Honor Driven - Sir Stirling Moss

The story of Sir Stirling Moss

1y ago
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Amidst the crisis caused by the COVID-19 outbreak around the world, motorsport fans woke up to the saddening news that Sir Stirling Moss had passed away. The following paragraphs will tell the tale of whom many have deemed "The Best Driver Never to Win the F1 World Championship".

A family of racers

Stirling Moss was born in London on the 17th of September of 1929. He was son to Alfred Moss, an amateur racing driver who had raced in Brooklands and even participated in the 500 miles of Indianapolis. His mother, Aileen, had also gotten plenty of experience behind the wheel, a lot more than most women at the time. She was a proficient hill climb racer in the mid-30s. Stirling's younger sister, Patricia, also went on to be a racing driver, becoming one of the most successful female rally drivers of all time. Stirling received a good education, however, he had a low academic performance and was bullied because of his Jewish roots. At the age of 9 his father gave him his first car, an Austin 7, which he enjoyed driving in the fields. He got his driving license at age 15. After WWII, he was exempt from completing the mandatory 2-year national service since he suffered from nephritis. Once he was 18, he started racing, driving his own father's BMW 328.

Coming from a family with its own racing background, Moss started his racing career at the wheel of a BMW 328

Coming from a family with its own racing background, Moss started his racing career at the wheel of a BMW 328

Moss was also a skilled horse rider and used his own earnings from horse racing events in which he took part to put a deposit for a Cooper 500 racing car in 1948, becoming one of John Cooper's very first customers. With some help from his family, he managed to complete the payment and once he got the car, he took it racing and demonstrated his ability at national events before progressing into higher categories. His first notable international win came in 1950, when at the wheel of a borrowed Jaguar XK120 he won the RAC Tourist Trophy on the Dundrod circuit in Northern Ireland. A race he would win 6 more times in the years that followed. In 1951 (Jaguar C-Type), 1955 (Mercedes-Benz 300SLR), 1958 and 1959 (Aston Martin DBR1), and 1960 and 1961 (Ferrari 250 GT). After his initial win in 1950, he was contacted by Enzo Ferrari himself, who offered him a Formula 2 drive in 1951 and a potential full-time contract for 1952, however, Ferrari changed his mind last minute and this didn't happen. Also a skilled rally driver, Moss finished second in the 1952 event at Monte Carlo and went on to eventually become one of three people to have won a Coupe d'Or (Gold Cup) for three consecutive penalty-free runs on the Alpine Rally. In 1953, Moss was considered by Mercedes' racing boss Alfred Neubauer to be signed by the Mercedes Grand Prix team, having seen the talent of the young Englishman and how he seemed to always be capable of outdriving his machinery. Neubauer suggested Moss to get a Maserati to race in the 1954 season.

In his early career, Moss demonstrated his versatility as a racing driver, finding success in Formula 3, rallying, and even sportscar events.

In his early career, Moss demonstrated his versatility as a racing driver, finding success in Formula 3, rallying, and even sportscar events.

Unconventional start

All along his career, Moss stated that he always had a preference to race in British cars, saying that it was "Better to lose honorably in a British car than win in a foreign one." However, following the instructions of Neubauer, Moss got himself a Maserati 250F to race in the 1954 Formula 1 season. The car was very unreliable and prevented him from gathering any serious amount of points in the championship. However, Moss still managed to impress during the qualifying sessions. He qualified along the frontrunners several times and did well in the few races he managed to complete. In the Italian GP at Monza, Moss had no trouble overtaking champions Alberto Ascari in his Ferrari and even Mercedes' own Juan Manuel Fangio. The Briton led until lap 68, when his engine failed. Moss' first win was to come that same year when he won the non-championship F1 race at Oulton Park. That same year, he also became the first non-American to win the 12 Hours of Sebring. Having seen his performance, Neubauer signed Moss to drive for Mercedes in 1955.

After having to purchase his car to participate in the F1 championship in 1954, Moss called enough attention to get signed to drive for Mercedes in 1955.

After having to purchase his car to participate in the F1 championship in 1954, Moss called enough attention to get signed to drive for Mercedes in 1955.

The Silver Arrow

Partnering at the time World Champion Fangio, Moss was still capable to prove his skill behind the wheel and delivered some very good results for the silver arrows. His first championship win was to come in front of his home crowd at the British GP. This was also the first time he managed to beat Fangio, with whom he had developed a very good relationship. Moss went on to finish the championship 2nd, only behind his teammate. That same year, Moss raced for Mercedes in the Mille Miglia race in Italy. What followed was according to many, one of the drives of the century. He was driving an SLR, with an ingenious system of a roller map of the route designed by his navigator, journalist Denis Jenkinson. Fangio drove the other SLR, however, the Argentinian refused to take a navigator with him as he deemed the race "too dangerous for passengers". Moss drove perfectly until he misjudged a corner and collided with some hay bales. He could continue and by the time he could stop in Rome (after being drenched in gasoline when the filler cap blew off) he was informed that he was leading. When they arrived at the finish line in Brescia, they were surprised to discover that they had won, as their main competitors (Ferrari) had crashed or hit mechanical trouble. Fangio came second, 33 minutes behind Moss. With a time of 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds, Moss had set a time that was never to be beaten. The race was discontinued 2 years later.

Moss had good results with Mercedes in Formula 1, but possibly his most remarkable drive came when he won the Mille Miglia at the wheel of his iconic #722 SLR

Moss had good results with Mercedes in Formula 1, but possibly his most remarkable drive came when he won the Mille Miglia at the wheel of his iconic #722 SLR

"Mr. Motor Racing"

With Mercedes retiring from motorsport after the Le Mans tragedy in 1955, Moss started racing for Maserati in 1956. He achieved good results, including some victories along the season, however, he still finished behind Fangio, who was now driving for Ferrari. That same year, he won the 24 Hours of LeMans at the wheel of an Aston Martin DB3S shared with Peter Collins. In 1957, Moss drove only one more race for Maserati before switching over to Vanwall, having a preference to race the British car. He famously won at the longest track ever to hold a Grand Prix, beating 2nd place Fangio by over 3 minutes at the 16 mile Pescara circuit. Moss managed a total of 3 victories but still could only finish 2nd in the championship as Fangio took the win. In 1958 he drove a single race in a Cooper T43 for Rob Walker's racing team, which he won. He returned to Vanwall for the next race. Moss could have won the championship that year, however, when title rival Mike Hawthorn was threatened with a penalty after the Portuguese Grand Prix, Moss defended him. Hawthorn was accused of dangerously reversing into the track after spinning and stalling his car on an uphill section. Moss shouted advice to Hawthorn to point his car downhill, against traffic, so he could jump-start the car. Moss's quick thinking, and his defense of Hawthorn upon the stewards, preserved Hawthorn's 6 points for finishing second in the race behind Moss. Hawthorn went on to beat Moss for the championship title by one point, even though he had won only one race that year, compared to Moss's four. Had Moss not stood up for his fellow countryman, he would have probably become Britain's first F1 champion.

Moss finished the championship 2nd from 1955 to 1958, time in which he drove for Mercedes, Maserati and Vanwall.

Moss finished the championship 2nd from 1955 to 1958, time in which he drove for Mercedes, Maserati and Vanwall.

In 1959, Moss started driving full time for Rob Walker's racing team, achieving two victories, however, a large number of retirements saw him only finish 3rd in the standings. He stayed with the team for 1960 and took another two victories, including the Monaco GP, however, after being disqualified at the Portuguese race and sustaining an injury that prevented him from competing in Belgium, and forced him to miss the following 3 races, he was once again limited to just 3rd place in the standings. In 1961, he raced a rather underpowered Lotus purchased by the team and managed to beat the very competitive Ferraris of Phil Hill and Wolfgang Von Trips to take victory in Monaco and Germany. He also famously drove the Ferguson P99, Formula 1's only AWD car. He was disqualified while driving it in the British GP, but took the victory with it at the damp non-championship race at Oulton Park. Between 1958 and 1960, Moss also won the grueling 1000 km of Nurburgring, the first two times in an Aston Martin DBR1 and the last one in a Maserati Tipo 61 "Birdcage".

Despite several remarkable drives, Moss could only finish 3rd in the championship from 1959 to 1961, year in which he drove the Ferguson P99, which he deemed as his favorite car among all the ones he got to drive.

Despite several remarkable drives, Moss could only finish 3rd in the championship from 1959 to 1961, year in which he drove the Ferguson P99, which he deemed as his favorite car among all the ones he got to drive.

In 1962, he had a heavy crash during the Glover Trophy at Goodwood. The accident put him in a coma for a month, and for six months after he woke up, the left side of his body was partially paralyzed. He recovered, but retired from professional racing after a private test session the following year. He felt he had not regained his previously instinctive command of the car. He had been runner-up in the Drivers' Championship for four successive years, from 1955 to 1958, and third in each of the next three years. Although he formally retired from racing in 1962, Moss did make a number of one-off appearances in professional motorsport events in the following two decades. He competed in the 1974 London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally in a Mercedes-Benz and shared a Holden Torana with Jack Brabham in the 1976 Bathurst 1000. He also shared a Volkswagen Golf GTI with Denny Hulme in the Benson & Hedges 500 at Pukekohe Park Raceway in New Zealand. In 1980 and 1981, he had a return to racing in the British Saloon racing series, where he drove for Audi with no remarkable performances. Throughout his retirement he raced in events for historic cars. In June 2011 during qualifying for the Le Mans Legends race, Moss announced that he had finally retired from racing, saying that he had scared himself that afternoon. He was 81.

Despite retiring in 1962, Moss continued occasionally coming back to racing along the 70s and early 80s, usually partnering with some other famous figures of the sport.

Despite retiring in 1962, Moss continued occasionally coming back to racing along the 70s and early 80s, usually partnering with some other famous figures of the sport.

In 1990, Moss was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. In the New Year Honours 2000 List, Moss was made a Knight Bachelor for services to motor racing. On 21 March 2000, he was knighted by Prince Charles, standing in for the Queen, who was on an official visit to Australia. He received the Segrave Trophy in 2005, and in 2006, Moss was awarded the FIA gold medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to motorsport. In 2008, McLaren-Mercedes unveiled their final model of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. The model was named in honor of Moss, hence the Mercedes McLaren SLR Stirling Moss.

Moss was presented several awards after his retirement, including being in the Motorsports Hall of Fame, getting status as OBE, and even a special edition of a car made by McLaren and Mercedes.

Moss was presented several awards after his retirement, including being in the Motorsports Hall of Fame, getting status as OBE, and even a special edition of a car made by McLaren and Mercedes.

Moss had a severe illness in 2016, as a result of this and a long recovery period, he announced his retirement from public life. Sir Stirling Moss died at his home in London, the 12th of April of 2020, at the age of 90.

Moss was a very beloved member of the motorsport community.

Moss was a very beloved member of the motorsport community.

And a fan favorite of the F1 paddock

And a fan favorite of the F1 paddock

He will be greatly missed

He will be greatly missed

REST IN PEACE

That was the story of Sir Stirling Moss. Thank you very much for reading, I hope you enjoyed. It is always sad to see these old heroes of the racetracks pass on, but I do believe that their ever amazing legacies can and will live on as long as there are people who share their passion for the sport.

Thank you for reading.

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Comments (2)

  • In my humble opinion he was the best of the best as a driver and as a person. The title of legend is sometimes used loosely but for Stirling Moss it sits well.

      1 year ago
  • He was the one and only Sterling Moss.

      1 year ago
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