In 1954, Stirling raced for Maserati, a move that would transform his career. He’d come through a couple of difficult years, but now that was changing. In 1955 he moved to Mercedes Benz to partner world champion Fangio, whom he beat in the British Grand Prix. It was Stirling’s first Grand Prix win, a huge achievement for him and for the country – the first Briton ever to win it. Another of his most outstanding triumphs that year came when he won the gruelling Mille Miglia. The Daily Sketch headline on Monday May 2, 1955 read: ‘Whirlwind Moss wins the car race of his life.’ It reported:
“Stirling Moss swept to victory in the greatest race of his career to-day when he out-drove and out-manoeuvred the world’s best drivers in the 1,000 mile Italian Mille Miglia race to set up a record.
Moss drove his German Mercedes over the twisting route round Italy at an average speed of 97.95 m.p.h. and was the first Briton to win the race.”
In 1956, Stirling was back with Maserati and won the Monaco Grand Prix in May followed by the Italian Grand Prix in September. He won three Grands Prix in 1957 with Vanwall and in 1958 he won the Argentine Grand Prix for the Rob Walker Racing Team as well as the Dutch, Portuguese and Moroccan Grand Prix’s for Vandervell Products Ltd.
At the Portuguese Grand Prix at Oporto that year, fellow British racing driver Mike Hawthorn was threatened with a penalty. Stirling honourably defended Mike’s actions but in doing so, lost the World Championship to him by one point. Mike became Britain’s first World Champion although he’d only won one race that season to Stirling’s four (Mike was placed in more races that Stirling]. Such a gentlemanly act was not unheard of in those days. Although at the time Stirling was upset because he felt he had let his fans down, looking back, he has no regrets. It is certainly clear that he was more than capable of winning, but perhaps wasn’t lucky on the day. He had come second four times in as many years but said his aim was to win as many races as he could rather than chasing a particular trophy.
In one race or another, he had beaten every man who held the world championship over a ten year period. He won more than half of the races he finished, more than any other driver ever, which is why he is regarded as the best driver of all time never to have won the Formula One World Championship. It is a status he happily laughs about: “Nigel Mansell was hanging in there for too long – he nearly won so many times and then he did it, he became World Champion, I was so glad he was off my patch!”
On 22nd January 1959, not long after his World Championship win, Mike Hawthorn crashed his road car on the Guilford bypass and died at the scene, aged 29. Rob Walker, a Formula One racing team owner was the only witness. In an interview in 2001, Rob admitted for the first time that Hawthorn had been driving too fast that day. Although Stirling was not aware of Rob’s revelation, he doubts if Hawthorn actually made a mistake. It was a tragic end to a promising career.
Within motor racing, the Moss/Walker partnership became legendary. In 1959, Stirling drove for the Rob Walker Racing Team exclusively, winning many races up until the abrupt end of his career in 1962. Sadly, Rob died in 2002. Stirling was great friends with both men and remembers them fondly. “Rob was fantastic, very meticulous. We were in Casablanca in 1957 when he took me on to join his team. It was on a handshake, a gentleman’s agreement.