'What I will always recall is Stirling Moss's view on modern driver rates of pay'

In my last couple of years at school before motor racing’s lure proved irresistible, I used to cycle at weekends to the rifle ranges at Bisley, where I’d work as a marker, cowering in the target butts. It was pretty good fun, with the supersonic crack of bullets whanging overhead, the buzz of the occasional ricochet, and the frequent bawling-out via the field telephone for not having marked a shot (which usually meant the relevant ‘marksman’ couldn’t hit a barn door and had missed by miles).

The big point was that my teenage job paid 30 bob a day, 30 shillings, £1.50 – pretty darned good back in 1961-62. It represents a 2021-22 value of £34.25 – so 68 quid for a weekend’s work, no overheads beyond a packed sandwich lunch and a bottle of Tizer. At 16-17, what’s not to like?

In recent months we’ve been working to finalise a new release of what to me has always been the wonderful Vanwall book written by my old friends and mentors Denis Jenkinson and Cyril Posthumus, and published by Patrick Stephens Ltd in 1975. Publishers Pat Stephens and Darryl Reach were also long-time friends. When I’d been given my first job at Motor Racing magazine, based at Brands Hatch, in 1963, Pat was the MD and Darryl my first and immediate boss. I owe them both one hell of a lot.

And when they did that book with Jenks and Cyril I helped a little. Unfortunately, the book finally emerged as quite a slim volume, inadequately illustrated. I was disappointed, but everyone else seemed happy – not least Neil Ratcliffe, head of GKN- Vandervell Products Ltd, who sponsored the job. So I kept schtum.

That is until a casual conversation with publisher Philip Porter of Porter Press just pre-Covid, I think (it’s all a blur). I showed him a copy, plus a taster of the kind of photos and contemporary documentation available in our dusty archives, and – with typical energy – Philip just said “Let’s do it!”. And so we have.

It’s due out soon. A factor which has really intrigued me over recent weeks has been the notion of comparing the value of historic payments to the value of the poor beaten-up Pound today. Making those comparisons, as with my Bisley pay packet previously, provides a whole new appreciation of the 1950s.

In 1957, Stirling Moss’s Formula 1 driver contract with Vanwall specified a basic retainer of £5000. How much is that today? Its 2021 value would be £123,500. Compare that to the alleged £42m Lewis Hamilton contract and that would mean that Mercedes-Benz’s modern multiple World Champion has commanded a pay rate which is more than 340 times greater than our much-missed Maestro’s.

Of course, the Hamilton Mercedes deal represents the sum total of his motor sporting activity, whereas Moss bolstered his Vanwall deal with another to drive sports cars for the Maserati works team, and his prize money and trade bonuses for second place in the Buenos Aires 1000Kms, the Sebring 12-Hours, a share of both first and third in the Swedish Grand Prix – that sports car classic at a bumpy Kristianstad – added to that retainer would have been of considerable value. But even so – 340 times more money paid to his modern heir…

“Vandervell was a ruthless businessman but also a sportsman”

When future Vanwall constructor Tony Vandervell first became exasperated with delays of the British motor industry’s collaborative BRM project in 1948-49 he bought the embryo team a 1½-litre supercharged V12 Ferrari 125, the first of his four Thin Wall Special cars, named after his company’s Thin Wall shell bearings. That Ferrari cost him 9.5m lire, converting to some £5500 at the time – or £199,366 at 2021 values. Compare to a present-day Ferrari 812 Superfast road car, at a quarter of a million Sterling? Mind you, there’s one helluva lot more complexity, material, sophistication in the current GTB than in that cranky old, crude, nervous, twitchily short-wheelbase, swing-axle rear-suspended GP car of 72 years ago…

In the September 1954 Goodwood meeting, Vandervell’s team earned from the organising BARC £25 4s for winning the 10-lap Formule Libre Woodcote Cup race, plus £52 10s for second place in the Woodcote Cup and £5 5s for fourth – contemporary total £334. Doesn’t sound much, does it? Convert to 2021 values – total winnings equate to £9380. Feels different?

Now Old Man Vandervell was an autocrat, and a pretty ruthless businessman, but he was also a sportsman – and he took a long view diplomatically. When Stirling Moss – driving his Maserati 250F – had beaten Mike Hawthorn in his Vanwall into only second place, Vandervell sent him an appreciative goodwill cheque for £100. By 2021 values that represented £2808. Not too shabby.

But what I will always recall, fondly, is Stirl’s view on modern driver rates of pay, which so largely reflect not their driving, but all their irksome media and promotional duties: “To have earned that much money would have been nice, boy – but in comparison, I bet they don’t have half as much fun”.

Doug Nye is the UK’s leading motor racing historian and has been writing authoritatively about the sport since the 1960s