Happy birthday Stirling

F1

If you are reading this on Wednesday and happen to have a glass in your hand, please raise it to Sir Stirling Moss on the occasion of his 85th birthday. He is, I believe, currently doing 600mph, 35,000ft above the planet’s surface on his way to Singapore for the Grand Prix.

Stirling is most famously the best driver never to win the F1 world championship and, only slightly less famously, just one of few candidates for the title of best all-round driver who ever lived.

WC victories

Formula 1
1955 British GP (Mercedes-Benz)
1956 Monaco GP (Maserati)
1956 Italian GP (Maserati)
1957 British GP (Vanwall)
1957 Pescara GP (Vanwall)
1957 Italian GP (Vanwall)
1958 Argentine GP (Cooper-Climax)
1958 Dutch GP (Vanwall)
1958 Portuguese GP (Vanwall)
1958 Moroccan GP (Vanwall)
1959 Portuguese GP (Cooper-Climax)
1959 Italian GP (Cooper-Climax)
1960 Monaco GP (Lotus-Climax)
1960 United States GP (Lotus-Climax)
1961 Monaco GP (Lotus-Climax)
1961 German GP (Lotus-Climax)

Sports cars
1954 Sebring 12 Hours (OSCA)
1955 Mille Miglia (Mercedes-Benz)
1955 Tourist Trophy (Mercedes-Benz)
1955 Targa Florio (Mercedes-Benz)
1956 Buenos Aires 1000km (Maserati)
1956 Nürburgring 1000km (Maserati)
1957 Swedish GP (Maserati)
1958 Nürburgring 1000km (Aston Martin)
1958 Tourist Trophy (Aston Martin)
1959 Nürburgring 1000km (Aston Martin)
1959 Tourist Trophy (Aston Martin)
1960 Nürburgring 1000km (Maserati)

That last claim to fame has always puzzled me, only because I’ve never really considered anyone else even to be in the frame. I know Vic Elford’s astonishing achievements in both sports and rally cars put him in contention for many people, but Stirling won 16 times at the very top level and every major sports car race (Targa Florio, Nürburgring 1000km, Sebring 12 hrs, the Tourist Trophy and the Mille Miglia) with the sole exception of Le Manswhich he and Fangio were winning unopposed in 1955 when the decision was taken to withdraw the team after the Levegh accident.

Of course he also won endlessly in 500s, in Formula 2 and touring cars as well as being an accomplished breaker of speed records and one of only three drivers to be awarded the Coupe d’Or on the Alpine Rally.

But to me there are other dimensions to Moss’s contribution to our sport which put his claim to being the greatest all-round driver beyond dispute. They may be less easy to prove with statistics but to me at least, they count for just as much.

First, he was never someone who raced because he happened to have a talent for it. He raced because he loved racing, loved it so much he raced on into his 80s only stopping when the senses that had served him so well for so long told him it was time to quit. To this day he watches every F1 race and is trenchant in his view of the sport.

Secondly, he is a fabulous ambassador for that sport. I am not privy to his personal arrangements, but I very much doubt he needs to spend his life going to motor races and he does: he was at the Revival last weekend and will be in Singapore this weekend. I bumped into him and Lady Susie Moss at the Jaguar XE party a week ago and she gave me the highlights of their summer schedule just past. Frankly it made my head spin.

Thirdly, even when he was at the height of his powers and in the thick of the toughest competition that existed, it was still important to him to win in the right way. Stoutly patriotic, he undoubtedly harmed his own career by choosing to race uncompetitive cars because they were British. And when he came closest to winning the world title in 1958 he willingly torpedoed his own chances by testifying in Mike Hawthorn’s favour at a hearing after the end of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Hawthorn, as you may remember, was about to be disqualified for pushing his car the wrong way up the track. On the contrary, said Stirling, at the time Mike and the car were on the pavement… Had his disqualification held, Hawthorn would have lost seven championship points: Moss missed the title by just one.

The last thing I want to say about Stirling on his 85th birthday is I’ve been lucky to meet a few truly great racing drivers, but none with such a conspicuous lack of ego. He’s always been in the telephone book and while he suffers fools not at all, will always have time to talk to anyone who shares his passion. I know this because I was once in the same race at the Revival and because we’d both enjoyed it he’d come over to where my car was parked to say so. However I’d been briefly called away and when I got back he was sitting on a pile of tyres chatting away to the fairly dumbfounded mechanic who’d been spannering the car.

It’s 67 years since Stirling first raced a car and he’s been making our sport a better place for every one of them. Happy birthday Mr Motor Racing.

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