What we lost

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Stirling Moss, racing a Formula 1 Ferrari in Rob Walker’s colours? The events at Goodwood on April 23, 1962 robbed us of a truly fascinating possibility

Anyone can tell you that a Formula 1 Ferrari is red, but there have been occasional exceptions. Sometimes at the Belgian Grand Prix there would be an extra car in the yellow of Equipe Nationale Belge for such as Olivier Gendebien, and at the last couple of races of 1964, at Watkins Glen and Mexico City, the factory cars raced in the white and blue of the USA – indeed they were entered by Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team – because Enzo Ferrari was having one of his periodic spats with the Italian racing authorities. In a typically theatrical outburst, the Old Man had decreed that his cars would never race on home soil again, nor wear the colours of Italy. As usual, his threat worked, and he got his way: by the beginning of 1965 Ferraris were red again.

In May 1962, at the Daily Express International Trophy at Silverstone, the sole Ferrari present was also red – but with a difference, for along the length of it was a pale green stripe. As well as that, it was driven not by one of the regular drivers, but by Innes Ireland, and it was entered not by Sefac Ferrari, but by the UDT-Laystall Racing Team.

Anyone coming upon a photograph of Ireland’s Ferrari at Silverstone, while unaware of the circumstances of the moment, might reasonably wonder how and why it came to be – indeed, from contemporary reports of the race meeting one might surmise that most members of the press were similarly in the dark.

The conclusion reached by most was that Enzo Ferrari had sent over a car to honour Stirling Moss, grievously injured – in a Lotus entered by UDT-Laystall – at Goodwood three weeks before. Ireland was a UDT-contracted driver, so it was logical he should drive the Ferrari and… there you are, mystery solved.

“In fact,” says Moss, “the press got that completely wrong – that was to have been my car. It had been entered originally for me to drive – my first race in the new association with Ferrari. Innes drove it, because he and I were also going to share a 246 sports car that season.”

In today’s world of round-the-clock rolling news stories of the goings-on in F1, it rather beggars belief that the world’s greatest driver had reached agreement to drive for the world’s most celebrated team – and apparently no one, save those directly involved, knew about it. Moss’s accident occurred on Easter Monday. Thirteen days earlier, on April 10, he had flown to Milan, from where he was driven to Maranello. A three-hour discussion with Ferrari followed. ‘Met Enzo, and had a very interesting meeting,’ his diary reads. ‘Shown all.’ Indeed he was. Ferrari, traditionally so secretive, threw the place open to his guest.

“I went simply because I had an invitation from the Commendatore,” says Stirling. “He asked me to tell him exactly what I wanted from a Formula 1 car, and he would build it for me. Incredible…

“I’m the sort of person who does stupid things sometimes, and I’d always vowed that I would never drive for Ferrari. That went back to a time in Bari, early in my career, when he offered me a car, then changed his mind. I got there and found it had been assigned to Villoresi, which really pissed me off.

Subsequently, though, I often drove other people’s Ferrari sports and GT cars, and I built up enormous admiration and respect for the man, and what he had done.”

Undoubtedly Ferrari later regretted his decision to treat Moss so dismissively, and over time came to the belief – held to the day he died – that only Stirling belonged on a plateau with Tazio Nuvolari. In 1961 Ferrari’s glorious ‘sharknose’ cars had dominated the Grand Prix season, losing only two races, at Monaco and the Nürburgring, circuits at which genius could have its own reward, at which they had no answer to Moss and Rob Walker’s Lotus. The time had come, the Old Man had decided: Stirling had to drive for him.

“Of course he wanted me to drive for the factory,” Moss says, “but before I went to see him I spoke to Fangio, and asked his advice…”

The great Juan Manuel had spent only one season of his career with Ferrari, 1956, and although he had won the World Championship, it was not a year he savoured. “I never felt comfortable there,” he told me, “and I didn’t like the way Ferrari tried to stir things up between his drivers. As it happened, I was on very good terms with them – Castellotti, Musso, Collins – but within two years they were all dead, poor boys…”

Fangio’s counsel to Moss was therefore wary. “He said to me, ‘By all means drive a Ferrari – but don’t drive for the factory…’ I wasn’t surprised, quite honestly. I’d been around long enough to know that Enzo played his drivers off against each other. I’d seen people like Hawthorn, Collins, Musso and Castellotti – all people of a similar standard – being messed around there, so I told him I would drive one of his cars, but only in Rob Walker’s colours. And, rather to my surprise, he immediately agreed!”

This willingness to prepare a separate car – in dark blue! – for Stirling leaves no doubt as to the extent of Ferrari’s desire to have him inside the Maranello tent. Five years later he would accept a similar, albeit less radical, proposition from Jackie Stewart, agreeing that JYS’s car, should he partner Chris Amon in the 1968 factory team, would be half red, half the blue of Scotland. In the end that came to nought, of course, but Moss shook hands with Ferrari, and all seemed set for the campaign of 1962.

Amazing, is it not, that the discussion with Ferrari should have come up as late as April, a matter of six weeks before the first Grand Prix, at Zandvoort?

“It was all arranged,” Stirling says. “I was to have a factory car, prepared at Maranello, but entered and transported to the races by Rob Walker. Looking back, I suppose it was a fairly astonishing concession.

“Then I went and nearly killed myself, so it didn’t happen, but it was all looking great from my point of view: I could race for Rob, which I always enjoyed because he was such a nice bloke, race as a privateer – and yet have a factory Ferrari!”

And no one knew. Indeed, after the Goodwood accident, Motor Racing magazine suggested that, ‘Moss in a Lotus, with a V8 Climax engine, could well have brought off the World Championship this year…’

Undoubtedly true – but which Lotus might Stirling have been driving? Back in 1960, when the team had yet to win a Grand Prix, Colin Chapman, recognising that Moss was more likely to achieve that than any of his team drivers, had been more than happy to sell a new Lotus 18 to Rob Walker, and Stirling duly delivered that first victory, at Monaco, following it up with another at Riverside.

By 1961, though, Chapman’s ambitions had moved on apace. Lotus were winners now, at last considered part of the F1 hierarchy, and Colin knew that in Jim Clark he had a potentially great driver on his books. The team competed that season with the 21, while Moss had to make to do with 21 bodywork on his old 18. In his hands it was still good enough to beat the Ferraris at Monaco and the ’Ring, but down the road it was clear that Walker’s team, necessarily buying ‘customer cars’ from Chapman, would always be at a disadvantage.

While there was no question that Moss remained the best, he was quite aware of the coming threat from Clark: “Very well, in more or less equal cars I’d beat him,” he said of the 1961 season, “but already it was becoming clear that you wouldn’t want to take him on with a car disadvantage…” At the irst European F1 race of 1962, the Brussels GP, the Lotus 24 made its debut, and Clark beat Moss – still in Walker’s 18/21 – to pole position. At Snetterton a fortnight later Stirling had the upper hand in practice, but had problems in the race, which Jimmy won.

“We at least had the V8 Climax engine for ’62,” Moss says, “but the new Lotus 24 was obviously a much quicker car, and I told Rob we had to have one. Chapman was typically evasive – he might sell one, he might not, and if he did he wasn’t sure when it would be…

“As it turned out, I think Colin would probably have sold a 24 to Rob some time after Zandvoort – because there, of course, he introduced the ‘monocoque’ 25, which was quicker again!”

Faced with the prospect of always racing obsolete customer Lotuses, it seemed to Moss and Walker like a no-brainer to reach agreement with Ferrari. While the Old Man would assuredly have preferred to have Stirling in the factory team, he was prepared to accommodate him on any terms, for – famously indifferent as to which driver was in the car – all he fundamentally cared about was that a Ferrari should win. If it were blue, well, so be it.

“Of course,” says Moss, “the big thing would have been to try to beat the factory cars! I think the drivers might have objected, but I don’t believe Ferrari himself would have minded at all. All he cared about was his cars, and so long as a Ferrari had been winning, I don’t think he would have cared about its colour or its driver, quite honestly. If I’d beaten the factory drivers, he would have been able to use that against them!

He always wanted to give the impression that it was his car that won a race, not its driver.

“Enzo promised me the absolute best – he said that was in his interests, as well as mine, and I believed him. My Ferrari would have been at least as competitive and up-to-date as the factory cars, and clearly that would never have been the case with Chapman and Lotus.”

Then came Goodwood, and the accident which remains unexplained half a century on, and presumably will stay that way. “At one time I kept trying to piece together what could have led to that set of circumstances,” says Moss, “but absolutely nothing has come back.

“Obviously I’ve seen the movie of the shunt, though, and formed one or two theories. It was quite late in the race, and I’d made a couple of lengthy stops earlier on because of a gear-change problem. I was laps behind, but running quickly, presumably going for the lap record.

Approaching Fordwater and St Mary’s, I was behind Graham Hill’s BRM. Graham was leading easily, and I was no threat to him.

“I think it possible that Graham got a lag signal and acknowledged it, which was something I always used to do. We had completely different lines at that point, and I think maybe I saw his acknowledgement of the signal, and interpreted it as a sign for me to go through. Going on from there, I reckon it’s possible that Graham moved over to the left, not realising I was there.

“It was definitely not a normal overtaking point, and it would have been out of character for me to try it there. If I had high-speed shunts, it tended to be because wheels fell off or something. If I was really chancing my arm, I always reckoned to do it on slow or medium-speed corners, and the run up to St Mary’s is very quick. I doubt that I would have tried to overtake there unless the guy ahead was a lot slower, or had waved me through…”

At the time Hill said that he clearly remembered Stirling’s Lotus overtaking him on the left, the Lotus already on the grass. It then plunged onward towards the bank, Moss making no attempt either to brake or to spin the car.

“That wasn’t like me, either. When I had the wheel come off at Spa, a couple of years earlier, I deliberately spun the car so as to go into the bank backwards, and spread the load of the impact.

“That theory about Graham’s signal is just that, a theory. I must say I’ve always believed that something broke, and I reckon the most likely failure was in the front suspension or steering. If I’d had brake failure or a jammed throttle I could still have spun the thing, but I appear to have done nothing…”

Another theory, put forward by Ken Gregory, Moss’s manager of the time, has credibility too. At the point at which Stirling went off the road, Gregory pointed out, there was a drainage gulley, six or nine inches deep, and running at right angles to the track. An amateur cine film of the accident suggested that the Lotus was pitched into the air when it hit the gulley, and Moss was almost thrown out. Gregory’s belief was that Stirling didn’t brake because his feet were away from the pedals, and didn’t lick the car into a spin because his immediate need was simply to cling on to the wheel, as evidenced by its twisted shape afterwards. Significantly the wheel rim was pushed back towards the driver, rather than forward from impact with the bank.

Whatever the cause, the outcome was disastrous, and photographs reveal its full horror. Fifty years ago F1 cars were not strong, and the front of the spaceframe Lotus simply folded back on itself like the blade of a penknife, trapping Moss in the cockpit. Procedures for rescuing an injured driver were, to put it politely, primitive.

There was no Safety Car, and no question of stopping the race. It was left to two of the UDT-Laystall team mechanics to drive out through the paddock, on to the circuit and round to St Mary’s – with the race going on around them…

Once there, they set to work, and dangerous work it was. In the F1 car of that era a driver was literally surrounded by fuel tanks, one of which they removed, together with the battery – only too aware that undoing the leads might produce a spark. Then, using hacksaws, they set about cutting the four tubes of the chassis, so as to enable Stirling’s removal from the car. Again there was the fear of causing a spark, but, as chief mechanic Tony Robinson remembered, “We knew the tubes were only mild steel, and we wouldn’t get much of a spark from such soft material…”

By the time Moss was taken out of the car, 40 minutes had gone by. He had suffered multiple injuries, by far the worst of which were to his head. The accident happened on April 23, and, looking at his diary of the time, there is something eerie about the great white void of the succeeding days. On May 15 there is an entry, written some time later: ‘Came to about now’.

“I got a big shock when they told me the date, I remember that – and I couldn’t move my left arm, which I assumed was broken. In fact, the whole of my left side was paralysed, because my brain was bruised from the bang on the head. A friend of mine told me, and the full impact of his words didn’t dawn on me. Still, it wasn’t like being told I’d lost a leg or something – everything was still there, and I had something to work on. If it was simply a matter of my head sending the wrong messages to my body then I’d change the messages!”

In those days there was a multitude of non-championship F1 races, not least in England. Only five days after Goodwood came the had been apparent for some time that Clark
was destined to become ‘the next great driver’, all the talk was of the one who wasn’t there. In the programme, against car number 7, it said simply, ‘Withdrawn’.

My parents took me to Aintree, but I remember that my mother – a fervent fan of ‘the boy’ – had been so distressed by his accident that she didn’t really want to go. Many of the
spectators around us felt similarly equivocal: they cheered Jimmy, but their thoughts were with Stirling. That Saturday morning, as in previous days, the front page lead in all the
papers had been of Britain’s greatest racing driver and his ‘ight for life’.

For some time there had been the delicious prospect of Moss versus Clark, just as – until May 1, 1994 – everyone anticipated with relish the coming battles between Senna and Schumacher. As it turned out, these were seminal moments in motor racing history, an era ending, another beginning.

A year after his accident Stirling felt sufficiently physically recovered to undertake a day in a racing car again, with a Lotus 19 sports car at – strangely, it has always seemed to me – Goodwood. It was a decision he came bitterly to regret.

“I did the times all right that day, but it was purely by experience and know-how. When you’re racing, everything – where you brake, turn in, get on the throttle and so on – has to be automatic. It had always been that way for me, and now, suddenly, it wasn’t.

“I’d come into a corner, and everything was all right because I still had the ability to handle it, but then I’d get out on a straight, and ind that I was looking at the side of the road or something – and then I’d look back ahead and, my God, here’s a corner! The times I did that day were in spite of the problem, not because the problem was sorted out. At that time my concentration had completely gone, to the point that I could be having a conversation with someone, and completely forget what we were discussing.

“That’s what forced me to retire. To fight something you have to confront it, concentrate on it – which is precisely what I couldn’t do. By the end of 1964 my concentration had come back completely, and there’s no doubt that I should have left the test until much later. By then, though, it was nearly two years after deciding to retire, and I concluded that a comeback wasn’t feasible. I’d made up my mind, and I think that you should always stick by a decision.”

So it was that Moss’s career ended, at the age of only 32. He says that, without the debacle at Goodwood, he would have continued to race into his late forties, and how tantalising it is to consider what he might have achieved.

When Innes Ireland went to the grid at Silverstone in ‘his’ Ferrari that day in May 1962, Stirling knew nothing of it, of course, for his coma still had days to run. Ireland finished fourth in a wet race dominated by a duel between Jim Clark and Graham Hill, and that rather set the scene for the World Championship season to come – a season abruptly deprived of its greatest star, and one which should always be remembered in that context.

“As I was thundering round in the rain that day,” said Ireland, “I couldn’t help thinking to myself, ‘If only Stirling were in the cockpit instead of me, golly, he’d certainly have made it go…”

Nigel Roebuck

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