Amon made his grand prix debut at the 1963 Monaco Grand Prix for the Parnell team and, despite a frustrating campaign that included him breaking some ribs in a crash at the Italian GP, he stayed with the outfit and scored his first points the following year in Holland.

While he initially struggled to make a big impact in F1, Amon was signed by Bruce McLaren for sportscar appearances and took his biggest triumph with victory in the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours in a Ford GT40 Mk II.

That prompted an invitation from Enzo Ferrari to drive for his F1 team in 1967, when he delivered a number of podium finishes during a campaign that was overshadowed by the death of teammate Lorenzo Bandini at Monaco.

Amon showed incredible speed during his time at Ferrari – with a run of pole positions in 1968 – but the bad luck that would dog his career meant none of them would be converted into a race victory.

At times he needed to be consoled, after seeing win after win slip through his grasp through no fault of his own.

His luck never seemed to change and, amid terrible reliability problems, Amon felt his future would be better set elsewhere. But spells at March, Matra, Tyrrell and even his own team in 1974 failed to give him the win that so eluded him.

In 1976, after joining the Ensign team, more bad luck and accidents - plus the impact of Niki Lauda's crash at the German Grand Prix - prompted him to refuse to restart that race and he was fired.

Amon decided to retire from F1 at that point and, despite a brief flirtation with the Wolf team at the end of that season, his grand prix career was over.

He returned to his native New Zealand and helped run the family farm for many years. He kept close links with motoring though – appearing on television shows and commercials as well as making a brief return behind the wheel in a rally with Murray Walker as his co-driver in 2003.

He died in Rotorua Hospital on Wednesday after a battle with cancer.

His family said in a statement: “Chris battled cancer in recent years but retained not only a close interest in Formula 1 – and his very wide range of favourite topics - but also his wonderful sense of humour complete with infectious chuckle.”

Dennis tribute

McLaren boss Ron Dennis paid tribute to Amon in a statement released by the team.

"It was with profound sadness that I heard the news this morning that Chris Amon had passed away," Dennis said.

"Chris started 96 Grands Prix but won not one of them - and it is safe to say that he was the greatest racing driver never to have won a race at the very highest level. He nearly won a fair few, but always it seemed that his luck would run out before he saw the chequered flag.

"However, he won at Le Mans, in a mighty 7.0-litre Ford, exactly 50 years ago, his co-driver his friend and fellow Kiwi, Bruce McLaren, whose name still graces the team to which I have devoted my working life.

"I have not met Chris for many years, but, even so, I have extremely fond memories of him, and indeed I would describe him as one of the most likeable men I have met in my long racing career.

"For all those reasons I want to take this opportunity to extend the heartfelt sympathies of all 3300 of us at McLaren to the family and friends of a great New Zealander, a true gentleman, and one of the fastest racing drivers there ever was: the one and only Christopher Arthur Amon.

"May he rest in peace."

Gallery: F1 legend Chris Amon dies, aged 73