• Sir Stirling Moss interview

Calling time

Laurence Edmondson January 4, 2012
Sir Stirling Moss retired from racing in 2011 © Getty Images
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As he clambered out of his Porsche RS 61 after qualifying at the Le Mans Legends last June, Sir Stirling Moss was met by a familiar question.

"How was that?" asked a reporter, no doubt expecting a familiar reply.

"From my point of view, awful," Moss responded. "I'm now 81 and I feel I should retire."

For some it may have been a shock to learn that Moss was still racing, let alone retiring, but after over 60 years behind the wheel he was finally hanging up his the famous white Patey helmet for good. The decision was straightforward.

"I was driving my car in practice and I suddenly thought if I'm going to be competitive, I've got be going faster through these corners," he told ESPNF1 recently. "But I thought if I start going any faster I'm going to start frightening myself. So really and truly it was a very easy decision.

"What I would hate to be is like one of those drivers that I saw when I was racing and thought 'why does that stupid sod enter?' I would have hated to be one of those and I just couldn't justify it. That's why I got out. I hope to continue doing rallies and hill climbs and things like that, but when it comes to racing I just haven't got big enough balls.

"The fun in racing is being competitive. Trying to be as fast as you can is one thing, but if you're not one of the guys that everybody else is trying to beat, then why bother being there? There are drivers much younger than myself who will do a far more competent job than I do, so I just don't think it's the way to go."

A quick look at Moss's racing history helps to explain the decision. For the best part of a decade he was by far and away the most successful British driver, and in his prime he could lay claim to the title of the best driver in the world. Indeed, he is often labelled as the greatest driver never to win a world championship after finishing as runner-up in the drivers' title on four occasions. But despite missing out on the ultimate prize in Formula One there isn't a hint of regret.

"I did 595 races and I can look back and genuinely say there were very few races I didn't enjoy. There were also very few cars I didn't enjoy. If I had to pick one, the 16-cylinder BRM from 1952 was an awful car at the time. It's very good now thanks to modern technology, but it was awful then. It gave me the chance to pass Fangio, but he was going backwards at the time!"

Sir Stirling Moss in action at the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix © Sutton Images
It's clear that the sport has changed beyond all recognition since Moss's era - in many ways for better, but also for worse. A contemporary F1 driver no longer has to fear for his life as he steps into the cockpit, but by the same measure few could match Moss's enthusiasm for the sport. In the modern era winning is all that matters, but during Moss's career he sacrificed results in order to have a good time.

From 1959 to 1962 he drove for his good friend and privateer Rob Walker, who rewarded him by running a bespoke team around Moss's needs. In a mixture of British-made cars - including Coopers, Lotuses and BRMs - Moss won seven races in Rob Walker colours, beating the very factory teams Walker bought his cars from, as well as the might of Ferrari.

It was a remarkable partnership, based on mutual trust and cemented by little more than a handshake. Walker - who listed his occupation as "gentleman" in his passport - needed Moss's name to demand lucrative starting fees from race organisers, while Moss was given the freedom to race in whatever event took his fancy.

"For sheer enjoyment, there was nothing like driving for Rob - he was such a nice man," Moss said. "If I asked Rob to go and race somewhere he said just ask Alf. And if Alf Francis, my mechanic, said OK we'll go to Argentina, for instance, we'd just go. You can't beat that really. Rob was half the reason for my enjoyment of motor racing."

The fact that championships were being won by drivers at factory teams didn't bother Moss, in fact he relished taking on F1's biggest names.

"I like being the underdog. I always felt with Colin Chapman, if he had his car with a decent driver in it and I had last year's Lotus, it actually gave me an extra kick."

It was in a Lotus that Moss's Formula One career came to an end after a horrific accident during a non-championship race at Goodwood. He was in a coma for a month, and spent the rest of the year slowly recovering. Twelve months later he returned to Goodwood to drive for the first time, but almost immediately returned to the pits and announced his retirement. He explained what had come naturally now required conscious decisions, and that was not good enough.

The wreckage of Stirling Moss' car after the accident that ended his career © Sutton Images
"I reckon I was at my prime when I had my crash," Moss says fifty years later. "I think 1961 was probably as good as I could have done and 1962 I thought was going to be even better because Ferrari had agreed to paint a car in Rob Walker blue and was going to give it to me and also, in British Racing Partnership green, a sports car. I thought it was going to be absolute heaven and I was looking forward to a wonderful year. The biggest shock was that I was 32 years old and hadn't done a day's work in my life - all of a sudden I had to earn a living."

At 82 years old, Moss can now enjoy his retirement in his London home, which is filled with relics from his career. He is one of the most valuable links to the Formula One's past and has assured ESPNF1 he will continue to appear at motorsport events to share his stories.