Stirling Moss: 1929–2020

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Sir Patrick Head, the legendary engineer and co-founder of Williams Grand Prix, once rather acerbically stated of Jacques Villeneuve that the 1997 World Champion “made rather heavy weather of winning” his title. In contrast, it could be said of Sir Stirling Moss that he created clear skies where storms were expected. He was a master of the luminous drive in a dull-witted car, a classic sportsman who lost a World Championship because he disapproved of a penalty which would have handed him the laurels, a pitiless self-assessor who retired from racing not because he was no longer good enough to race but simply because he was no longer as good as he had once been.

Stirling Moss driving shelsley walsh
Amar Kakad/Creative Commons

Often characterized as “the finest F1 driver to never win a World Championship,” Moss was often beset by adverse circumstance. A horrifying 1962 crash left him in a coma for weeks and forced him to rehabilitate from partial paralysis in an era where such recoveries were conspicuous by their absence. Rarely supplied with the best car, he often turned in the best drive regardless. He won virtually every marquee race of the era, from Sebring to the ‘Ring, and experienced considerable success in long road rallies.

Deservedly famous in Britain, Moss appeared on various television shows as commentator, interviewee, and expert. The phrase “Who do you think you are—Stirling Moss?” was supposedly the U.K. equivalent of the American “Who do you think you are—Mario Andretti?” Like Andretti, Moss was once given the opportunity to respond to an officer in the affirmative. He was high-spirited on the road as well as in racing, receiving attention from the police both during and after his career. At the age of 74, he chose to contest a parking ticket given to his scooter before time had elapsed, proving that he had perhaps not lost his taste for a bit of confrontation.

He had the unquestioned respect of his fellow drivers and their successors, from Jackie Stewart (who said Moss “set a standard that I think has been unmatched since he retired”) to Lewis Hamilton. As the son of an amateur competitor who could afford to give him a start in an existing car, Moss had an advantage uncommon to his era—but his work ethic, sportsmanship, and dedication to the sport were considered to be first-rate throughout his career and afterwards. Knighted by Prince Charles in 2000, Moss continued to participate in the motor-racing community until a fall in 2018 forced him to retire from public life. His death on Sunday, April 12, 2020 is said to have been caused by a long battle with an unnamed illness.

In the week to come, we will hear from McKeel Hagerty, Colin Comer, and others who knew and respected Stirling Moss. Our community of enthusiasts is worse for his loss; in a world filled with heavy weather, Stirling Moss was a ray of light.

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