The motoring world lost a giant of a man this Easter Sunday, as Sir Stirling Moss succumbed to a variety of serious maladies that had caused the 16-time Formula One Grand Prix race victor to resign from public life in 2018. He was 90 years old.
Stirling Moss has been noted as the finest driver not to win an F1 championship, following his retirement from the sport in 1962 at the age of 32. He was runner-up in the championship four times.
Almost always loyal to British machinery (often to his detriment), Moss was the first to break the stranglehold on the sport that had resulted in German and Italian machinery constantly atop the winner’s rostrum. He delivered the first F1 victory for a British-built race car in 1957, teaming with Tony Brooks in the beautiful Vanwall.
There was much more to Moss’ career than F1 and he is likely best known for his spirited, winning drive in the 1955 Mille Miglia road race, where he teamed with British journalist Denis Jenkinson for victory in the #722 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. After his retirement, Moss was frequently seen driving #722 in exhibitions, mostly during vintage races and celebrations.
Throughout his career, from 1948 to 1962, Moss took part in 529 races, winning 212 of those contests. He was known for his canny ability to excel in any competition with any vehicle under his command. As historian Joe Saward notes, oftentimes Moss could be seen in upwards of 60 events during a calendar year; he drove at least 84 varied marques of vehicle.
Following his retirement from professional race car driving, Moss entered vintage competition and became a spokesman for the sport he loved from childhood. The supreme ladies’ man, he was seen shirtless, baring his chest and showing off his formidable physique as he accessed hot, summer pit roads, well before rules to force cover-ups were engaged.
As the news spread about Moss’ demise, commemorative comments from many of his former competitors and others who had both known and admired the driver rolled in.
Motorsports Hall of Fame of America president George Levy recalled interviewing spokesman Moss during the Can-Am’s 50th anniversary. “I have many great memories of the Can-Am,” Moss said during the interview. “The problem is that you can’t print any of them.”
Peter Windsor noted the irony of Moss’ date of death: “At Goodwood, on Easter Monday, 1962, his career came to a premature end. And now this. I revered Sir Stirl not only as one of the greatest racing drivers of all time, but also both as a friend and as a Top Man, as Sir Frank Williams would say. He was at once a human dynamo and the sort of guy with whom you could always have a laugh. Most of the jokes we shared could not be reprinted or shared…“
Mario Andretti shared two photos on Twitter of he and Moss together, along with the epitaph: “Wonderful Sir Stirling Moss. RIP.” Willy T. Ribbs said, “RIP Super Stirling; you were one of the reasons I wanted to be a race driver.”
Reigning F1 champion and fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton, with whom Moss shared mutual respect: “Today we say goodbye to Sir Stirling Moss, the racing legend. I certainly will miss our conversations. I am truly grateful to have had these special moments with him. Sending my prayers ad thoughts to his family. May he rest in peace.”
Moss’ death was announced by his widow, Lady Suzy. While his most famous comment is customarily attributed to the actor Steve McQueen, it was actually stated by Sir Stirling Moss and, in this era of pandemic, is truth for all of us: “Racing is life; everything else is just waiting.”
ETA 4/13/20: We had incorrectly stated that Moss’ career began in 1958, not 1948. That has been corrected.