Obituary: Sir Stirling Moss, racing driver who became a sporting legend in post-war Britain

Sir Stirling Moss, motor racing driver. Born: 17 September, 1929 in London. Died: 12 April, 2020, in London aged 90.

A portrait of Sir Stirling Moss taken around 1955 (Picture: John Piercy/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A portrait of Sir Stirling Moss taken around 1955 (Picture: John Piercy/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Sir Stirling Moss was once the most ­recognisable sporting star in the world. The former racing driver, who has died aged 90, never won a ­Formula One world championship, yet his remarkable ­talent at the wheel set him apart from his peers.

Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the biggest car brand on the planet, described Moss as the greatest driver in the world. Five-time champion Juan Manuel Fangio called Moss the best of his era. He was a driver who defined the very essence of style, sophistication, but bravery too in an age where death was synonymous with the sport.

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Moss’ brilliant career ended on Easter Monday 1962 when he was cut out of his car ­following a terrifying 100mph crash at Goodwood that almost killed him.

Sir Stirling Moss gets back behind the wheel after receiving his knightood in 1999 (Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire)

The accident led the front pages of every national ­newspaper. It was a month before Moss was fully ­conscious. He received ­thousands of goodwill ­letters from fans. Moss tried to test himself behind the wheel again, but reluctantly called time on front-rank competition, aged 32.

Despite his official retirement, Moss continued to race until he was 81. But in the remarkable post-war years where he carried British ­sporting fame across the globe – although air travel was still a rarity then – Moss accumulated a world record 212 wins from 529 races in 15 scintillating seasons.

He raced in every sort of car, and perhaps his most famous and greatest victory of all was the 1955 Mille Miglia, in which he covered 1,000 miles of open Italian roads at an ­average speed of 97.96mph in ten hours, seven minutes and 48 seconds.

Moss was taken ill with a chest infection while on a cruise in Singapore just before Christmas 2016. He was ­transferred to a London ­hospital and finally to his ­Mayfair home.

After retiring from public life at the start of 2018, he died on April 12, with Lady Susie Moss, his wife of four decades, at his bedside. He is also survived by his son Elliot and daughter Allison.

Moss was born in London on September 17, 1929. The son of Arthur, a dentist and amateur driver, who finished 14th at the world-famous Indianapolis 500 in 1924, racing was in Moss’ genes.

He spent his formative Grand Prix years in unsuccessful machinery – preferring to compete in British-built cars – before joining ­Mercedes in 1955 and teaming up with Fangio. Moss claimed his first of 16 F1 triumphs at the British Grand Prix, before ­finishing runner-up in the championship – a position he would occupy for four ­years in a row.

In 1958, Moss missed out on becoming the first British ­driver to win the F1 world title following an extraordinary act of sportsmanship – the like of which we are unlikely to see again.

Moss’s championship rival Mike Hawthorn was set to be excluded from the ­Portuguese Grand Prix after a ­marshal claimed he had illegally rejoined the track following a spin. Hawthorn’s disqualification would have seen Moss crowned champion.

But Moss, who had dominated the race to win by more than five minutes, jumped to his rival’s defence and ­rubbished the marshal’s claim.

Hawthorn was reinstated to second and Moss, despite ­winning four races to his rival’s one, would miss out on glory by a single point.

“I had no hesitation in doing it,” Moss recalled years later. “I can’t see how this is open to debate. The fact that he was my only rival in the championship didn’t come into my thinking. Absolutely not.”

Moss broke both his legs in a qualifying crash at the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix – a tragic weekend which claimed the lives of his compatriots Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey – before somehow surviving his horror Goodwood accident.

Moss became a successful businessman, selling property and designing gadgets out of his state-of-the-art home in central London and working as a consultant to car manufacturers. He received a knighthood in 1999.

In 2010, Moss, then 80, broke both ankles, four bones in his foot and chipped four vertebrae after falling down a lift shaft at his Mayfair home.

Yet, four months later, he was on the Silverstone podium to present Lewis Hamilton with his trophy for finishing second. “Stirling is a great ambassador for the sport and the UK,” said the six-time world champion in 2019 in celebration of Moss’s 90th birthday.

Moss once said of himself: “I hope I’ll continue to be described as the greatest driver who never won the world championship, but it doesn’t really matter. The most important thing for me was gaining the respect of the other drivers and I think I achieved that.”