Sir Stirling Moss: The Gentleman Racing Driver

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British racing driver Sir Stirling Moss passed away on 12 April 2020 at the age of 90. He was described as the best driver in the world in his time, but he never won the Formuala 1 world championship title. He was also described as the Gentleman Driver.

Stirling Crauford Moss (1929-2020) won the Targa Florio and sixteen Formula 1 (F1) grand prix, as well as the respect of his team and competitors for his driving skills, his determination, and his sense of fair play.

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He was born in London with Jewish heritage. His grandfather changed his surname from Moses to Moss. Stirling’s father Alfred was a dentist and amateur racing driver, and his mother Aileen also competed in motorsport. Even his sister Pat was a rally driver, winning five European Rally Championships, and marrying Swedish rally driver Erik Carlsson.

Stirling learned to drive on the family farm, from the age of six, in an Austin. He disliked school and did not perform well because he was bullied for his Jewish heritage. His response to the bullying was to succeed in something.

He started his driving career in 1947 in rallying, at the age of 18, entering F3, F2, and Tourist Trophy competitions. He would hop from one car to another to compete in different categories, adapting easily to each event. His first F1 race was in 1951 at the Swiss Grand Prix.

In 1952, Enzo Ferrari was about to sign Stirling for the Italian F1 team, but he eventually chose someone else—Piero Taruffi, which made Stirling want to beat the Ferrari team, the kings of F1. He won his first F1 race in 1954 in the Oulton Park International Gold Cup in a Maserati. At the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Stirling was in the lead—ahead of Argentine Juan-Manuel Fangio in a Mercedes and Alberto Ascari in a Ferrari. But in lap 68, his engine failed and he pushed his Maserati to the finish line. Fangio took the victory.

Mercedes signed Stirling Moss in 1955 and his team-mate was the Argentine Juan-Manuel Fangio. Now Stirling’s aim was to be the first British driver to win the British Grand Prix, which would mean beating his own team-mate.

Stirling’s first World Championship win was in 1955 at the British Grand Prix at Aintree, making him the first British driver to win an F1 race. And it was the first time he beat Fangio, his team-mate and friend, but also his professional rival.

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In 1958, Stirling Moss lost the F1 championship because of fair play. Yes, fair, not foul. While driving for the Vanwall team, and winning a race in Argentina with another driver’s car, he was in competiton for the season’s overall championship title with another British driver, Mike Hawthorne who drove on Ferrari. At the Portuguese Grand Prix, the Mike Hawthorne performed a contentious manoeuvre and the race commissioners were about to disqualify him, but his rival Stirling Moss defended Mike. This act of fair play cost him the title, but gave him the respect of his peers. He lost the championship that year by a single point. Between 1955 and 1958, he finished second ever year.

During his career, he drove for Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Vanwall, Robb Walker Cooper, Lotus, and HWM.

His driving career ended in 1962, during a pre-season race in a Lotus at the Goodwood circuit in England. A crash left him in a coma for more than a month with fractures to his legs and shoulder, and with fewer teeth. He once said, ‘Danger to me is an essential ingredient of life. Like salt in the kitchen.’

A year later, he got behind the wheel again on the same circuit during a test drive. After half an hour, he stopped the car. He knew then that he had to stop his driving career.

Actor Steve McQueen had raced against Stirling Moss in 1962 in Sebring and famously said, ‘I’d rather spend a night with Stirling Moss than with Marilyn Monroe.’

On Sunday, 12 April, Stirling Moss died at the age of 90, following a long illness. His wife, who announced the death to the press, said that he ‘simply closed his eyes.’

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Photographs:

grandprixhistory.org Helmet; astonmartin.blob.core.windows.net (portrait); and Sports Car Digest (colour, 85thbirthday).

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