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My Racing Life
The trickiest manoeuvre of Sir Stirling Moss's career was getting the girl to kneel in the footwell of his sports car so that the paparazzi would not get a chance to splash the pictures of motor racing's biggest star all over the next morning's newspapers.
More than half a century since his career was ended by an horrendous crash, Moss is still ubiquitous in world motorsport, celebrated in his autobiography, My Racing Life, published today. His face is familiar to millions, from Australia to America; at the height of his fame he appeared on chat shows and in the gossip columns.
'The paparazzi were worse than they are now,' he says, as he reclines on the leather chair in the Mayfair penthouse he has owned since 1961. 'If I dated a girl, I got more publicity than when I won a race. I would tell the girl to get down under the dashboard so no one could see what was going on.'
Moss was one of the first truly glamorous figures to adorn British sport during the grey of a postwar nation seeking glitter. Moss provided it with 'the crumpet' and the bubbly, as well as the daring on the track.
A motorist stopped for speeding would once find the local constable asking: 'Who do you think you are, sonny? Stirling Moss?' Moss chuckles at the thought, then concedes to a new star of motor racing whom he sees as a kindred spirit, despite their separation in years and background.
Policemen are now more likely to use the name of Lewis Hamilton when they stop drivers, Moss says, and Formula One is all the better for that. Moss became famous because he was thrilling on the track and he sees a mirror image in Hamilton.
'Lewis is very good news for Formula One,' Moss says. 'Right from the start of a race, it is, 'Go boy' and he is off. He is one of the late-brakers, which makes him fantastically exciting to watch.'
Moss admires Hamilton's bravura style - but marvels at the money it has reaped. Hamilton was named as Britain's richest sportsman by The Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune of £88 million. 'Staggering,' Moss, 85, says, eyebrows rising to the top of his tanned forehead. 'My best year was 4,000 quid for a whole season.'
While Hamilton came from a council estate in Stevenage, Moss is the son of a Berkshire dentist. 'I couldn't follow in his footsteps because I was too stupid for the exams,' Moss says. 'My father bought me a 500cc car and gave me a year to start making money.'
Moss raced all over Europe and in F1, but it was when he was hired by Mercedes in 1955 to partner the great Juan Manuel Fangio that his career took off. He was second to his idol in the F1 world championship but his fame was written into history at the fabled Mille Miglia that year in a race of almost 1,000 miles on public roads.
Driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, Moss, with Denis Jenkinson, his co-driver, set an average speed of 97.9 mph, breathtaking even by modern standards of cars with elaborate safety systems and high-performance brakes.
There was a price to pay for such devilment, though. Death was ever present and a serious crash in 1962 in a minor event at Goodwood ended his career. The front pages and the radio waves were full of Britain's superstar as he lay in a coma for a month.
When he woke, Moss was paralysed down his left side for six months and when he got back into a car for the first time, he knew that the magic that had taken him to the status of a legend had deserted him. 'There were three or four deaths every season then, at least,' Moss recalls. 'The danger was quite exciting. When you are 20 years old, the fact that you were driving a dangerous circuit just became a challenge.'
For all of his exploits and fame, Moss has had to live with one unenviable title: the greatest driver never to win the F1 world championship. The reasons are many, not least the hopeless unreliability of the machinery, but Moss is philosophical.
'It now gives me a sort of exclusivity, I suppose,' he says. 'I raced other champions and felt I was faster but, for whatever reason, they were champions. I had wheels fall off, I had the steering column shear at the top of the Monza banking at 175mph - and I am not stupid. I knew something was up.'
For all that, the name remains as famous as ever - perhaps thanks to his father. 'My mother was Scottish and wanted to call me Hamish,' he says. 'My father chose Stirling, which is where she was born. Done me quite well, though. Better than Tom or Dick, don't you think?'
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