Sir Stirling Moss was living proof that world championships are optional when it comes to delivering towering figures who transcend their sport. Moss famously never won the Formula One world title – he had Juan Fangio and the shadow he cast partly to thank for that – but if he had, the ripples he made down the sport’s timeline could not have been greater.
Reflect on the responses to his passing from the likes of Jackie Stewart, Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton and the impact on the next generation, never mind his own, become clear. He was the driver they all wanted to be.
He was a living Boys’ Own character, a dashing daredevil who epitomised the thrilling and dangerous world of motor racing in the 50s.
With his addiction to speed, his eye for the ladies and his love of gadgets, he shared more than few character traits with James Bond.
Charisma is a hard commodity to bottle but Moss had it and his style meant he touched millions.
A handful at public school – he was nicknamed The Agitator – he initially set out into the world as a trainee hotel manager. But, inspired by reading a book called Road Star Hat Trick by a Thai prince and Old Harrovian – Chula – who owned his own racing team, his heart was lost to the dream of wanting to became a driver.
Despite the fact that he never sat – so never passed – a driving test he came to an arrangement with his dentist father that he would give it a crack for a year and see how it went. He never looked back.
The sport gave him an adrenaline rush and an opportunity to see the world albeit generally with it flashing by at speed.
The danger element in that romantic but lethal era was part of the pull. He raced on the edge and took his admirers with him.
In 1961 he was voted Sports Personality of the Year, beating the boxer Billy Walker and the tennis player Angela Mortimer – who had won Wimbledon that year – into podium positions.
To prosper in an era when safety was an afterthought required a certain type of character. If he had been born a few earlier earlier maybe Moss would have been a spitfire pilot.
The spirit of derring-do that lived within him tempted Moss into all sorts of drives – Formula One was just part of his back catalogue. He racked up 212 victories across all categories.
The British Racing Drivers’ Club, who were proud to have Moss as their longest-serving member, paid tribute to his versatility.
“He was universally recognised, following the retirement of the great Juan Manuel Fangio in 1958, as the racing driver who set the standards by which all other drivers were judged, whether in Formula 1 or international sports car racing,” a spokesman for the club said.
That willingness to adapt continued into his 80s when he switched to an electric car – a two-seater Renault Twizy – to drive around London.
He was the coolest of cats until the end.
Published at Sun, 12 Apr 2020 17:48:00 +0000