Racing driver

Born: September 17, 1929;

Died: April 12, 2020.

SIR Stirling Moss, who has died aged 90, was one of the most celebrated racing drivers of all time and is widely regarded as the greatest of his era – the romantic and innovative 1950s.

His record is impressive – of the 529 races in which he competed, he won 212 of them – but he will also be remembered as the great Formula One driver who never won the world championship. The respect of the other drivers and fans was never in doubt, though: they loved him because of his speed, style, courage, charisma and chivalry.

That chivalry was never more on show than at the Portuguese Grand Prix in 1958.

Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn was in danger of being hit with a six-point penalty after a spin, but Moss defended Hawthorn’s actions and his rival was let off. The sportsmanship would cost Moss the title – he lost out to Hawthorn by one point – but he never expressed regret about his actions.

It was stories like that one about his sportsmanship that won Sir Stirling admiration and respect, but it was his great skill and talent, too. One of his finest victories was at the British Grand Prix in 1957, in which he and Tony Brooks became the first British drivers to win a round of the world championship series in a British car, which helped usher in a long period of British domination.

But Sir Stirling’s greatest achievement of the period was probably his win at the 1955 Mille Miglia, a 1,000-mile road race through Italy. He was nearly half an hour ahead of the second-placed driver, the Argentine, Juan Manuel Fangio.

Then, suddenly, his top-flight career was all over. Competing at Goodwood in 1962, Moss crashed into a bank at 100mph. It took nearly an hour to cut him from the wreckage. By this point, he had become a national treasure, Mr Motorsport, and his fans and supporters had an anxious time to see if he would emerge from the coma and recover.

Recover he did, and at first he was determined to get back behind the wheel. But sadly, he realised his responses and reactions had been damaged by the accident, and he retired.

Remarkably, by the time of his retirement at the age of 32, he had already been driving for 23 years, as he first got into a car when he was just nine.

Born into a racing family - his father, Alfred, had competed in the Indianapolis 500 and his mother, Aileen, was English women’s champion in 1936 – he was given his first car, an Austin 7, was he was a boy and drove in the fields around the family home in Berkshire.

He began racing seriously in his teens during the great boom in the sport in England after the Second World War and enjoyed success with English teams before racing for Maserati, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz.

Perhaps the greatest of his Formula One victories was at the wheel of an obsolete, underpowered Lotus-Climax in 1961 at Monaco and the Nürburgring, two circuits that placed the highest demands on his skill and nerve.

His knowledge of the cars he raced in was also second to none. He was always willing to push them, and himself, to the extreme. “If you’re not trying to win at all costs,” he said, “what on earth are you doing there?”

By the time he retired, Moss had won 16 of the 66 F1 races he entered, and established a reputation as a technically excellent and versatile driver. The fact he never won the world championship felt like a travesty to many fans of the sport, but he finished second in the drivers’ championship four times (1955-58) and third on three occasions.

Moss himself was always content with what he had achieved. “I hope I’ll continue to be described as the greatest driver who never won the world championship, but it doesn’t really matter,” he once said. “The most important thing for me was gaining the respect of the other drivers and I think I achieved that.”

After his retirement, the respect only grew. He became a successful businessman, selling property and designing gadgets out of his state-of-the-art home in London, but he also worked as a consultant to car manufacturers and appeared regularly at motor racing events.

Knighted in 1999, he had some health issues in his later years. In 2010, he broke both ankles and hurt his back after falling down a lift shaft at his home. Six years later, he spent 134 days in hospital in Singapore after falling ill with a chest infection. He retired from public life in 2018.

He was married three times, firstly to Katie Molson, the heir to a Canadian brewing fortune, and secondly to Elaine Barbarino, an American public relations executive, with whom he had a daughter, Allison. His third wife was Susie Paine, who survives him along with their son, Elliot.

Sir Stirling died at his home in London. “It was one lap too many,” said his wife. “He just closed his eyes.”