Part 2 in a retrospective series about Stirling Moss. This part focuses on the peak of his career in F1.
Read Part 1 here Stirling Moss: The Greatest to Never Win the Title? – Part 1
Fangio went on to win the 1955 F1 title at Mercedes.
Moss won the British Grand Prix at Aintree. His first championship counting F1 victory.
Moss was often candid about how he never knew whether Fangio gifted him the win or not.
Nigel Roebuck reported that the 5 time world champion would reply to the question with a smile: “I don’t think I could have won, even if I had wanted to – Moss was really pushing that day…”
“Certainly I was far enough ahead on the last lap that he couldn’t have caught me.” Says Moss.
“But the thing is, did he allow me to build that lead earlier on? If he did, it was with great subtlety.”
It says a lot about the respect for Fangio that even the driver who beat him questions whether they really were the rightful victor.
Moss rated Fangio immensely and knew of his class.
Fangio had only lost to a teammate once previously in a Mercedes.
That was to the German Karl Kling at Avus in Berlin. Another home victor…
Roebuck goes on to outline Fangio’s nuance and grace some more, comparing his giving up of victory to the more on the nose examples from Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell.
Senna had braked coming up to the line to allow Gerhard Berger to pass at the last moment in the Japanese Grand Prix in 1991.
At Monza in 1992, Ricardo Patrese’s victory had been agreed prior to the race. and Mansell hot footed into a large lead in the dominant Williams before slowing dramatically to allow Patrese back through.
Then he remained on his tail for the rest of the race to humiliate Patrese.
If Fangio gifted the victory to Moss, he did it with such decorum to demonstrate his admiration for his young British teammate in front of his home crowd.
In 1956, Moss returned to Maserati after Mercedes pulled out of motorsport and competed at the front of the field again.
In 1957, he moved to British team Vanwall which was much more suited to Moss than the Italian Maserati. He preferred to drive for British teams throughout his career.
Vanwall, owned by Tony Vandervell and with an up and coming designer by the name of Colin Chapman, really came to life with Stirling Moss in the team.
He won at the longest circuit to hold a Formula 1 race at the Pescara Grand Prix showing aptitude for long distance racing once more.
He beat Fangio by 3 minutes.
He set the new international class F record at the Bonneville salt flats in 1957 to add to his numerous sportscar and Grand Prix successes around the same time.
The 1958 F1 Season
Sir Stirling’s closest title tilt came in the 1958 season.
Driving again for Vanwall for most of the season, he lost the drivers championship by a singular point to Mike Hawthorn in the Ferrari.
In every championship race he finished that year, he was on the podium.
Moss won in Argentina (for Rob Walker and Cooper), in the Netherlands, in Portugal and at the final round in Casablanca, Morroco.
Tony Brooks, Moss’s Vanwall teammate in 1958 said, “There was Stirling and then the rest of us.”
Brooks and Moss had shared victory at the British Grand Prix in 1957 when Moss’s car had broken down and Brooks had given up his car from fifth place for Stirling’s use.
Moss then came through the field to take an accomplished win, eclipsing Brooks prior performance in the race.
All this in a car that was more than a handful to drive. The Vanwall required immense precision rather than the brutish way you could control a Maserati or Ferrari of the period.
This would come to be the norm for the British teams and the Italian teams in F1 in the coming DFV years of the 60s and 70s.
1958 was set to be Vanwall vs Ferrari.
The first race was the Argentinian Grand Prix. Vanwall and BRM were unable to compete due to fuel regulation changes so Moss lined up with Rob Walker’s Cooper Climax’s.
Moss qualified seventh. Two seconds off of Fangio’s Maserati.
The Ferraris of Hawthorn and Peter Collins were in second and third respectively.
Due to the hot conditions in Argentina ,the race distance was shortened from 400km to 313km.
The race began with Jean Behra, Hawthorn and Fangio all exchanging the lead.
By the time of the pitstops, Moss had worked his way up to second.
Moss however did not pit.
The Walker team had considered before the race running no stops due to the shortened distance because of the time it took to change tyres. It would take them nearly two laps time.
Much longer than their rivals and would put them out of any decent race contention.
They had decided to go ahead with the plan.
Moss therefore was way out in front whilst all his rivals had pitted, albeit on much more worn tyres.
By the time the Italian rivals realised that Moss was going to the end they picked up the pace but were unable to catch up with Moss winning from Luigi Musso in the Ferrari by 2.7s.
Moss crosses the line in Argentina
Moss and Hawthorn both retired in Monaco but in the Netherlands, now back with Vanwall, Moss dominated to win by 47 seconds and set the fastest lap.
Hawthorn was in the last of the points positions in fifth. A lap down.
At Spa, Moss led from the beginning but was irked by the fast Tony Brooks and Peter Collins behind him and missed a gear at Stavelot, forcing a retirement.
Brooks won the race with Hawthorn in second and Stuart Lewis-Evans, the third Vanwall driver, in third.
In a coincidental end, Brooks’ gearbox seized on the line with Hawthorn’s engine blowing up at the end as well as Lewis-Evans suspension collapsing just before the finish line.
Reims was dominated by Hawthorn with Moss in second place but the race was marred by Luigi Musso crashing and being killed on a flat out right hander.
The Old Man declared the price for the win “too high” but continued with the season.
Peter Collins won with Hawthorn second to give Ferrari a 1-2 finish.
Hawthorn took over the lead of the championship from Moss at this point with 30 points to Moss’s 23.
Both Hawthorn and Moss retired in Germany with Brooks taking another win for Vanwall.
Early on in the race, Moss had been in incredible form. He shattered Fangio’s lap record from the year before but retired on lap four.
Brooks then passed and beat the two Ferraris.
That was the race where Peter Collins was killed. Phil Hill said he suspected the brakes had been fading on the Ferrari comparing it to his Formula 2 Ferrari he was driving in the same race.
“I was completely out of brakes by the end of the race – and my car was lighter than the Formula 1 cars. I think it’s very possible that Peter just couldn’t get the car slowed down enough.” said the 1961 World Champion.
Collins death was incredibly hard for Enzo Ferrari as well who had a very good relationship with the Englishman.
Collins had been very close to the family and was instrumental in the Old Man’s recovery when they were dealing with the death of his son, Dino Ferrari, in 1956.
The show carried on however and Moss and Hawthorn were first and second at the Portuguese Grand Prix a few weeks later.
At this race, Hawthorn was threatened with disqualification for the way he rejoined the track having to bumpstart his car going downhill in the opposite direction of the traffic.
Moss defended his rival allowing him to keep the crucial six points for second place.
Brooks won in Monza denying a Ferrari victory and allowing the championship to go to the final round with Hawthorn in second after Moss broke down.
Moss leads Hawthorn and Lewis-Evans at Monza
The points stood at 40 for Hawthorn and 32 for Moss.
Moss needed to win with fastest lap and needed Hawthorn third or below to win the title.
He damn near did it, doing all that he could.
Stirling Moss at the Moroccan Grand Prix
He led all the way and set the fastest lap with Brooks and Lewis-Evans holding up Hawthorn as rear gunners.
At the finish, it was Moss from Hawthorn with the points being 42 for Hawthorn and 41 for Moss.
Brooks and Lewis-Evans both retired in the end with Lewis-Evans being severely burned and he did not recover from his injuries. He died in hospital a month later.
Vanwall did win the first constructors title but it was little solace.
Tony Vandervell, appalled at Lewis-Evans’ death disbanded his team.
This championship caused Moss to lose interest in title victory and points. He would race for wins now. He was a racer and to drive for points only is described by Roebuck as “anathema” to him.
Title or not he was still regarded as the best and to this day that is obvious. Being the best is what mattered to Moss.
He knew he did not need a title to prove it because he already was.
Sources: Chasing the Title by Nigel Roebuck