The world of motorsport has produced legends over time. Be it NASCAR, Group B, Le Mans, Indy, Dakar, Formula 1 and so forth, there are few names that hold as much weight as that of one of Great Britain’s all time heroes. He is known to the world as the greatest all around racing driver of all time.
GP Traveler’s founder Joey Franco and I found ourselves ringing up him up one morning. The day was a cold, classic wintery day with blowing wind and snow and it didn’t matter for Joey and myself. In our minds, we were transported through time to England, Italy and Monaco. We sat and conversed with a true gentleman whose impressive career speaks for itself.
Spanning from 1948 to 1962, he has 212 victories to his name. In Formula 1 specifically, he competed in 66 races and won 16, with 24 podium finishes. In these pages you will find part of the conversation we had with the first Englishman to win the British Grand Prix. These same pages also include part of the conversation we had with the record holding winner of the 1955 Mille Miglia race which will stand forever unbeaten at 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds, with the average speed of 99 mph (160 km/h). Yes, I am referring to the same person, the great Sir Stirling Moss.
GPT: Sir Moss, your racing career over all is remarkably impressive. Have you ever taken a moment as a fan of motor racing and been in awe of your own accomplishments and success?
Well, no. You see I did over 600 races and that would take quite a lot of time! I was doing about 50 races per year.
That is a lot of races! Very impressive! That’s almost a race per week. I am sure there were times with more than one a week.
Yeah, once a week. Obviously that included quite a lot of work setting the car up and that sort of stuff. Trying out new designs and developing the disc brakes and so on. Nowadays, drivers they don’t do that anymore. Mainly because they are not allowed to by the teams they dive for.
Now, you are known as the greatest all around racing driver of all time, that is quite a moniker. A complete racing driver, what do you personally believe to be the strongest attribute in earning this reputation, and deservingly so?
I think I drove 108 different race cars, and the point for me was racing, not driving. I convinced myself I was competing.
Your first ever Formula 1 victory was at Aintree in 1955. Being a British driver and Winning the 1955 British grand prix, how would you describe that feeling?
Obviously great! I mean, being with all those people there in the middle of England at Aintree, it was quite exhilarating.
You believe that your friend and teammate at Mercedes, Juan Manuel Fangio allowed you to win that race. Is there a reason why you would think he would have done such a gentlemanly gesture?
I don’t know for certain. All I know is that I asked him about it and he said “No, no, it’s your day.” Of course, that didn’t bring me any closer to a conclusion or proper answer. You see, I could beat him in sports cars. All those races in sports cars I entered, I was faster than him, but Formula 1, that was his forte.
It was the first car to win the first Constructors Championship, and quite a remarkable car in Formula 1 history, would you mind telling us more about the Vanwall VW5?
That car was built because Tony Vandervell didn’t like the Italians, and he said “We’ll beat those red bastards.” The car that he built, the Vanwall, was aerodynamically an exceptionally good shape. It was probably as fast as any of the cars there at the time. He got the chief designer from Norton, who designed the engine, and it was a four cylinder engine. I can’t remember what power it had now, probably about 250 or something. And again, incredible shape, it was perfect aerodynamically and was well suited for a circuit like Pescara.
There is a famous photograph from your victory at Pescara, of yourself and Juan Manuel Fangio in discussion and laughing. Do you remember the conversation?
(laughingly) Oh I don’t know! I don’t know because Fangio didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish. We were probably talking about pretty girls or something. Certainly we couldn’t have a normal conversation, he was a very charming man. He never would he do anything dirty, you know. Many drivers would run over the edge of the circuit to throw rubbish up on the track. He wouldn’t do anything like that. In mind, he was the greatest racing driver that has ever been.
Do you find it difficult to come across someone like Fangio in the motorsport world today?
Yes, it’s changed too much. The general life of a racing driver is not the same. There were quite a few occasions where one driver would help another in my era. That certainly wouldn’t happen now.
Was there one driver in particular from that era you respected the most?
Oh certainly. The best driver at that time in my opinion was Tony Brooks. I mean, he’s a very quiet man but very, very fast. With all the drivers out there, Tony would be for me in the top 3.
I have to ask about the steering wheel you so famously brought with you race to race. Was it a sort of lucky charm for you?
That was when I was with Mercedes and they’d make you your own steering wheel. I liked the three spoke steering wheel. I used it on every car I drove for Mercedes. Mercedes were certainly the best team to drive for. They paid much more attention to what the drivers said and were a super people to work with.
Is it surprising to see Mercedes back on top of Formula 1 the past two years?
No, not for me because Mercedes are very smart. Before they do anything, they get the driver, much like they did by having Fangio signed up early. Much is the same with Lewis Hamilton. They got him, certainly he is one of the top 3 fastest drivers in the world at the moment. I think Vettel and Alonso are the other two that are that quick.
The famous number 722 adorned on the gorgeous Mercedes-Benz SLR you used to compete in and win the 1955 Mille Miglia, what can you tell us about it and the race itself?
During the Mille Miglia, the first car to start the event would be at 9 o’clock at night. The following cars would then leave at half minute intervals through the night. At midnight onward, the interval would change to 1 minute apart. The number of my car, 722, was because I started at 7:22 in the morning. Of course, I never knew the roads, all though I did have Denis “Jenks” Jenkinson with me. With Jenks by my side as navigator, he’d give me hand signals as I raced along so that I would know where the road went. For a 1000 mile race, it wasn’t feasible to remember it, so therefore it was quite exhilarating having him there by my side. Every time we’d catch a car, he’d give me a thumbs up as we went past them.
Have you ever thought back to the Mille Miglia and said “Yes, I really was brave?” It was quite a dangerous race, even more so than many others.
No, the danger was one of the attractive things about it. I mean, fighting a bull that’s got horns is I’m sure a lot more exciting than fighting one that’s had his horns removed. The danger of motor racing certainly was one of the challenges that I loved. The thing you’ve got to realize, in those days the races were held in small towns. Every week I’d be in a new town, and the actual circuit would be the public roads that everyone would normally use during the week. There were few custom built circuits, Monza was one of them, but not that many were.
In the 66 Formula 1 races you competed in spanning a decade, you piloted for Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Vanwall, Cooper and Lotus. Is there that one particular car from this group that still brings a bigger smile to your face than others?
Yeah, certainly the easiest to drive and the most exhilarating to drive was the Cooper that Rob Walker had, he was my sponsor so to speak. The manufacturers wouldn’t sell us the latest car so we had to get the one from the year before. Which made it all that more exciting trying to beat all the drivers who had the newer cars of that year. That’s purely a personal thing, you know because of my warped sense of humour.
The danger was one of the attractive things about it. I mean, fighting a bull that’s got horns is I’m sure a lot more exciting than fighting one that’s had his horns removed.
Sir Moss, your fantastic career has brought you many places around the world. Have you any favourite circuits, or events?
Well, the circuit I think that is as nice as anywhere is Monaco. My best success was in Monaco in 1961. It was a 100 lap race then and there was no less than a three second gap between the Ferrari in front of me and myself, for those 100 laps! I have to put in there the Mille Miglia, and the Targa Florio. Any of the sports car races really. I enjoyed those long distance sports car races. There was even the 1000 kilometers of Germany. Really, there are so many events to choose from, it’s impossible for me to say which one of them is the best.
What fun fact would you like to share with us? Any odd, particular hobbies or interests that we wouldn’t expect of Sir Stirling Moss?
Oh, well I enjoy skiing. Water-skiing and snow-skiing. Those are two sports that I really enjoy. Actually, I enjoy anything that is competitive. I mean, I enjoy running and racing other drivers, things like that.
Sir Moss we have one final question, would you be able to give us your prediction for who you believe will win the 2016 Formula 1 championship?
I think Vettel. If I were to be limited to one person, it’s Vettel. I think he is a very complete driver, extremely fast, a nice guy, and all that.