I still like to remember Stirling Moss considering the nature of his craft. “Speed is tranquillity,” he said, and that summed up his approach. His passion was the art of driving and it absolutely made him one of the greats. He drove using his instincts and while the facts may say he never won a world championship, in terms of the legendary names in the sport he is up there with the best, with Jim Clark and Juan Manuel Fangio, with Jackie Stewart and Lewis Hamilton.
Moreover Stirling will also always be remembered as a true sportsman. He had very strong views on what was right and wrong in terms of how you conduct yourself both on and off the track. In that way he was a throwback to an era when the ideas of being generous in defeat, chivalrous and wanting to win fair and square were commonplace.
I came to know him through my career, although I have no memory of the very first time we met, when Stirling came to my christening. My dad, Graham Hill, managed to persuade him to come and he was there with Bruce McLaren, Taffy von Tripps, Tony Brooks and the whole gang.
We share the same birthday, and after I became an F1 driver our paths would often cross. As part of the British Racing Drivers’ Club he was very, very supportive of the work we were doing there. To say someone is a living legend is an overused phrase, but he really was. He could regale us with tales of racing in the good old, bad old days when it was absolutely lethal.
During my career, I was very much aware of his weighty comments, his opinions of my own performance. A name like Stirling even commenting on what you are doing is nearly always good, unless of course he didn’t think I had been very impressive. Being Stirling, he was not afraid to give his opinion. He was very forthright, informed by his career and very pithy, but never unnecessarily negative and always a lovely guy, really great company.
As time went on I got to know him even better through the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the British Grand Prix, the BRDC and even Sports Personality of the Year. I was once given the job of looking after Stirling, getting him up and down the stairs at Sports Personality and he was still as feisty as ever, even when he was a bit wobbly on his pins.
It illustrated his determination, his commitment to throwing himself into life just as he had to competing. He dedicated himself 100% to being a racing driver, he was not a dilettante or part-timer. He was a full-on serious, professional racing driver. Stirling was one of the first people in motor racing to become highly in demand, and he managed his own affairs and his business. He was the first real megastar driver from this country and he created the model for everyone that came after him. Stirling ignited interest in others who went on to become world champions. Indeed, all racing drivers have a lot to thank Stirling for because he made driving a career.
After his accident at Goodwood in 1962, when he found he could no longer drive on instinct, Stirling was honest in calling it a day. That epitomised his attitude to racing. He would rather not have driven than to lack that sense of being at one with the car and being out there on the very edge.
In that way he was very like Ayrton Senna and a lot of the greats. A seat-of-the-pants driver, attuned to his senses who managed to deal with the fear, to intellectually put it to one side. But he was also smart enough to realise that once that magic had gone he shouldn’t be doing it any more.
During his time on the track he of course became a darling of the British public, through his performances as a driver, and as a winner. He gave Britain what they wanted, he symbolised hope for the future in a dashing personality. He went on to burnish that image of a British sporting gent, and even after he retired he was very good at giving people the racing driver that they wanted. Stirling always delivered the legend.
There is great sadness at his death, but a quote of Stirling’s I enjoy from a book written about him back in 1963 still touches me today: “I took a very great deal out of motor racing but I put a lot back too, I do feel that I gave it all but my life.”
Stirling was at heart a motor racing aficionado, a lover of the sport and a lover of driving.