12 April 2020

Sir Stirling Moss 1929 - 2020

It is with enormous sadness that we must report the death of Sir Stirling Moss at the age of 90, after a long illness that dated back to December 2016 when he was admitted to hospital in Singapore with a serious chest infection. This resulted in his withdrawal from public life at the start of 2018.

Moss was a towering figure in the sport and one of Britain’s greatest racing drivers, although he never won the Formula 1 World Championship. Despite this he was universally recognised as the driver who set standards by which later generations were judged. His ability and versatility was legendary although he often competed in machinery that was not a match for his talents. He finished runner-up in the World Championship four times and was third on three further occasions. He won a total of 16 Grand Prix victories from 66 starts, which remained a record for an Englishman until 1991. He also won 19 victories in non-championship F1 races. He was the first driver to win World Championship races for both Cooper and Lotus, on both occasions in cars run by Rob Walker’s private team. It was in Rob’s Lotus Type 18 that Moss produced two of his most extraordinary performances to win the 1961 Monaco and German Grands Prix, beating the more powerful Ferraris. 

Moss was an incredibly versatile all-rounder who could perform as well in sports car racing as in Formula 1 cars. His victory in the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR in the 1955 Mille Miglia is one of the most remarkable achievements for a British driver but that year he also won the RAC Tourist Trophy at Dundrod (with John Fitch) and the Targa Florio (with Peter Collins) to win the World Sports Car Championship for Mercedes. Four years later, he played a major role in securing the title for Aston Martin.

He twice finished runner-up in the Le Mans 24 Hours, winning his class in 1956 with Aston Martin. He won the Sebring 12 Hours on two occasions and was even second on the Monte Carlo Rally in 1952.

Moss became so a famous figure that policemen in Britain regularly asked speeding motorists: “Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?” Moss reported that it even happened to him one day and he had great difficulty explaining to the constable in question that he was actually Stirling Moss.

For Moss the manner in which a victory was won was as important as the outcome, and this sporting attitude cost him the 1958 World Championship when he stood up for rival Mike Hawthorn, who faced a penalty in Portugal that would have denied him the points that he needed to beat Moss to the title. Hawthorn subsequently went on to beat Moss by a single point, even though he had only won one race that year, compared to Moss’s four victories. Hawthorn thus became Britain’s first World Champion. Moss was knighted for his services to motor racing in 2000, one of the first drivers to receive such an honour in the modern era.

Moss was the son of Alfred Moss, a well-to-do dentist with a practice in Bray, Berkshire. His father was an amateur racer. Born in 1929 he grew up in a house on the River Thames with his sister Pat, who later became a celebrated rally driver, before being sent off to boarding school at Haileybury, near Hertford. He left school early in 1946 and began racing in 1947, when he reached the age of 18. He was an active member of the 500cc Formula 3 world and was soon winning before taking his first big international victories at Monaco in Formula 3 and in the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod in 1950, driving a privately-entered Jaguar XK120. He then began to compete in Formula 2 races with HWM but raced a wide variety of machinery in the years that followed. From 1948 to 1962 he took part in 529 races and won 212 of them. There were some years when he took part in more than 60 events and in ths course of his career he drove no fewer than 84 different makes of car.

A strong sense pf patriotism meant that he usually raced British machinery and it was not until 1954 that he purchased a Maserati 250F to try to progress his F1 career. That led to an invitation to join the Mercedes-Benz works team alongside Fangio, and thereafter to leadership of Tony Vandervell’s Vanwall team. Moss was then instrumental in breaking the German/Italian stranglehold on success in F1. In 1957, sharing a Vanwall with Tony Brooks he delivered the first World Championship victory for a British-built car, fittingly in front of their home crowd in the British Grand Prix at Aintree.

His career was not without drama and he was seriously injured in an accident at Burnenville during practice for the ill-fated Belgian Grand Prix, which resulted in the deaths of fellow British drivers Alan Stacey and Chris Bristow and Mike Taylor suffering injuries which meant he never raced again. Moss was sufficiently recovered to win the United States Grand Prix at Riverside at the end of that year.

He suffered serious head injuries in a crash at Goodwood at Easter in 1962, at the age of 32. He made a rapid comeback but soon concluded that he no longer had was needed to win. Whether that was the right decision or not we will never know. He set up the Stirling Moss Automobile Racing Team (SMART) to run GT and Sports Cars for drivers such as Sir John Whitmore and Hugh Dibley and eventually resumed racing himself, mainly in historic events, although he tried modern machinery again in 1980 and 1981 when he raced in the British Saloon Car Championship without any notable success.

His greatest rival in F1 was Juan Manuel Fangio and it was as his team-mate at Mercedes that Moss won his first World Championship race in 1955 in front of his home crowd at Aintree. It was never clear whether or not Fangio let him win that day and Moss himself asked the Argentine driver several times whether that had been the case, although Fangio always maintained that it was simply a question of Moss being the better driver that day.

Although he was well paid in the era when he was racing, he did not retire from the sport with a fortune as many who followed him did. He was, however, one of the most recognised celebraities in Britain and regularly appeared on television and made cameo appearances in films, notably the 1967 James Bond movie Casino Royale, in which he played the role of a chauffeur.

In 2010 he fell down a lift shaft at his home in London when a malfunction caused the doors to open without the lift being at the correct floor. He broke both ankles and several bones in his foot and damaged a number of vertebrae but being the gritty individual he was he fought back to full health once again.

Sir Stirling remained a keen and very well-informed observer of the Grand Prix scene and was a big fan of Lewis Hamilton. In 2008 Hamilton presented Sir Stirling, on behalf of the BRDC, with the unique honour of Vice-President for Life.

Moss was the longest-serving BRDC Member and between 1950 and 1961 he won 10 BRDC Gold Stars. His record was only surpassed in 2017 by Hamilton.

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