Moss, supreme but untitled

Sir Stirling Moss finished in the top three places in the World Championship every year from 1955 to 1961. He was second four times and third three times, but the world title his talents so obviously deserved remained elusive

Stirling Moss, Britain’s great motor racing hero of the 1950s and early 1960s, who is still regarded as the best driver never to have won the World Championship, had extensive links with BP. It was a backer for him personally and for many of the cars in which he had so much success.

By 1957, Moss was back in the BP fold driving for Vanwall, for which BP supplied fuel, and in the car built by industrialist Tony Vandervell’s team he scored another landmark win. He, along with Tony Brooks and Vanwall, took the first all-British win in a World Championship grand prix. 

Even better for Moss and co, the triumph was in the British Grand Prix, held that year at Aintree. Moss had taken a comfortable early lead in the race, but then took over team-mate Brooks’s car after a misfire hobbled his own. Brooks was struggling in any case as he had not fully recovered from a leg injury sustained in a crash at Le Mans. The Moss/Vanwall combination went on to win many more races and is often credited with breaking the German/Italian stranglehold on World Championship grand prix success.

Moss was the first man to win a grand prix in a rear-engined car – Argentina in 1958 – driving BP-backed Rob Walker Racing’s Coventry Climax-engined Cooper T43. He won a further three grands prix that year, all in Vanwalls, but for the fourth year running was only second in the World Championship, this time just one point behind Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn.

The relationship with Walker, which also provided both Cooper and Lotus with maiden World Championship grand prix victories (Argentina in 1958 for Cooper and Monaco in 1960 for Lotus) continued to bear fruit and it was in Rob Walker Racing Lotuses that he scored two of his most famous wins – at Monaco and the Nürburgring in 1961, great drives both. In 1961 in particular, he had to pull off a serious giant-killing act as he had to contend with the superb ‘sharknose’ Ferrari 156s which had substantially more power than his Climax-engined Lotus 18. His final grand prix victory was in a Walker Lotus 18/21 in Germany – on a partially wet Nürburgring – in 1961, and again he was racing with a big car disadvantage.

In 1962 he had a very serious crash at Goodwood, and after a long and slow recovery from his injuries decided to retire. Every year from 1955 to 1961 he’d finished in the top three in the World Championship – four times second, three times third, but the title his talents so obviously deserved remained elusive.