Motorsport legend Sir Stirling Moss died aged 90 at the weekend, following a long illness. His wife Lady Moss was at his side, and said, “He died as he lived, looking wonderful. He simply tired in the end and he just closed his beautiful eyes and that was that.”
To many, he’ll be known as the greatest Formula 1 driver to never win a championship, and while true, that statement does something of a disservice to the many incredible feats he chalked up in his life.
His 16 wins in F1 were just the tip of the iceberg, as we’ll now explain:
Single-seaters. Endurance racing. Road racing. Touring cars. Moss competed in them all, clocking up as many as 62 races in a single year. As an all-round talent, Moss was unbeatable.
Of the 366 races he finished, as Motor Sport magazine once pointed out, he won most of them. 222, to be precise.
Although Moss’ F1 achievements are numerous enough to fill one very long article with them, it was arguably in the realm of sports cars in which he left his most significant mark. Which leads us neatly to…
The most obvious addition here, but a victory that simply can’t be ignored. With help from an early form of pace notes dictated from an 18-foot-long roll of paper by co-driver Denis Jenkinson, Moss’ Mercedes-Benz SLR crossed the line after 10 hours, seven minutes, and 48 seconds. 10 minutes faster than the previous record.
During the run, Moss was driving the SLR at speeds of up to 180mph, relying on inboard drum brakes to scrub off speed. At one especially sketchy point, the car took off at 170. And ‘sketchy’ is the key word here - the Mille Miglia was spectacularly dangerous.
Moss’ record was never broken - two years on Italian authorities banned all road racing following a pair of horrific fatal crashes that claimed the lives of drivers and spectators.
It’s tricky to pick out one of Sir Stirling’s 16 F1 wins to feature over the rest, but his 1961 Monaco Grand Prix victory seals the deal for us for several reasons. His underpowered Lotus-Climax 18 shouldn’t have been anywhere near the pointy end of the grid, yet he bagged pole position, going on to win the race ahead of the Ferrari 156s which would go on to dominate the season.
To cap it all off, the victory was given an extra dash of heroism by Moss’ decision to remove his car’s side panels to keep himself cool…
Away from the well-known racing exploits, Moss also dabbled in speed records. Along with a couple of endurance-based efforts in a Jaguar XK120 he also drove MG’s EX181 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1957.
The streamliner - nicknamed the ‘Roaring Raindrop’ - was powered by a supercharged 1.5-litre inline-four producing nearly 300bhp. Moss claimed five ‘Class F’ records in the vehicle, with a fastest flying kilometre average speed of 245.64mph.
Sir Stirling won the Nurburgring 1000km three times on the bounce - 1958, 1959 and 1960. With a fourth victory to his name in 1956, he’s won at the race - now known as the 6 Hours of Nürburgring - more than any other driver. In typical Moss fashion, he did so using a variety of cars - a Maserati 300S, an Aston Martin DBR1 and a Maserati Birdcage.
His 1959 ‘Ring win is the one we’d like to pick of the four. Then-Aston owner David Brown didn’t even want to compete that year, choosing to focus on the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Moss talked Aston into sending a solitary DBR1, however, with which the Brit put in one of his greatest ever performances.
The lead of five minutes he’d built up was dashed when teammate Jack Fairman put the Aston in a ditch near Brunchen. By the time Moss was back in the car, the pair had slid to fourth and were several minutes off the lead. Cue an incredible stint which saw the driver overhaul the third-placed Porsche 718 and the Ferrari Testa Rossas in second and first, going on to build a lead of nearly three minutes.
The DBR1 was back in second when Moss began his final stretch, but that didn’t stop him nabbing first place back and winning by 41 seconds.
Moss’ top-flight motorsport career was cut short following a colossal crash at a non-championship race at Goodwood in 1962, which put him in a coma for a month. So severe was the collision, the Lotus’ steering wheel was infamously left bent out of shape from the impact of Sir Stirling’s head.
Not only did Moss recover from partial paralysis, he even managed to get back in a racing car the next year. And he was still fast; his test session laps in a Lotus 19 were said to be at a competitive pace. Regardless, Moss felt he’d lost his instinctive racing edge, and chose to end his motorsport career.
Still in his early 30s, he’d packed an incredible amount into a short space of time. And that isn’t where his motorsport journey ended, either - he’d remain a prominent figure in the racing world for decades until illness would eventually force him to retire from public life in 2018.
Rest in peace, Sir Stirling.