A brilliantly versatile driver, Moss was a poet at the wheel of almost any type of racing car, excelling in Grands Prix and endurance racing alike. He proudly acknowledges the honorary title of the greatest driver never to have won the Formula 1 World Championship crown.
The son of a dentist who dabbled in racing, Moss started down the motorsport path in 1947, cutting his teeth (no pun intended) in Formula 500 before winning the 1950 Tourist Trophy in a Jaguar XJK120.
His Anglophile nature kept him in British cars for the few seasons of F1, but he eventually bit the bullet and purchased a Maserati 250F to improve his results.
The effect was immediate, and Stirling found himself hired by Mercedes-Benz to partner Juan-Manuel Fangio, before moving onto the Vanwall outfit, then Rob Walker’s Cooper and Lotus cars – all three constructors became pivotal in breaking the monopoly of F1 then held by the continental teams.
Allied with a great sense of humour and a taste for ‘”chasing crumpet”, Moss’ sense of fair play was always evident when racing. It was this sporting attitude that cost him the 1958 World Championship to Mike Hawthorn – who won a single race to Moss’ four that year – by one point, when he stood up for his compatriot in a stewards’ hearing at the Portuguese Grand Prix (a race that Moss won), which could have resulted in Hawthorn losing points he had rightly earned.
Moss’ potentially lengthy career came to an end at Easter in 1962, when his Lotus left the Goodwood circuit at high speed and he suffered major head injuries. Incredibly, he survived, but rushed his recovery and got behind the wheel too quickly – a fact he readily admits today.
Allayed by doubts that he was no longer competitive, he abruptly retired, and the world has forever wondered if he could indeed have secured the elusive title if he allowed himself that little bit more time…
While he never returned to Formula 1 competition, Moss continued to be an imposing and popular figure at many a motorsport event, taking great delight in demonstrating many a racing car in which he competed over the years.
In 1990, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and ten years later he was finally awarded a Knighthood for his outstanding services to motorsport.
In March 2010, Sir Stirling broke both ankles, broke four bones in a foot and chipped four vertebrae in a freak accident at home when he fell down an elevator shaft at his home. He made a complete recovery and returned to public duties just months later when he appeared on the grid for the British Grand Prix.
Sir Stirling continued to race into his eighties, finally calling it a day during qualifying for the Le Mans Legends Race in 2011.
We offer our tremendous thanks to Sir Stirling for his time and support in making this delightful interview possible!
|Full Name:||Sir Stirling Moss Crawford|
|Born:||17 September 1929, West Kensington (GBR)|
|First GP:||1951 Swiss Grand Prix|
|Last GP:||1961 United States Grand Prix|
|1950||Formula Junior, Cooper JAP T11, 1st overall in Monaco Grand Prix support race|
|1951||Formula 1, HWM Alfa 51, 1 race, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1952||Formula 1, HWM Alfa 52, 1 race, 0 points, Not Classified|
|Formula 1, ERA Bristol G-Type, 3 races, 0 points|
|Formula 1, Connaught Lea-Francis Type A, 1 race, 0 points|
|1953||Formula 1, Connaught Lea-Francis Type A, 1 race, 0 points, Not Classified|
|Formula 1, Cooper Alfa Special, 3 races, 0 points|
|1954||Formula 1, Privee Maserati 250F, 3 races, 1 podium, 4.14 points, 13th overall|
|Formula 1, Maserati 250F, 3 races, 0 points|
|1955||Formula 1, Mercedes-Benz W196, 6 races, 1 win, 3 podiums, 23 points, 2nd overall|
|Mille Miglia, Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, 1st overall with Denis Jenkinson|
|1956||Formula 1, Maserati 250F, 7 races, 2 wins, 4 podiums, 27 points, 2nd overall|
|BRDC International Trophy, Vanwall 56, 1st overall|
|1957||Formula 1, Maserati 250F, 1 race, 0 points|
|Formula 1, Vanwall 57, 5 races, 3 wins, 25 points, 2nd overall|
|1958||Formula 1, Rob Walker Cooper Climax T43, 1 race, 1 win|
|Formula 1, Vanwall 57, 9 races, 3 wins, 4 podiums, 41 points, 2nd overall|
|1959||Formula 1, Rob Walker Cooper Climax T51, 6 races, 2 wins, 25.5 points, 3rd overall|
|Formula 1, BRM P25, 2 races, 1 podium|
|1960||Formula 1, Rob Walker Cooper Climax T51, 1 race, 1 podium|
|Formula 1, Rob Walker Lotus Climax 18, 4 races, 2 wins, 19 points, 3rd overall|
|1961||Formula 1, Rob Walker Lotus Climax 18/21, 8 races, 2 wins, 21 points, 3rd overall|
|BRDC International Trophy, Cooper Climax T51, 1st overall|
Firstly, how are you and how has your recovery progressed since your big fall?
I’m a bit stiff when I get up in the morning, but I never know whether that’s to do with my age or the fall! I carry on as normal and just have to do a bit more stretching when I get up in the morning.
The elevator’s claim to fame is that it’s the only carbon fibre lift in the world and it was designed by [Williams co-founder] Patrick Head and his team. But there was no problem with the lift itself at all; the simple fact was that the electrics allowed the door to open which they should not have done.
We’ve seen a number of what many would call ‘pay drivers’ on this year’s grid, who have either come on board or kept their position in the sport at the expense of drivers one well might argue have more talent and lesser funding. What are your thoughts on the current economic state of play in Formula 1?
This is something I don’t understand and perhaps never will. In my day, if you were good enough to drive for a team, they’d offer you money and you’d drive. Today’s it’s quite different because you have to come along with a wad of cash.
That was never a factor for my career, but I guess it’s just simply a fact of the day and a reflection of today’s economy in Formula 1.
Does Formula 1 have to look at serious cost containment if it can’t manage its own finances properly?
There’s a tremendous amount of money generated in Formula 1, particularly around the world, and there must surely be something that the powers that be can do to sort it all out. But far be it for me to offer my own opinion on this; I am just an enthusiastic spectator today so I have no say.
Lewis Hamilton copped plenty of criticism during the off-season for switching from McLaren to Mercedes, and he’s Britain’s first driver of a ‘Silver Arrows’ since your stint with them in 1955. Upon reflection, has he made the right move to leave McLaren?
It must have been a tremendously difficult decision for him to make the move when he did and – as I’m not privy to the reasons why he left McLaren – it’s perhaps difficult for me to comment.
I know Lewis pretty well, and I feel that racing for Mercedes was certainly the number-one vacancy in Formula 1 that he could take. And with Ross Brawn at the helm, who is still a brilliant engineer, the team has seemingly managed to get everything sorted to deliver one of the best cars in the world to one of the best drivers in the world.
The sport has evolved enormously – commercially and technically – since your time in Formula 1. Have you been a fan of the more recent technical advents, such as KERS and DRS?
Yes, I must say that I think that technology will have great relevance to today’s motor cars, and you have to think that Formula 1 is, in it’s own way, contributing to that.
Look at KERS: you’re essentially getting something for nothing, and I think that one day every new car will have a version of KERS fitted to it. If racing can iron out the problems of the technology and showcase its benefits, then that’s what it should do.
Formula 1’s relationship with the press is largely being managed by the press officers who are effectively representing the brands and sponsors who help put the show on the road. The sport lacks few, if any, of the types of personalities you would associate with – to use your delightful expression – ‘chasing crumpet’. What has changed over the years?
The thing you’ve got to realise is that when Lewis Hamilton wins a race, he goes and chats up all the people from BlackBerry; when I won a race, it meant I could go and ‘chase the crumpet’. So that should give you an idea of how much better the racing was in my era than it is today!
It is inevitable that today’s drivers have become too sanitised. They have press officers and managers and masseurs and all sorts of different people in their entourage. The sanitisation of the personalities is simply a by-product of the lives that they are leading at the moment.
Last year, Sebastian Vettel claimed his third World Championship crown and became the first person in the sport’s history to do so without winning a single race on the European continent that season. What is your opinion on the sport’s expansion into new markets and the proliferation of the Herman Tilkedromes?
I don’t like the Herman Tilke-things, but I can see why they’re necessary. It’s simply not realistic to run a sport today that you know is going to kill people. It’s been almost twenty years since an F1 driver was killed, and motorsport was never like that.
It was always a dangerous sport and provided plenty of thrills. I personally raced because I liked danger: I liked the challenge of fighting other people with a car and having that element of risk. I’m not modern enough to appreciate today’s circuits.
Your father was a dentist and an amateur racer. How much of an influence was he to your decision to pursue a career in motorsport?
He was dead against it. When I told him I wanted to be a racing driver, his response was: ‘You can forget that, I know how dangerous it is.’
I had to massage him quite a bit and he eventually came around, and once he did he was a tremendous help to me with setting up my car, changing the ratios and doing all the bits and pieces. It brought us a lot closer.
How comfortably does the moniker of being ‘the greatest driver never to have won the F1 World Championship’ sit with you?
Very well, it’s a very exclusive club and I’m proud to be its founding member. Thank God that those who landed up winning the World Championship got off my patch of turf! Of course it would have been wonderful to have won a World Championship title myself, but I am happy to be that guy as well.
Your first Grand Prix victory saw you become the first British driver to win a Grand Prix on home soil, leading home the great Juan Manuel Fangio in a Mercedes whitewash at Aintree in 1955. Can you talk us through that win and what it meant for you in front of your home crowd?
Formula 1 is such a fabulous sport and if you have the opportunity to drive the best equipment – which I certainly did that year – then the victory is all the sweeter. And to do it by beating Fangio and manage it on home soil is something else. To earn the accolades in front of my own people simply took it to another level.
That race also cemented your relationship with Fangio [it had been rumoured, although always denied by Fangio, that he had let Moss win]. What was your relationship like with him, both as a teammate and as a rival?
Fangio was extremely fair, and strictly so. He never did anything dirty, like flinging rocks up at you as many drivers would at the time. He was an absolute gentleman, on and off the track.
Unfortunately I couldn’t speak Spanish and he couldn’t speak English, but we both managed a bit of Italian, so we could discuss fast cars and crumpet, but we really didn’t need to discuss much more than that anyway! He was just a really lovely person and the finest driver I have ever seen in Formula 1.
You knew plenty of characters on and off the track during your time in motorsport, and I know that when you were younger, you read up on Prince Bira, who you races against in the twilight of his career in the early 1950s. In many respects, he was the embodiment of the playboy driver, blessed with talent and an enormous amount of character. What are your recollections of him?
Bira was, if you read any literature about him, a man who really grabbed my imagination when I first read about him. I hadn’t explored the idea of being a racing driver when I first learned of him in my teens, and he seemed like this incredible hero and someone I aspired to be like. He had a tremendous record in the pre-War era – don’t forget his three BRDC Gold Stars – and I thought this guy was fantastic. Of course, I was lucky enough to meet him and race against him.
Versatility was very much the name of the game in your era. In your career, you raced over eighty different makes of car and, in some years, upwards of sixty races in a single year, sometimes in several categories on a single weekend. How much has motorsport evolved to become more specialised, at its own cost?
Motor racing today is no way comparable to what it was. Firstly, it’s obviously much safer today than what it ever was in my era. Secondly, the circuit are sanitised and there are few serious hazards that pose a risk to a driver – as I mentioned before, the new ones are truly awful, but there you go…
It’s what the sport has evolved into and I wouldn’t criticise it for adhering to today’s demands.
But today’s drivers are certainly missing out on experiencing the range of machinery that I did, but they’re making an awful lot of money for specialising in one particular field.
Outside of your Formula 1 achievements, what was the proudest moment in your motorsport career?
Winning the Mille Miglia, without a doubt. Every time I think about it, I certainly think it was my greatest achievement. Imagine driving over 1,000 miles flat-out for ten hours on public roads alongside hundreds of other cars.
I had the best car in the world [the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR] and I remember the final 100 miles where we averaged 165.1mph! It gives you an idea of how incredible that car was and how blessed I was to have such a superb navigator as Denis Jenkinson.
Out of the 300 SLR or the Mercedes W196, which was the best you ever raced?
The 300 SLR was undoubtedly the best sports car that has ever been created. I know there would be other contenders, but this was so well-balanced and incredibly strong, mechanically.
Conversely, the worst car I ever raced was the V16 BRM in 1959. It was extraordinarily bad, I don’t think I could even begin to tell you! Most cars on the grid couldn’t get beyond 5,000-6,000rpm, but this thing went to over 12,000rpm and you were nearly deafened. I remember one time they brought it out with stub exhausts fitted, and I insisted that they put full exhausts back onto it because I couldn’t stand the pain of driving it. I won’t even go on to describe it’s handling…
We have the age-old adage of ‘Who do you think you are? Stirling Moss?’ etched into popular culture as a result of your heroics on the Grand Prix stage. Have you ever had this happen to you personally by a well-meaning officer of the law?
I have had it happen to me on several occasions, but I never knew whether the officer was being serious or taking the piss out of me!
You were a four-time World Championship runner-up, and came so close to winning becoming Britain’s first championship winner in 1958, where – perhaps ironically – that award went to your compatriot Mike Hawthorn. Ultimately it came down to you supporting a disqualification claim made against him at the Portuguese Grand Prix, where he’d spun and received assistance to get going again. Your approach was that the manner in which the battle is fought, rather than the outcome, was more important. Do you still stand by that approach today?
He was being penalised for an act that had nothing to do with him – the marshals came out and push-started his car – and I didn’t consider it a big deal. But the officials took it upon themselves to disqualify him and I thought that was completely wrong.
I didn’t want him to have an unfair advantage over me, and I didn’t want to win the title because he’d slipped up an escape road, so I petitioned for him to be reinstated. That it cost me the title is irrelevant. I had a fantastic career and competed in well over 600 races, so it was a brilliant innings and I enjoyed it all the way through. Any race that I won was one that was earned fair and square.
Your era was one where it was perfectly likely that not every driver who entered a race would finish it, let alone alive. Was it necessary to have a rather detached relationship to the idea of death given that there was a very high probability that you, or your competitors, could be killed?
Yes, there was a very high probability [of death] in those days, because you’d often lose 3-4 drivers every year at least. So you had to have complete confidence in your own ability so you could get in there and really push it.
The thing that really upset me was when a mechanical failure occurred, because they were not my fault – such as a wheel coming off. The technology was hardly what it was today and cars didn’t enjoy the reliability that you see today.
You had two big injury-inducing accidents, with the first coming at the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix – a race at which two of your compatriots were killed – and then your career-ending accident at Goodwood. How does that relationship with death and injury manifest itself when it happens to you?
When it happens to another competitor, you find yourself making excuses for the problems that arise, and I’d find myself saying, ‘I might have been a bit further to the left approaching that corner,’ or something like that. You have to do that to help yourself get back in the car.
I used to compete in over 50 races a year in a variety of equipment, and of course the sense of challenge increased with the complexity of the machine you were piloting. The reward was greater too when you overcame those challenges and were successful.
Much was documented about your Goodwood accident and your subsequent recovery, where you returned to the wheel less than a year after your crash to see if you could still do it. Ultimately, you were only a few tenths slower than your outright pace, but you decided enough was enough. How do you look back at that decision today?
I can tell you that it was a mistake, both to try and get back behind the wheel when I did and then to opt not to return to competition. But I can only say that now, looking outside the bubble.
Most people wouldn’t understand the enormous pressure I was under at the time – particularly from the press – who were pushing me to return to racing. It was very heavy pressure and I felt compelled to get behind the wheel.
I know I went too early, and if I’d waited it could have been much more different. Then again, a certain young Scot called Jim Clark had just entered the F1 landscape with Lotus and slick tyres were being introduced, so who’s to say that I could have been competitive against that combination if I’d made a full return? I’d have at least needed a substantially improved car [from Rob Walker’s team] than what I’d competed in the year before.
You’ve raised some interesting points, and while I know it’s not an apples to apples comparison, there have been many drivers since – think Niki Lauda, Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica – who have returned to racing after equally serious injuries, albeit with varying degrees of success. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s such a personal decision and every driver is different. From my perspective, I had every thought and intention of carrying on racing until my fifties. The very thought of getting out and entering the workforce at the age of 32 was just awful.
There are different motivations for every driver. The body can recover quite quickly from a major trauma, and in my case it did, but the attempt to return just didn’t work out for me. Getting the mind to recover is a rather more unknown domain…
You still have your steering wheel from your Belgian Grand Prix and Goodwood crashes? What other motorsport memorabilia do you still have in your collection?
I still have the steering wheels from both accidents, although they’re so badly mangled that it’s near impossible to tell which is which.
I actually don’t have much other memorabilia to be honest with you. Some years ago, I had a person approach me and offer to set up a museum in California in my honour. So I gave him a lot of my trophies, and the bastard took them and sold them!
I still have some of the most important trophies, including my ‘Driver of the Year’ awards and my BRDC Gold Stars.
You’re one of the few motorsport figures to have earned a knighthood. Being such a proud British patriot, what did this recognition mean to you?
It is really great to be called ‘Sir Stirling’. I’m honestly still lost for words when I am asked about it, but it is really meaningful to me. I am red, white and blue all the way through – I would bleed the Union Jack colours if I cut myself shaving!