If you ever wanted an embodiment of an old school sporting hero, you need have looked no further than Sir Stirling Moss.
In fact, old school does not do him justice.
He matched most men’s identikit of what a motor racing driver should look and behave like.
Fearless and fast on the track and road, debonair and dashing off it.
“If Lewis Hamilton wins a race, he has to go and speak to Vodafone,” Moss once said. “If I won, I'd try and chase a bit of crumpet.”
Old school, capital O, capital S.
Moss was certainly a plain-speaking reminder of the days when Formula One racing was seen as more noble, more honourable.
Both on the circuit and away from it.
That Moss remains, by common consent, the greatest driver never to win a world championship – he was fourth on four occasions – was attributed to a couple of key factors.
Firstly, he would not play the conservative game of accruing points with safe drives. Instead, each race brought a win-at-all-costs approach.
“Driving percentage races, just to secure a finish and some points, didn’t really interest me,” Moss would explain. “Some people can do that and we have seen it many times.
“My philosophy was different – I had absolutely the wrong mindset for winning titles … but I’m a racer.”
And secondly, he was a sportsman.
In 1958, he won four races compared to the one by Mike Hawthorn, the eventual champions. A pivotal moment came in the Portuguese Grand Prix when Hawthorn was stripped of second place for getting a push-start after sliding off the track.
Moss successfully campaigned for Hawthorn’s reinstatement.
“Once the flag fell, the chap next to you was your enemy, after the race he was your good friend,” Moss repeated many times.
And, of course, Moss competed in an era when your good friends were in constant danger of death as speed increased but safety did not.
They were Formula One’s killing years.
Take the Belgian Grand Prix of 1960. In practice, Mike Taylor suffered career-ending injuries and Moss himself broke two legs in an accident.
In the race itself, Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey were killed in separate accidents.
Inevitably, another life-threatening crash ended a career which had seen him win 212 of his 529 races in every conceivable kind of car.
His drive in the 1955 Mille Miglia – a fabled ten-hour race on Italian roads – is widely considered to be his finest.
It was his breadth of talent that made him a racing driver’s racer. It was his daring, his charm, his Britishness that seared his name into the public consciousness for decades.
That all added up to a fame more durable than that enjoyed by many a driver who actually won world championships.
For many, many years, there was not a driver pulled over for speeding who was not asked the question: “Who do you think you are? Stirling Moss?”
If you had have been Stirling Moss, you would have been a character with some unreconstructed views, to say the least.
He once said it was ‘better to lose honourably in a British car than win in a foreign one’ and, as recently as 2013, he claimed women would not have the mental strength to win a Formula One race.
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