One of the legendary Formula 1 drivers, Sir Stirling Moss, passed away on April 12, 2020, after battling an unspecified illness. Moss was born in London on September 17, 1929, and was the grandson of a member of a Jewish family that changed their surname from Moses to Moss.
His racing career effectively began in the late 1940s, driving his dentist father’s BMW 328. His father opposed his choice of career, preferring Stirling to follow in his path. He’d also put a deposit on a vehicle from the then fledgling Cooper Car Company, with the funds coming from competing in horse riding events.
It was soon apparent that the young Moss had plenty of driving talent, and would compete in various categories such as Formula 3, and race in national and international events. His first win at an international level came courtesy of a Jaguar 120 borrowed from a friend. Just shy of his 21st birthday, Moss had entered into the 1950 RAC Tourist Trophy, held at the Northern Ireland circuit of Dundrod. He would win the same event the following year, also in a Jaguar, a C-Type, before claiming victory in 1955, 1958 & 1959 in an Aston-Martin DBR1, and the following two year with his hands on the wheel of Ferrari’s 250GT.
In 1953, Moss would be asked to buy a Maserati to compete in the 1954 Formula 1 GP season. This request came from the then boss of Mercedes-Benz Racing, Alfred Neubauer via Stirling’s manager, Ken Gregory. He purchased a Maserati 250F, which proved to largely unreliable but not so that it was excessively uncompetitive. It performed well enough for Moss to be in the front rows alongside the Mercedes cars and would have him win a non-championship F1 round in the Oulton Park International Gold Cup.
1954 would also have him win, along with American Bill Lloyd, the 12 Hours of Sebring, co-piloting a 1.5-liter O.S.C.A. MT4. That same year, whilst competing at Monza, Moss would take the lead by passing Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari. After his engine failed on lap 68, Moss would win recognition for his doggedness by pushing his car across the finish line. This impressed Neubauer and signed Moss for the 1955 season.
It would be this year that cemented Moss as one to watch. The British Grand Prix was held that year at Aintree, with Moss taking the checkered flag and becoming the first British driver to win. It was Mercedes from first to fourth, and it would be a race that he would win ahead of his friend, Fangio. It was suggested that Fangio had sportingly held back to allow Moss to win, something that Fangio denied. Moss would also take the wins in the Targa Flrio and the one thousand mile Mille Miglia. That win was described by English motoring journalist Doug Nye as ” the most iconic single day’s drive in motor racing history.”
In 1957 Moss would again demonstrate his long distance driving prowess, winning the race held on the 16 mile long Pescara Circuit. Spanning three hours, Moss would win over Fangio by over three minutes. Fangio had started from pole position.
1958 saw Moss win the first race of the GP season in a then new rear engine design, which became the favored layout by 1961. In 1958 Moss was embroiled in a controversy not of his own making. when a fellow driver, Mike Hawthorn, was accused of cheating in the Portugese Grand Prix. Hawthorn was accused of reversing on the track after spinning, however Moss had advised him to steer downhill in an effort to bump-start his stalled car, and against the traffic momentarily. Hawthorn would be cleared and his six points gained by finishing second behind Moss would be crucial at the season’s end. Hawthorn would win the championship by a solitary point over Moss.
Part of this can be traced to a miscommunication between Moss and his trackside team; they had held up a sign saying “Hawthorn Rec”, meaning Hawthorn had set a record lap. However Moss had misread the sign, thinking the c was a g, for Regular. As a result, Moss did not increase his pace and was left ruing that misread sign at season’s end.
After winning the Monaco GP in 1960, Moss would be injured in a crash during practice for the Belgian round. He would miss a number of races before returning and winning the United States GP in California. In 1962, Moss would crash again, this time at Goodwood in the U.K. Partially paralyzed for six months. Moss made the decision to retire from racing after a test run showed he was consistently slower lap after lap. He would retire with four championship seconds, from 1955 to 1958, and third for the three years following. After retirement, Moss would be seen at classic car racing style events, and would become a Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador. This role would also see him in continuous contact with current championship holder, Lewis Hamilton.
Moss would be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 2000 was officially made a Knight Bachelor for services to motorsport. His career would see him win 16 times in F1, take pole 16 times, and set the fastest lap 19 times. He would never win a F1 Championship.