ICON SERIES: SIR STIRLING MOSS
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
This article was originally published on April 15th, 2020.
Earlier this week the motorsport community lost one of its biggest names, Sir Stirling Moss passed away aged 90, following a long illness.
"It was one lap too many, he just closed his eyes," said his wife Lady Susie Moss.
Along with his Formula 1 career, Moss was regarded as a motor racing all-rounder and racked up a total of 212 victories in all categories. Even continuing to race in historic cars and legends events until the age of 81.
Stirling Craufurd Moss was born in London on September 17th, 1929, to Alfred and Aileen Moss.
His father who was an amateur racing driver gifted Moss his first car, an Austin 7, aged just nine years old. He would learn to drive by taking his Austin 7 around the grounds surrounding his parent's property.
Despite not being the best student it was expected that Moss would follow in his father's footsteps and take over the family dentistry business. However, he was unable to get the grades needed at school to progress further with this career choice. He would instead take steps to enter the hotel industry, training as a waiter and later night porter.
During this time Moss would maintain an interest in cars, but it wouldn't be until he saw an advertisement for a racing car that would pique his interest in racing.
Despite his father canceling the order Moss placed for the £50 car, he would be allowed to borrow his father's BMW sports car, which he would use to enter in local speed trials.
Moss's first real race car would be a Cooper 500. After taking his father to the Cooper factory, in South-West London, Moss would agree to purchase the car with his father, if he was able to take most of the cost. Therefore, leading Moss to sell the majority of his possessions to complete his side of the agreement. From this point on, Moss would enter as many races as possible each week, with his family even managing to pay for chances in different racing varieties.
In 1950, Moss would receive his first works team drive for Hersham & Walton Motors (HWM), the team consisted of three four-cylinder Formula 2 cars. During his time with HWM, Moss would manage to craft his skills. While showcasing his potential in a very unreliable car.
Moss wouldn't have to wait long to record his first international victory. Finishing first in the 1950 RAC Tourist, on the eve of his 21st birthday, in a borrowed Jaguar XK120.
A year later, he would receive a contract to race for Ferrari in Formula 2. Ahead of the 1952 season, Moss would be invited to drive at the 1951 Bari Grand Prix. After traveling with his father traveled to the race, he would find out that his car had been given to Italian driver Piero Taruffi instead.
In response to the news, Moss vowed to exact revenge against Ferrari.
Initially, Moss returned to racing in rally car events, before purchasing a Maserati 250F. This allowed him to enter the 1954 Formula 1 season. He would even go on to win a non-championship race, in his debut season.
His performance during the 1954 Italian Grand Prix, caught the eye of Mercedes, where only engine failure stopped him from taking the checkered flag. Despite his Maserati breaking down, Moss ended up pushing his car to the finish line.
Moss would end up signing with Mercedes for the 1955 season alongside Juan Manuel Fangio.
In 1957, Ferrari made an approach to bring him on board. However, Moss ended up making the decision that he would choose to drive for British teams moving forward, and he instead would sign with British Vandervell.
By the 1958 season, Moss was a serious contender to be crowned Formula 1 World Champion. He would end up finishing the season one point behind eventual winner Mike Hawthorn. Despite winning four races to Hawthorne's one.
The reason Moss lost out on the World Championship that year can be narrowed down to the Grand Prix of Portugal. During the race, Hawthorn ended up spinning his Ferrari but was able to continue and eventually finished in second. The addition of his fastest lap during the race gave him 7 points to Moss' 8 for the win. Hawthorn though, was accused by the officials of breaking the rules by restarting in the opposite direction.
Moss would come to his rival's defense allowing Hawthorn to be able to keep his 7 points. Eventually, giving him enough points to pass Moss in the Driver's Championship.
Despite continuing to win races over the next few years, but the elusive World Championship remained just out of reach. Many believe that this was due to his reluctance to move from British teams, often leading to Moss driving uncompetitive cars.
In 1962, Moss would eventually be forced into retirement after a terrible accident at England's Goodwood Circuit, the cause of which is unknown to this day.
It took more than a half-hour to free Moss from the wreckage. His left eye and cheekbone were shattered, his left arm broken and his left leg broken in two places. The crash left him in a coma for a month. While the left side of his body was also partially paralyzed for six months.
He would attempt t reenter the driver's seat the following year, with a private test session in a Lotus 19. However, his times where coming in a few tenths of a second slower than before. Leading Moss to feel that he was no longer unconsciously making the right moves. He said he felt like he had lost his page in a book.
Over the course of the following few decades Moss did return to a race in other motorsports events. This included a number of Rally, Australian Supercar, British Saloon Car and other events.
It would be until 2011, at the age of 81, that he finally announced his permanent retirement from racing. Moss announced this after a qualifying session for the Le Mans Legends race, stating:
“This afternoon I scared myself and I have always said that if I felt I was not up to it or that I was getting in the way of fellow competitors, then I would retire.”
Moss will be remembered for far more than his F1 career. There were many great victories in races elsewhere, but none as impressive as one that has come to define his career as much as any of his grand prix wins.
In 1955, Moss competed in the Mille Miglia, a race over 1,000 miles on public roads in Italy in the fastest sports cars of the time.
Moss' drive on the event has passed into legend. With his co-driver, the journalist Denis Jenkinson, reading pace notes from a roller map, Moss was in a position to compete on level terms with drivers who knew the route much better than he did.
Driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, he won in a new record time, beating team-mate Fangio by nearly half an hour.
Moss was considered by many as being the first modern professional driver who raced for the love of the sport, while also intent on earning a sizable income. Staying in top physical shape he would travel all over the world to race. He was not above negotiating for more appearance money or endorsements deals.
He courted endorsements as no other driver of his day and was sometimes ridiculed for this when in truth he was just ahead of his time.
In later years, Moss came to believe he had tried to return to racing too soon after his Goodwood crash, given the extent of his injuries. Had he given it another six months to a year, he felt it might have been different.
The idea provides a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been. Moss, still only in his mid-30s, racing against his natural successor, Scot Jim Clark, through the mid-1960s would have been one of the great showdowns in motorsport.
Moss set about making a career out of being Stirling Moss, and hugely successful he was at it, too. Although he did state, “Basically, I’m an international prostitute.”
Moss lived to the end of his life in his house in Mayfair, fitted with any number of innovations that befitted a James Bond movie of the 1970s.
Even into his 80s, 50 years after his enforced retirement, he remained a public figure, his view regularly sought on matters of the day in F1.
In 2016, Moss suffered a chest infection while in hospital in Singapore and spent 134 days in hospital. He was eventually able to return home, but his slow recovery from the illness forced him to withdraw from public life.
Moss' name continued to resonate, those two words conjuring up the idea of motorsport like almost nothing else, a measure of the impact he made.