Excerpt from the May issue of Paddock Magazine
Throughout my professional life, I’ve been blessed with opportunities to work with some of the world’s most famous racing drivers, Formula 1 world champions and motorsport legends, such as Jacky Ickx, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton. But it never once occurred to me to ask any of them for an autograph, partly because I was too shy, partly because I believe memories don’t require a signature to be everlasting. I am sure I will probably regret this one day. However, when I was given the chance to meet Sir Stirling Moss, I knew immediately I needed a photo and an autograph of this incredible man.
Admittedly, I was slightly nervous when I first wrote to him and despite an acceptable level of English, I struggled with the wording and it took me more than half an hour and several clumsy attempts with the dictionary until I had finished my email to him. He replied within a matter of minutes, using capital letters only and ending his email with CIAO, STIRLING. The inevitable happened: I immediately fell in love with him, just like countless „crumpets“ (as Sir Stirling famously likes to call a beautiful lady) before me. When I finally met him and his charming wife Susie at the Geneva Motor Show, I was surprised by the impression he made on me and everyone around. There is an 85-year old Englishman who drove his last race in Formula 1 many decades before I was even born and who I – despite being a fond motorsport lover – have far too little knowledge about to truly appreciate his achievements. But I was absolutely intrigued. When I was a child, I recall my father mentioning his name „Stirling Moss“ in a very solemn tone, as if he was speaking of a Saint or some figure from a fairytale. He spoke of him as the man who triggered his love for British racing cars and motorsport that would last forever: „I always wanted to be like him“. Just like many other fans of his era, my dad felt that this man was different. Both a gentleman and a fast liver in its truest sense, competitive, yet honourable, bold and precise, he became a role model and the icon of a whole generation of drivers and racing enthusiasts far beyond England’s borders. An overused word, especially in motorsport, but as a sportsman who still manages to inspire fans over half a century after his last race in a Formula 1 car, Sir Stirling Moss truly deserves to be called a LEGEND. In capital letters.
Sir Stirling, how does it feel to be a legend?
It is very honouring to receive that accolade and it is a thing I am proud of. It’s very gratifying to have people recognize you, particularly since it was so long ago.
You’ve stopped racing 53 years ago. Many things have changed since then, two generations of fans have come and gone, but petrol heads all over the world still recall your successes and hold you in high esteem, not just in the UK. What is your secret?
I think quite a lot of it comes from my name. My mother wanted to call me Hamish, but my father said, we don’t want Hamish, we want Stirling. Stirling and Moss go together quite well, so I think part of the reason people still remember my name is that Stirling Moss is quite an easy name to roll off. But I think the biggest point is that I wouldn’t give up. Just because I’d have trouble and go into the pits and I’d have something done, I’d come back and I’d still try to win, I’d still go for the fastest lap. I was a racer, not a driver. That’s an enormous difference in personality.
You’ve played a big part in promoting the Brits’ love for racing. In your era you were the first to prove that a British car can win a Grand Prix, and you proved that a British driver can do so. How does it feel to know that a lot of your home country’s legacy in motor racing is down to you?
Well, I’ve been around a long time (laughs). I mean my first race was in 1948. It is very different now. The drivers back then were far more friendly with each other. We’d go out shopping together in my era, it was a far more relaxed situation. Because we were more accessible, it made it a lot easier for the fans to get to the drivers. Now it’s nearly impossible. It has just moved on, it’s a much more important and bigger situation I guess.
You went shopping with your team mates?
Yes. Say one of us found a shop with good overalls or good shoes or whatever, because we were such a close group of drivers, a jug of 15 or 20, we’d go along and go to shops and things, and say to people, “How much is one pair of those? What about when we buy ten pairs?” So we had much more power because of that.
Did you consider them your friends or were they your competitors?
We were friends before the flag fell. Once the flag fell, then you were really and truly trying everything you can to get in front of the other driver. The other thing you must remember is that in my era the Grand Prix were minimum three hours, which is a very long time. I won Monaco in 1961 and it took me three and three quarters of an hour. I mean it’s nothing like the Mille Miglia but it is a long time to concentrate.
How did you practice for this physical strain? What workouts did you do, because at the time I imagine it wasn’t like today, where the drivers have personal training and high tech gyms …
I never did any training at all because I was racing every week. So that’s three or four days at the circuit, and then we’d have to do testing, new shock absorbers or other things like that, and that’s how it went.
I find this hard to believe.
No training at all. Look, if you’re a footballer and you are playing football every week, then you’re not gonna need to get fit. If anything, you learn things, you go out and practice and try to improve your lap times. That sort of stuff.
But what about the G-forces? I imagine at the time the impact on the neck muscles must have been equally high?
No, they were not so high. Today, there is an enormous lateral G. In my days, the cornering force of a racing vehicle was a lot better than a public vehicle, but nothing like the gap there is now. That was the benefit really.
Back in the days of your career, racing drivers often competed in more than one series. In fact, they drove single seaters, sports cars, rallies and often, several cars in one week.
Absolutely, I would go to Italy or South America or Australasia during the off season here. You know, I was doing 52 races a year, which may sound like a tremendous amount, but now it is just totally different. The trouble is, motor racing is always expensive, but now it has become unrealistically so. It takes a tremendous amount of money which wasn’t the case then. You’d get a really good lightweight wheel for fourty, fifty pounds, a percentage of what they cost now. But obviously, the building of a car, the design of a car, the development of a car, all those things were done by a much smaller group of people. I mean, we had Mercedes, an enormous outfit, but we had very few compared with today. Now they have a group of mechanics, which go with the car, and then they have another group for another race a.s.o.
Photo © 2015 Heiko Simayer