An audience with Stirling Moss is to touch history, to connect with the origins of Formula One, to be in the same room as Enzo Ferrari, for whom he would have raced were it not for his career-ending accident in 1962, and Juan Manuel Fangio, with whom he drove at Mercedes for one glorious year in 1955.
What a privilege it was to be in his company on Thursday last in Pall Mall, where Moss, now 85, hosted the launch of the latest title in his name at the Royal Automobile Club. The key moments of a life in racing, entitled My Racing Life, funnily enough, are captured in 320 photos, some being published for the first time, plus a riveting text ghosted faithfully by Simon Taylor.
Moss posed for pictures alongside the Ferrari GT250 in which he won the 1960 Goodwood TT. The car was unusual in that it was fitted with a radio to underline its grand touring status. Moss tuned in during the race to listen to the live broadcast from Raymond Baxter, who unwittingly kept him updated on the gap he had to the Aston Martin DB4GTs of Roy Salvadori and Innes Ireland two laps in arrears.
Mercedes’ relationship with Moss, arguably the greatest British racing driver of them all, was brief, but boy was it productive, yielding his maiden Formula One victory on home turf at Aintree in 1955 and in the same year his most significant success, caning the roads of Italy in a Mercedes 300SLR to win the Mille Miglia in a time that will never be beaten.
Ten hours, seven minutes and 48 seconds after departing Brescia, Moss and his inimitable co-driver, the bearded and bespectacled “weirdo” (Moss’s label, donated lovingly) Denis Jenkinson, stormed the city gates having averaged almost 100 miles an hour en route to Rome and back. Over the final 83 miles to Brescia the pair averaged 165mph. Moss was drinking a cuppa when Fangio rolled home second half an hour later. “It was without doubt the race of my life,” said Moss in the book, published to coincide with the 60th anniversary of his finest moment.
Moss was appointed by Mercedes as understudy to the veteran genius Fangio, who wrapped up his third Formula One world title in coming second to Moss at Aintree. Moss acknowledges his debt in learning at the gear stick of Fangio, and his status as second best in that early period. But in sports cars Moss had no equal.
Quite why Ferrari jumped the PR queue in Pall Mall with the beautiful Rob Walker-dressed 250 tourer is a question for Stuttgart. If I were Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Mercedes-Benz, I would have wanted the association with Moss in such an august setting. Mercedes quit motor racing at the end of 1955 after the tragic accident at Le Mans involving a Mercedes 300SLR in which 84 people died. Moss had, of course, agreed to sign for Ferrari in 1962, running a Prancing Horse in Walker’s epic livery of dark blue with white noseband. Then came the crash at Goodwood that ended his career.
He remains gloriously unreconstructed. I give you this spiffing tribute, straight out of the Ealing Comedies script-writing manual, to his Vanwall team-mate Tony Brooks, whom he described as the best driver he had faced after Fangio. “He was a very quiet man. He did not chase the crumpet because he was a Catholic.”
When, in the spirit of the hour, I mentioned to Sir Stirling that the book might have included more “crumpet” references, he replied: “Well, you’ve got Sylvia in there, she was very nice.” Said Sylvia appears on page 16, demure in buttoned-up blouse and hat, beside a caption that reads: “I will always remember Sylvia with great fondness, because she first taught me what life was really about. However, I also remember a difficult moment when Mum came home unexpectedly while I was in the middle of one of her lessons.”
Moss was also full of praise for Mercedes’ current world champion Lewis Hamilton, who he said was one of the few drivers of this era who would have prospered in his day, when the cars slid about all over the place on tracks unattended by safety features. “He would have loved to have driven in my era. Danger was a great differentiator, pushing the less able to the back in a way they can’t today. Lewis is a great world champion, very exciting and carrying the mantle very well.”
But he will never be Stirling Moss, not because he cannot turn a wheel like him, but because fate denied him first crack at a new canvas. Someone in the Mercedes marketing and PR machine is missing a trick. A Mercedes AMG GT, or something equally suitable, ought to be sitting outside Moss’s Mayfair home, and a bloke in white gloves behind the wheel, too. The old boy doesn’t get about much these days but when he does it should be in something silver and quick, connecting the present to a glorious past in which they both shared.