I won’t dwell too much on his racing record, because it’s easily available elsewhere and all anyone seems able to say about it is that he was the best driver never to win a world championship Grand Prix. But he did win plenty of non championship F1 races, Le Mans, the Daytona 24 hours, the Tasman Series and the simple truth is that had his cars not broken so often, he’d not only have won championship F1 races but the championship itself. Certainly after the death of Jim Clark in 1968, Jackie Stewart and Jochen Rindt were the only drivers on the same level as Amon and, after Rindt’s passing in 1970, Stewart alone until the 1972 French Grand Prix. Of this race I will provide a few details because more than any other it reveals the kind of driver Amon was.
It was held at the Charade circuit near Clermont-Ferrand, a track five miles in length with no fewer than 50 corners to its name and not one straight of even reasonable distance. In its ability to sift the great from the good, only the Nurburgring, Rouen and the original Spa were its equal. By now Amon was driving for Matra, just one of a dozen teams for whom he’d race in a F1 career that lasted so long he arrived the season after Stirling Moss had left the scene and departed the season before Riccardo Patrese arrived. At Charade where the corners came so thick, fast and unrelieved by straights that drivers had been known to vomit in their helmets, Amon’s talent and guts could offset the shortcomings of his fine sounding but heavy and underpowered V12 Matra engine. He did not waste his chance.
First he put the Matra on pole by almost a second, then led away, smashing the old lap record (set two years earlier) from a standing start and managing the gap to Stewart for the first half of the race. Then he got a puncture which required him not only to limp back to the pits, but then sit there for 50 seconds while the team undid all the nuts and changed the wheel. What happened next should be better remembered than it is. He rejoined ninth and set about demolishing both the field and the lap record again and again. Motor Sport’s correspondent was Denis Jenkinson, a man who shaped an entire career out of being unimpressed by F1 drivers, yet he described Amon’s drive as "fantastic and unbelievable". He noted too that, "in one lap Amon disposed of Peterson and Cevert, passing them as if they were not there, and on a circuit that is noted for its lack of passing places." Yes JYS still cruised to an untroubled victory and polite applause as he won, but when Amon stormed home in third place there was thunderous applause for what was agreed to have been "the drive of the year". But Amon himself admitted he never tried quite that hard again.