Moss at 80 – The view from the front

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I’ve always said I’m glad I raced in my era. Wonderful cars and wonderful characters, too. With that in mind, the Motor Sport team drew up a list of names, places and machines, then fired them at me at random – almost like word association! Here’s the result…

1| Alberto Ascari

I didn’t know Alberto that well. I can remember seeing Alberto and Fangio driving. At a corner Ascari would nearly touch the straw bale, whereas Fangio would touch the edges.

2| Kieft 500cc

It was absolutely so easy to drive. It was remarkable. It understeered a lot – therefore you’d go into a corner too fast and the understeer would scrub it off for you. It was superior to a Cooper.

3| Maria-Teresa de Filippis

Always nice to pass her so I could blow her a kiss! She was a competent driver who watched her mirrors. In other words, you’d never come up behind her and be shaking your fist to get her out the way. She would realise, back off and let you through. She had a reasonable amount of ability. Many people who you’d catch, you’d lap them and they’d try to show you how damn good they were. She wouldn’t do that.

4| Jack Brabham

A tough competitor. I always felt that when I was following him I could see more of the front of his car than the back. He had enormous car control. The only person comparable with that is John Surtees, when he came in. But the thing with Jack was he was a sportsman as well. Tough and he wouldn’t give you an inch, but he wasn’t dirty.

5| Stuart Lewis-Evans

Oh, very fast. Stuart Lewis-Evans had a lot of ability, a lot of skill. His weakness really was that he was not as robust as a more fit person could be. He always struck me as a person who would go round a corner until he was just about off and say ‘well, that’s about as fast as I want to go’. He had a lot of courage, but perhaps a little bit too much.

6| Cliff Allison

A nice journeyman, really. A pleasant guy who did a competent job as a back-up driver.

7| Eugenio Castellotti

One of the best-looking fast drivers. He was inclined to drive perhaps a little faster than he should, in terms of his capabilities. I think he had more courage than skill.

8| Karl Kling

Much the same as Castellotti. Inclined again to be faster than he should have been…

9| Juan Manuel Fangio

Fangio, to my mind, was the best Formula 1 driver in the world. I could beat him in sports cars, which is something I don’t understand. He didn’t like enclosed wheels, but in F1 he was very fast. He was braver than me too, actually. At a place like Spa he was exceptionally quick. It was a very daunting circuit.

10| Lotus 18

A treacherous car, really. If you had the ability, a Lotus would beat a Cooper, but you had not nearly as much enjoyment driving it. You had to be very delicate and you couldn’t throw it around. With a Cooper you could and it was a lot of fun.

11| Jean Behra

A tough fighter. Jean was a man you had to respect because he’d always have a go. If you passed him you couldn’t just think about catching the next guy, you had to worry about him trying to take you back. One of the few people I call ‘a real racer’.

12| Masten Gregory

Fast. Not that smooth, I don’t think, but he would get the job done. He was incredibly brave.

13| Bruce McLaren

A good pupil. I remember at Monaco he wasn’t doing it and I said ‘follow me round’. He did so very well. He was a very nice person too, the sort of person you’d like to help out.

14| Aintree

More challenging than it looked. Very hard on brakes, and from my point of view quite important because I won two British GPs there. Therefore I have a soft spot for it. I won a lot of races there. It was really quite a tricky circuit considering how little there was to it.

15| Ron Flockhart

Ron I would say was a good competent driver of any car, really. Not a winner, though.

16| Jack Fairman

A good standby. A person you could count on. Jack would take the car, look after it and bring it back as good as when he took it. He never tried to be something he wasn’t, which is uncommon in racing.

17| Alfonso de Portago

A nice gentleman, very charming. He had class. As far as racing would go he was a fairly competent driver.

18| Nassau

At the time, frustrating. I was a racing driver and not a drinker. Therefore I made up for it by chasing crumpet! Although I enjoyed Nassau, it also annoyed me. It seemed most of the people competing were there because it was a fun weekend, which is what it was. Exactly what I like to do today! But at the time I was a professional.

19| Enzo Ferrari

Originally my bête noir. At the end of my career he could have been my saviour. If the car I was in at Goodwood had been the Ferrari in place of the Lotus, I don’t think I would have crashed. In which case I like to hope I could have had another 15 years of racing. When I crashed I was at the height of my skills. The great thing about Ferrari to my mind is that I can’t think of any death of a driver because of a mechanical failure, with the possible exception of Ascari. I don’t know enough about that, but I always felt he was changing to fifth and it went to third, although Phil Hill thought it was a tyre failure.

20| British Hillclimbs

Hillclimbs are a wonderful starting ground. The great thing about them is you are not driving with anyone else alongside, showing you how it should be done. If you have the bad luck to start alongside someone like Senna, who happens to be bloody good and you don’t know it, he would incite you to go quicker. Well, that doesn’t happen on a hill. The perfect place to start.

21| Goodwood

A much trickier circuit than it looks. Time can be found in different places. Quite a rewarding track. I’m looking forward to getting my Osca there this year to see how fast I can go through Fordwater. I’ve never had mixed feelings about the place because of the accident, I suppose because I feel it was the car that let me down, not the circuit.

22| Innes Ireland

One of the most underrated drivers. He was very fast. If Colin Chapman had been able to control him the way he did Jimmy Clark, I think he would have been up there with him. I don’t think Innes got as much assistance from Chapman as he could have had, maybe because of his personality. He was an outgoing guy. I liked him very much, but I can understand somebody not liking him very much. He didn’t appear to take things as seriously as they should be – but actually I think he did.

23| Duncan Hamilton

I would just say – a fast character.

24| Tony Rolt

A high-class Duncan Hamilton! We’ll leave it at that…

25| Aston Martin DBR1

A beautifully balanced car, bad gearbox, difficult flat spot on the engine, but it did the job. It was never as nice to drive as the 300S, but it would beat it, and it was bigger. One of my favourite sports cars.

26| Le Mans

Probably the greatest show in European racing. A race I never liked because it was too long. I think if I was racing now I’d enjoy it because they go flat out from the start. In my day I was told ‘look, use six-one, six-two here, use five-six there’. They always said they sent me out to break the other cars, but that wasn’t true. They just let me have a go, although I never used more revs than we were allowed. But I was allowed to race, and if you raced at Le Mans in my era, you didn’t finish.

27| Mike Hawthorn

Mike had his on and off days. There’s no doubt that Mike beat Fangio at Reims [in 1953] because he thought more about what he had to do. He won that race not by driving ability but by intelligence. He was fast, but one has to say what he did at Le Mans [in ’55] was rather foolhardy, trying to pass Lance Macklin where he was. I’m not saying he was to blame for it, but if he’d backed off it would have been better.

28| Pescara

I suppose it was a favourite circuit of mine because I did well there. I was brought up with road racing and once you got out on the roads you thought ‘boy, this is really something’. Burning up those roads… it was a very exhilarating place.

29| Colin Chapman

A flawed stone. Really brilliant, but only until later in his career. I think with the Type 23 he learnt to build a car that wouldn’t fall to bits. Until then he hadn’t built a car that was fun to drive too. They were very sensitive, which is fair enough because they were that good. But they didn’t drive well until the 23.

30| BRM V16

As bad as it gets! When one looks at the competence of actually building the thing it makes you wonder who the hell did it! I can’t think of anything that was good about that car other than the brakes and gearbox – and the fact that it broke so early you couldn’t do many miles! An absolutely appalling car.

31| Jaguar C-type

Probably the nicest Jaguar ever built. Wonderful because we developed the car and developed the disc brakes. It really did need them. The [drum] brakes were alright-ish on the XK120, but on the C-type they weren’t because the car was a lot faster. So from that development point of view it was my favourite Jaguar.

32| Archie Scott Brown

Remarkable ability for a man who was handicapped. He was one of the faster drivers, and the fact that he had a stub instead of a hand didn’t seem to make any difference.

33| Dundrod

One of the great drivers’ circuits. Very daunting, very enthralling. You got tremendous satisfaction from a good lap round there. There were some really quite difficult and tricky places. And there were no options if you spun off. I must say I liked it. My sort of circuit.

34| Graham Hill

A driver who attained more success with less ability than most. He won Monaco five times, Indianapolis, World Championships and so on. He was a very good driver, a careful driver and a steady driver. He wasn’t one of the fastest, by quite a long way. But he did a competent job and still enjoyed a great amount of success. I have great respect for his ability, but not so much for his speed. Graham could be quite dirty, but I don’t think he would seriously push you off. I had my worst accident passing him, but I don’t think he would jeopardise anyone on purpose. He would just make it as difficult as he could.

35| Mercedes W196

A great car because of its reliability. Nowhere near as nice to drive as a 250F. The great thing about Mercedes was that what the driver wanted, the driver got. Although having said that, Rudi Uhlenhaut would’ve preferred it not to be a straight eight. He told me he wouldn’t have chosen that for racing. Why he did… I presume the director said that was what they wanted to do. I don’t know. It’s difficult to separate the Mercedes formula cars from the sports cars because it was the team behind them that was so good. When you’ve got somebody like Neubauer patrolling a team that’s pretty good!

36| Phil Hill

He was good in as much as he could drive most cars fairly well – sports cars, formula cars, what have you. He had quite an agitated, nervous disposition. You’d go up to Phil before a race and say ‘did that thing work that we did to the car?’ and he’d say ‘what?’ and get all tweaked up! He was the one who correctly, in my mind, gave Mike [Hawthorn] the [1958] world title by letting him take second. I don’t hold any grudge against that at all. A very competent driver.

37| Peter Collins

A fun driver. Quite a lot of ability, reasonably careful with the car. Pete was probably better than people give him credit for. He of course died at the Nürburgring, which was a tragedy. He was one of the faster drivers.

38| Tony Brooks

Probably the best driver that people don’t know about in the world. If I was going to have a team I would put Tony Brooks at number one, with Jim Clark alongside him. Tony was that good. He was careful with the car – and very, very fast.

39| Roy Salvadori

Let me put it this way, I’d rather be in his team than competing against him…

40| Giuseppe Farina

Fast and ferocious. Farina was one of the drivers who would take the piece of road even if it meant you were going to be in trouble.

41| Osca

Maserati’s finest. I drove the MT4 at Sebring and I can’t think of any other car – ever – that would have done what that would do under the circumstances we faced: losing the brakes, throwing it sideways, all the things we had to do to make it work. And so I have a very soft spot for it. Now I’ve got the later one, the FCS 72, which has to be one of the nicest-handling cars. The Maserati brothers did fantastic cars: the 300S, the 250F and of course the Oscas.

42| Nürburgring

The best road circuit – that and the Targa. The great thing about the Nürburgring was its tremendous challenge to the car and the driver. Any car that can go fast round there has to be well balanced. For the driver it requires considerable skill and knowledge to take some of the corners flat out where you’d want to ease off. Spa was much more daunting and frightening. The Nürburgring was scary in places, but Spa was frightening everywhere except the hairpin. When Spa was over I was pleased – when the Nürburgring was arriving I was pleased.

43| Ferguson P99

The most difficult car to drive, purely because it was different. Different and difficult go together in this case. You had to forget what you had used driving other cars and drive it completely differently. Normally you’d throw the thing in and then put the power on to get the oversteer, but with this you couldn’t do that. But the car was so good in the wet that I could actually pass the Ferrari 246 on the outside – but only in the wet. John Surtees would have been the ideal guy to race it. He’s an intelligent guy. He knew nothing about cars when he came in, but he knew a lot about racing. And John wouldn’t have known what was so different from other cars. He had nothing to unlearn.

44| Sunbeam Talbot Alpine

Amazingly over-bodied! But one could really throw it around. It was a very forgiving car, not vicious at all. Because you could overdrive it, if you had the ability you had the opportunity of doing well in it. I enjoyed rallying it.

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