Sir Stirling Moss
born on 17 September 1929 in London, England
For one season only, 1955, Stirling Moss drove for Mercedes-Benz. But in this one season he inscribed his name in the hall of fame of motorsport. Moss is regarded as a phenomenally talented driver even to this day – it is one of those quirks of history that he never became world champion. A serious accident terminated his career in 1962. Even after that he always remained an ambassador of motor racing – often, of course, in historical Mercedes-Benz vehicles which he once drove to victory.
2 May 1955, Brescia, Italy. It is 7.22 a.m. A silver-coloured sports car gets the starting signal and shoots down the ramp: Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR are taking part in the most important, and most dangerous, road race of the period – the Mille Miglia. One thousand miles across Italy lie before them, 1597 kilometres. Opponents are the 520 other cars, a winding course featuring little in the way of safety precautions, and the clock with its unremittingly advancing second hand – at the end the only thing that counts is the time taken to cover the thousand miles. Only one car can win.
After 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds the silver-coloured car with "722" – the customary starting time of the Mille Miglia – painted in red on it gets waved across the finish line in Brescia as winner. The time is a new record for the "1000 Miles" (average speed 157.65 km/h), and it would not be beat anymore, for in 1957 the Mille Miglia was discontinued as a regular sports event. And Moss had arrived where he had intended: in the Olympus of motor racing.
Just a few years earlier, in 1948, Moss, 19 years of age, competed in his first race and came in fourth. At the very next race, in Brighton, he stood on the top step of the winners' rostrum. In that first year of competition he took part in a total of 15 races, finishing twelve of them as winner. It was a lightning start to an international career which he continued at Mercedes-Benz in 1955 after several stints with other teams. His contract covered all the major events of the year; he competed in them driving the 300 SL,
300 SLR and W 196. His successes during the season: Mille Miglia: 1st; British Grand Prix: 1st; Belgian Grand Prix: 2nd; Dutch Grand Prix: 2nd; Tourist Trophy in Dundrod, Northern Ireland: 1st; Targa Florio: 1st.
Moss had a tremendous will to win. He was driven always by one thought, he said: "Today is racing day, today I risk my life." He is said to have been mercilessly hard on the material. But for Moss a racing car was only the tool to get him to the finish as quickly as possible – and built exactly for that purpose. From start to finish he pushed the car to the limit.
When Mercedes-Benz withdrew from motor racing after the 1955 season, the cockpits of all leading brands were open to Moss. In the following years he drove various makes, for example Vanwall, Cooper, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lotus and B.R.M. Each season showed anew: he was a world-class driver.
1962 was the year in which he tempted fate. Moss had hired on as a driver with Lotus. According to his biography he had already notched up more than 500 starts by then. On the 30th of April he was competing in a non-championship 100 mile Formula 1 race in Goodwood. In the 35th of 42 laps it happened: under circumstances that never were cleared up he skidded off the track at high speed, crashed into an earth bank and sustained very severe injuries. Although he recovered, Moss decided to give up motor racing about a year after the accident – his reflexes were much slower than before the accident. "Someone who does not drive fast and safely," he said, "ought to throw in the towel, if only out of consideration for his competitors."
Moss' overall record is impressive: in a total of 84 different car models he took part in 495 motor racing events, reaching the finish line in 366 and winning 222. It definitely can be said that he was one of the best drivers of his day – and yet he never succeeded in becoming world champion. He came within a hair's breadth of winning the title several times, was runner-up four times in all between 1955 and 1958, beaten three times by the great Fangio and once – in 1958 – by his compatriot Mike Hawthorn. Sixteen pole positions as well as 19 fastest laps in world championship races also go to his credit. For his merits the British Queen knighted the racing driver, who henceforth could call himself Sir Stirling.
Moss also is considered the initiator of a change towards a much more professional motor racing industry. In 1949 he already had a manager who looked after business matters – an absolute novelty at the time, for most drivers personally negotiated their engagements and fees. It took a number of years, but by the mid-1960s there was hardly a driver who didn't act without a manager, and the racing teams too had changed their ways, being much more closely allied with advertising partners than before, for example.
After the end of his active racing days Moss continued to take a great interest in motorsport and has participated time and again in historical racing and rally events. Often he is seated at the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR with which he won the Mille Miglia and which today belongs to the inventory of the Mercedes-Benz Museum.