belgium two years later was as good as it got. His only wins came in non-title races, the 1970 Silverstone International Trophy and the 1971 Argentine Grand Prix, but he consistenly failed to parlay these secondary triumphs into front line success.
After switching to the French Matra team at the end of 1970 he would dominate the 1972 French GP at Clermont-Ferrand, leaving his rivals in the dust as he stormed away from the field. Then a puncture intervened, he pitted for fresh tyres – and finished third.
On a more positive not, Chris and Bruce McLaren won the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour sports car classic in a 7-litre Ford V8. If Chris had stayed closer to Bruce for longer, the story might have been oh-so-different.