Sir Stirling Moss: His greatest drives ranked

Stirling Moss wasn’t just the best driver never to win the Formula 1 world championship, he was one of the greatest ever across a range of disciplines.

Sir Stirling Moss: His greatest drives ranked

Between Juan Manuel Fangio’s retirement and Moss’s career-ending crash at Goodwood in 1962, he was the F1 benchmark. And he was the top sportscar performer for nearly a decade.

When picking out greatest drives, there are a number of different criteria we look at. Impressing in inferior machinery, great recovery drives and demonstrations of wet-weather prowess are among the sorts of races we look for.

Moss had some of the best examples of all of these, and more. The most challenging thing was cutting this list down to 10…

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10. 1950 Tourist Trophy

Jaguar XK120 / Result: 1st

The Dundrod road circuit in Northern Ireland is a fearsome venue, one which was considered too fast for top-line car racing after three driver deaths in 1955.

It is therefore perhaps understandable that, like all other works squads, Jaguar would not give the then 20-year-old Moss a car for the ’50 edition. But Tommy Wisdom thought differently: he offered Moss his XK120, one of six works-spec cars with aluminium (as opposed to steel) bodies.

Having set the fastest lap then recorded by a production car at Dundrod in practice, Moss revelled in the torrential rain and gale that hit the circuit on race day.

Leslie Johnson led away in an XK120, but Moss got by on lap two and was never headed thereafter, being 53 seconds ahead after six laps. 

Alfred Moss, concerned that Stirling may be under threat in the handicap stakes, signalled his son to speed up. The result was a new lap record on the final tour as Moss led a Jaguar one-two with Peter Whitehead.

In his book ‘Stirling Moss: My cars, my careers’, written with Doug Nye, Moss said: “Racing in the rain never really bothered me as much as it did some drivers, and with the Jaguar I feel it was a positive advantage because it lightened the steering and saved the brakes. 

“It had been my first real sportscar race and it was the most worthwhile race I’d won at that time.” 

Stirling Moss, Jaguar XK120

Stirling Moss, Jaguar XK120

Photo by: Motorsport Images

9. 1954 Italian GP

Maserati 250F / Result: 10th

It was legendary Mercedes team boss Alfred Neubauer who famously suggested to Moss’s manager Ken Gregory that a privateer Maserati 250F should be purchased to see what Stirling could do in a proper grand prix car in 1954. 

Just over £5000 later and Moss had his hands on the finely balanced Italian machine, albeit one that was underpowered compared to the benchmark Mercedes W196 driven by Juan Manuel Fangio.

Moss had several standout performances that ultimately persuaded Neubauer to sign him for 1955, and the Italian GP at Monza was a highlight.

By September Moss was being treated as a Maserati works driver and was the fastest 250F in practice, qualifying third. Just 0.3s covered poleman Fangio, Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari and Moss.

After an early slipstreaming battle, Ascari started to edge away, followed by Fangio, Moss and Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari).

Moss and Gonzalez battled for third until the Ferrari’s gearbox broke, but Luigi Villoresi – putting in perhaps his last great drive – closed on Moss. Both then edged towards the leaders, so that at half-distance there were once again four contenders for victory. 

Villoresi’s Maserati failed him and Moss moved forward, passing Fangio and battling Ascari for the lead before the Ferrari’s engine blew.

Moss started to slip away from Fangio’s streamlined Mercedes, which then uncharacteristically slid off the road briefly. That left Moss away and clear, building a margin of 20s with 15 laps to go. But then the 24-year-old came in for oil.

He shot back into the fray and started carving great chunks out of Fangio’s lead, helped by the Mercedes sounding unhealthy, only for his Maserati’s oil tank to split.

Moss pushed the car over the line to be classified 10th, nine laps down. He had, however, led a top-level grand prix for the first time, and looked like he belonged there. 

Stirling Moss, Maserati 250F, pushes his car back to the pits after his engine blew

Stirling Moss, Maserati 250F, pushes his car back to the pits after his engine blew

Photo by: Motorsport Images

8. 1957 Pescara GP

Vanwall VW5 / Result: 1st

The longest track ever to host a world championship grand prix was a true road circuit. At 15.9 miles, it was 1.7 miles longer than even the fearsome Nurburgring.

Vanwall’s suspension had not been up to the rigours of the German GP venue two weeks before and Moss qualified 10.1s (in a lap of nearly 10 minutes) behind Fangio’s Maserati 250F in Pescara.

The race was a different story. Luigi Musso’s Ferrari grabbed the initial lead and came through ahead at the end of lap one, but Moss – his Vanwall’s suspension improved since Germany – took the lead on lap two.

Musso tried to respond as the leading duo pulled away from Fangio, but the Ferrari gradually started to slip back. An oil leak finally put the gallant Musso out at half-distance, while Fangio had already made a pitstop after clipping a wall.

And thus, no rivals saw anything more of the Vanwall, despite a stop for oil, until the flag. Moss finished the three-hour epic more than three minutes ahead of Fangio, whose pole time Moss had matched in the race. 

The following month, Moss and Vanwall beat the Maseratis and Ferraris on home soil for a second time, following a slipstreaming contest at Monza in the Italian GP. 

Stirling Moss, Vanwall

Stirling Moss, Vanwall

Photo by: Motorsport Images

7. 1957 British GP

Vanwall VW4 / Result: 1st

The patriotic Moss waited a long time for a genuine British-built grand prix frontrunner, and he finally got one in the shape of the Vanwall for 1957.

It took a while for the combination to deliver, as Fangio went on a winning spree, but it all came together on home ground at Aintree in July. Or at least, it did eventually. 

Moss took pole by 0.2s from the Maserati of Jean Behra, and the Vanwall soon overcame the fast-starting 250F to lead at the end of the opening lap. Moss continued to pull away, and was more than nine seconds ahead after 20 of the 90 laps.

Then engine problems struck and Moss had to pit. He got going again, only to come back in, but all was not lost.

Teammate Tony Brooks had been running sixth, off-form due to injuries sustained in a Le Mans accident the month before. He had qualified third, but fallen back as the injuries took their toll and was called in to hand his car over to Moss.

Stirling resumed in ninth and now started the sort of charge that would become familiar over the next few seasons. Fangio and Musso were among his victims as Moss, whose fastest lap smashed his pole time by a second, climbed to fourth.

At two-thirds distance, only Vanwall teammate Stuart Lewis Evans, Mike Hawthorn’s Ferrari and leader Behra were still ahead, but Moss was still over 40s off the front. Just eight laps later, however, the gap was down to 28s and the race looked on.

Then drama struck. Behra’s clutch disintegrated on Railway Straight, forcing instant retirement, and Hawthorn ran over the debris, puncturing a tyre. Lewis-Evans led briefly, but Moss swept by before the end of the lap, with 20 tours still remaining. 

The Vanwall’s fragility was underlined when Lewis-Evans stopped with a broken throttle linkage, but Moss continued – save for a brief stop for fuel and a drink – and took the flag 25.6s clear of Musso.

Stirling Moss, Vanwall

Stirling Moss, Vanwall

Photo by: Motorsport Images

6. 1958 Argentinian GP

Cooper T43 / Result: 1st

This was a race won by stealth and cunning rather than outright pace. That was the only way Moss could win the 1958 F1 season opener.

The Vanwall team was not ready, so Moss drove Rob Walker’s Cooper T43, a two-litre machine against the 2.5-litre cars of Maserati and Ferrari. Even Moss could only qualify seventh, two seconds slower than poleman Juan Manuel Fangio.

To make matters worse, his first wife Katie accidentally poked Moss’s eye during the event, scraping the cornea and forcing him to use painkillers and an eye patch.

The Cooper was, however, light and agile, useful attributes around the relatively tight circuit. 

Moss and Walker decided to run the race non-stop and Stirling, who battled with the leaders early on despite a temporary gearbox problem, duly assumed the lead as the bigger cars came in for fresh tyres.

The Walker team busied themselves as if to make a stop (a practice not then prohibited), further fooling the Italian teams. By the time it became clear what was happening time was running out, but Moss was also running out of rubber. He even drove through oil patches to try and keep the “dangerously thin” tread alive. 

They went down to the carcass, but Moss held on to take the flag with 2.7s in hand over Musso’s closing Ferrari, with the troubled Maserati of reigning champion Fangio well beaten in fourth. As well as taking an early points lead, Moss had given a rear-engined car its first win in the world championship. 

Stirling Moss, Cooper-Climax

Stirling Moss, Cooper-Climax

Photo by: Motorsport Images

5. 1958 Moroccan GP

Vanwall VW5 / Result: 1st 

Moss showed that he could handle the pressure of a title showdown by doing everything he had to do in the 1958 season finale, but yet again he was denied.

He arrived in Morocco having won three of the nine world championship GPs that season, but still trailed solo winner Hawthorn (Ferrari) in the table. Moss had to win and set fastest lap (for which there was then a point), with Hawthorn third or lower, to snatch the crown.

Hawthorn took pole, only to make a cautious start that allowed Moss into the lead. Ferrari’s Phil Hill chased after the Vanwall in order to force Moss’s pace, while Hawthorn – after an initial recovery charge to challenge Moss – defended third from Tony Brooks in the second Vanwall.

Moss and Hill exchanged fastest laps, but in the end the Vanwall was simply too quick, the American even having a brief off during his pursuit. The extra point and eight for victory were Stirling’s, but two crucial developments worked against him.

The first was the retirement of Brooks – who had got ahead of Hawthorn – with engine failure. The second, more predictably, was Ferrari ordering Hill to allow his teammate back into second.

Hawthorn finished nearly a minute and a half behind the flying Moss but scored the second place he needed to become Britain’s first F1 world champion by a single point.

The result had a lasting effect on Moss. “It really did hurt and I cursed the luck that had confined me to runner-up spot for the fourth consecutive season,” he said in Stirling Moss: My Cars, My Career. “But within days I realised it didn’t really matter, not that much. I became far more philosophical and, perhaps, more mature.”

Stirling Moss, Vanwall

Stirling Moss, Vanwall

Photo by: Motorsport Images

4. 1961 BRDC International Trophy

Cooper T53P / Result: 1st

This makes it onto the list because Moss picked it out as his best wet-weather drive. Given he was one of the greatest rain-masters in motorsport history, that’s good enough for us.

Despite plenty of warning, many British teams were in denial about the new 1.5-litre Formula 1 engine regulations for 1961. Ferrari stole a march and there was enough support for the old 2.5-litre rules in Britain that a series of races for the ‘Intercontinental Formula’ took place.

Moss won three of the five races and the BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone, run over 230 miles, was the most impressive.

Bruce McLaren led a Cooper 1-2-3 in dry practice, with Moss second ahead of reigning world champion Jack Brabham. Graham Hill’s BRM completed the front row. 

Brabham shot into the lead at the start of an appallingly wet race, followed by McLaren and Moss. It took the Rob Walker-run Cooper until lap 23 of the 80 to get into the lead after a battle with Brabham, but thereafter Moss disappeared. Remarkably, on lap 54, he overtook Brabham again. To lap him.

After 2h41m of a race in which many drivers – including future world champion John Surtees, McLaren and Hill – had been caught out by the conditions, Moss took the flag a lap clear of Brabham and two laps ahead of everyone else.

“I really enjoyed driving in the wet because other people hated it so much,” said Moss in a previously unpublished 2016 Autosport interview. “I’d go round saying, ‘This is fabulous’. You’ve got to have confidence with what you’re doing in the wet.

 “The rain increased my opportunity and that was probably my best win in the wet. It was pouring – you could hardly see out of the car.”

Stirling Moss, Cooper Intercontinental

Stirling Moss, Cooper Intercontinental

Photo by: Motorsport Images

3. 1959 Nurburgring 1000km

Aston Martin DBR1/300 / Result: 1st

If there is a debate as to whether Moss or Fangio was ultimately better in a grand prix car, there is no doubt as to who the greatest sportscar driver of the 1950s was. Moss was the benchmark, whether he was driving for Mercedes-Benz, Maserati or Aston Martin, for which he almost single-handedly won the world sportscar championship in 1959.

Key to that was the Nurburgring 1000km. Aston Martin owner David Brown, desperate to win Le Mans, had decided to miss the event. Given the DBR1’s victories there for the previous two years that seemed a little odd, and Moss persuaded team manager John Wyer to let him have a car.

Moss, who chose the dependable Jack Fairman as his co-driver, qualified fourth. But he then proceeded to demolish the Ferrari and Porsche teams in the early stages of the race, consistently circulating under the lap record and building a lead of half a lap.

But the reason the drive is on this list is what came next. Moss handed over to Fairman after 17 laps of the 44. Helped by some rain, the Ferrari horde started eating into the Aston’s five-minute lead and then Fairman went off into a ditch avoiding a backmarker. 

The strong Fairman dug the DBR1 out and brought it back to the pits. Moss, who was already preparing to leave, jumped back in and set about catching up. He was more than a minute behind, in fourth.

Lapping at a different pace to everyone else, Moss was up to second when polesitter Jean Behra brought the leading Ferrari into the pits to hand over to Brooks.

Phil Hill (in the Ferrari started by Olivier Gendebien) passed Brooks for second, but neither had an answer to Moss. At three-quarters distance he handed the Aston back to Fairman, who again started losing ground. 

He was quickly brought back in for Moss to resume – and start another chase. With less than six laps to go, Moss found a way back past Hill and went on to secure his third Nurburgring 1000km success by 41s. He had also lowered the sportscar lap record by 11s.

Stirling Moss, Jack Fairman, Aston Martin DBR1, pit stop and driver change

Stirling Moss, Jack Fairman, Aston Martin DBR1, pit stop and driver change

Photo by: Motorsport Images

2. 1961 Monaco GP

Lotus 18 / Result: 1st 

By 1961 Moss was at the height of his powers and was yet again cast in the role of the underdog. Ferrari’s 156 was the class of the 1961 F1 world championship and was only beaten twice during the campaign. And both times it was at the hands of Moss in privateer Rob Walker’s underpowered Lotus 18.

While Moss’s victory at a wet-dry Nurburgring would also have been worthy of this list, it’s the Monaco success that is most famous – and the event the man himself tended to pick out as his greatest F1 drive.

Moss qualified on pole and took the lead from Richie Ginther’s Ferrari on lap 14. He eked out a gap of eight seconds, but did not expect to stay at the front.

The pace he set, however, was incredible. The fastest lap, which he shared with Ginther, was 2.8s quicker than his pole time. Despite Ferrari’s best efforts – which included swapping its cars around – none of its three drivers could catch Moss.

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The Lotus eventually took the flag after 100 laps just 3.6s ahead of Ginther, who would later select the event as the race of his life. Such was the regard in which Moss was held that losing to him in a superior car was not an embarrassment. The next-best non-Ferrari was the fifth-placed Porsche of Dan Gurney, two laps down.

Stirling Moss, Cooper-Climax

Stirling Moss, Cooper-Climax

Photo by: Motorsport Images

1. 1955 Mille Miglia

Mercedes 300SLR / Result: 1st 

In some ways, this shouldn’t be number one. Moss had arguably the best car in the field, his fastest teammate suffered engine issues, and he had the advantage of what were essentially pacenotes from legendary motorsport journalist Denis Jenkinson. But the nature and history of the event make his success one of the greatest achievements in our sport.

The significance of home advantage on the epic 1000-mile Italian road race is underlined by the fact that, in the 23 full editions, only two-non Italians won. The first was German ace Rudolf Caracciola in 1931 and the second was Moss, at an all-time record speed.

Moss’s Mille Miglia record prior to ’55 was not promising. Three starts in Jaguars had resulted in three retirements, although he had shown good speed in ’52. 

But the 300SLR was strong and Mercedes’ preparation was extensive and included a great deal of practice along the route. “The most comprehensive reconnaissance, test and preparation period I ever experienced for any race,” wrote Moss in Stirling Moss: My Cars, My Career.

By the time the event finally arrived, Jenkinson had extensive guidance ‘roller-notes’ and a system of hand signals to convey to Moss what to expect next.

The scale of the event was highlighted by the fact that there were 521 starters. Cars were set off one at a time, starting at 9pm on Saturday with the slowest classes. Moss and Jenkinson got underway at 7:22 on Sunday morning...

Despite being capable of around 175mph, Moss’s three-litre Mercedes was caught early on by Eugenio Castellotti’s 4.4-litre Ferrari, which had started one minute behind.

Moss and Jenkinson also had their fair share of drama. They hit a straw bale in Padua, took off over a blind brow for far longer than planned, had a near miss with a petrol station in Pescara, smashed through another straw bale, and briefly slid into a ditch after a lock-up.

Heading into Rome, the massed crowed also forced Moss to back off – “as moral insurance” – but still the Mercedes arrived in the Italian capital in the lead, having outpaced the bigger-engined Ferrari of Piero Taruffi on his home ground. And Taruffi had the advantage of being last on the road, so had the best idea of which cars were heading the timesheets. 

Moss then lost time with a spin, caused by a grabbing brake, and so pressed on. His already impressive endurance had been boosted by one of  teammate Fangio’s ‘stamina pills’ and nobody could touch him over the closing miles. 

“We were taking bends at absolutely full speed, something I could never have done on my own on a road I didn’t know, and going over blind brows at 170mph, knowing exactly what lay ahead from the notes,” said Moss in My Greatest Race.

Meanwhile, many of the other big cars had hit trouble, including Fangio, who required attention to a broken injector pipe. Fellow Mercedes driver Karl Kling was taken to hospital with broken ribs after he crashed his 300SLR.

Mercedes also played its part. As well as copious amounts of practice before the event – including complete laps of the ‘circuit’ – the team was fastest when it came to the pitstops.

A little over 10 hours after setting off from Brescia, Moss and Jenkinson returned, having recorded a never-to-be-beaten Mille Miglia average of 97.9mph. They were over half an hour clear of second man Fangio, and 45 minutes ahead of the third-placed Ferrari.

“It was one of the greatest moments of my motor racing life,” reckoned Moss. “Of all the races I entered, I can’t find another to compare with it.”

Stirling Moss, Denis Jenkinson, Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR

Stirling Moss, Denis Jenkinson, Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR

Photo by: Daimler AG

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