On Easter Sunday this year British motor racing legend Sir Stirling Moss passed away peacefully at his Mayfair home, aged 90, after a lengthy illness. Widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, even though he did not win a Formula 1 World Championship, Sir Stirling will always hold a unique status in motorsport. He won 16 F1 Grands Prix and was runner-up in the world drivers’ championship on on four occasions between 1955-1958, finishing third for the following three years.
Not limited to F1 racing, he was considered the ultimate all-rounder with 212 victories in various motor racing categories. After becoming a professional driver at the age of 18 in 1948, Sir Stirling was the first Brit to win his home Grand Prix with a narrow victory over his illustrious Argentine teammate Juan Manuel Fangio at Aintree on the 16th of July, 1955.
I drew this portrait of him based on that day, his face with the imprint left by his goggles protecting him from the onrushing oil, dirt and track debris while driving his Mercedes W196. Some, including Sir Stirling believed the five-time world champion, who dominated the first decade of Formula One had allowed him to win his debut Grand Prix in front of a home crowd, a claim the South American consistently denied, saying Sir Stirling was “simply faster that day”. Sir Stirling famously lost out on the 1958 F1 title by a single point to compatriot Mike Hawthorn after vouching for his rival, preventing him from being disqualified when he was accused of reversing on the track in the Portuguese Grand Prix.
A crash at Goodwood in 1962 prematurely ended his involvement in top-level motorsport, leaving him in a coma for a month and partially paralysed for half the year. Such was his aura, which has never faded, the Evening Standard ran bulletins of his progress as a matter of national concern. He did continue to race historic cars and legends events until the age of 81.
The rhetorical phrase “Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss? was the question supposedly often asked by British policemen when stopping speeding motorists. Sir Stirling himself was apparently asked that very question by an officer who took some convincing about the identity of his esteemed infringer. Compactly built, soft-spoken, patriotic, modest and competitive, Sir Stirling once said, “I’m a racer, not a driver” and motor racing in the 1950’s was not so much a technical challenge, but more a test of instinct and daring. He was knighted in 2000.
I sent the sketch to Sir Stirling two years ago, hoping he could sign it, but received a very nice reply from his wife, Lady Susie, explaining that he was still suffering from a serious chest infection, caught while on holiday in Singapore and after months in hospital, was convalescing at home. He would be happy to sign it for me once he was feeling better. Sadly Sir Stirling never recovered. However, a few years earlier, he kindly signed and dedicated a photo for me, commemorating his 1955 victory.
R.I.P Sir Stirling.