Republished from earlier this year – When Badger met Sir Stirling Moss…
Last week, F1 Badger folk Adam Mileneuve, Riccardo Monza and Ciaran Buttonham spent a morning with none-other than Sir Stirling Moss OBE, at his central London home for a good sit down and a chat about the current goings on in Formula 1 and to find out what a man of such grandure as Stirling does now that he drives a Smart car rather than Vanwall…
In the half-century since his professional racing career ended, little has changed for Britain’s greatest racer. Whilst other ex-drivers have grown soft at the edges, Sir Stirling Moss maintains a trim and well-executed figure, acutely focused and an exacting attention to detail very much evident from the beautiful surroundings of his Mayfair residence.
We are welcomed into an upstairs living room. “What do you think about Schumacher?” he begins excitedly, slightly off guard, we laugh; it’s the big news today and definitely the first thing we had wanted to ask the legendary Moss. “I don’t know what to think,” he continues, “it’s absolutely extraordinary”. It’s a good place to start and clearly Stirling thinks it’s great for the sport. The attention turns to how teammate Kimi will handle the pressure of sharing a garage with the luminary seven-time World Champion. “Maybe,” he ventures, “Kimi will give it a go this time.” And so we ask him the reason for the World Champion’s seeming lack of passion so far this season. “I can’t really make Kimi out to tell you the truth. He has tremendous ability but he really doesn’t seem to use it as often as he might.” He clarifies, “I don’t think he’s a natural; and I don’t think he gets into it and really enjoys it.”
Maybe, it’s not a question of natural ability and is just distraction or a lack of professional focus? “That’s another way of looking at it,” he agrees. “But if he was, why is his ability oscillating so much? But certainly, it will be interesting to see what he thinks of this rallying, because they really do a fantastic job.”
It’s interesting to note the slight emphasis he places on “they”. Stirling Moss isn’t the typically outspoken ex-driver; he largely keeps his thoughts private. But when he does volunteer an opinion, it’s always a well-considered one, and it goes without saying, hugely respected.
He begins to address the hugely divisive issue of personality within the sport, or the certain lack thereof. Though fans will have their preferences, there are perhaps few big characters left today, with possibly Kimi Raikkonen being the last preserve of an era such as Stirling’s. “What we need is Rossi”, he interjects as he initiates a comparison between Formula One and MotoGP. Stirling pauses straightaway and appears to consider for a moment; the argument behind what he has just said. “Mainly, I suppose, the sponsors are frightened of having somebody who is bigger than their name,” he commands. Rossi, and we must presume that he is referring to Valentino and not Alexander, is certainly the biggest character in motor racing and as each season passes, it would seem his outward yearning to join the sport grows with every stunning test with his country’s marque; Ferrari.
It is suggested that the grand prix drivers of yesteryear were personalities to look up to and on this, Stirling agrees vehemently. And it is soon clear that he doesn’t believe the drivers are at fault; “Innes Ireland was fairly hard to control,” he begins, “and therefore the people who were sponsoring him would say that ‘this isn’t good for our product'”. Somewhere, from the years in which Stirling was racing to this point today, the sport has transformed from a place where showmanship was encouraged and celebrated to a marketplace, and it is evident that Stirling is concerned by the lack of common ground.
To perhaps further this point, he doesn’t necessarily agree that contemporary drivers should be commanding such high salaries, but then again, he’s perhaps the best person, after his well-publicised playboy lifestyle throughout the years, to admit to the ineffable human condition. “The point is, if somebody comes along and says, ‘Listen, I’m going to give you 3 or 4 million.” You’re not going to say ‘Well I’m not worth it,'” he smiles. “It’s an unrealistic amount to pay I think, for a safe sport.”
And that is an interesting thing; unlike the other British great Jackie Stewart; Stirling Moss is rarely heard making pronouncements about the sport’s safety. But since he brought the topic up, it seems only right that in a week that has brought the terrible realities of motor racing home; we pursue the idea a bit more.
“On this point of danger and safety, one has to be very careful,” he explains. “One of the major ingredients when I was racing was the danger. When you’re seventeen, eighteen years old, doing something dangerous, is exciting, it’s terrific.” He pauses, perhaps to prepare for what he has to next say. “That has now obviously gone and other than being hit by somebody else’s wheel, I think it would be very difficult to kill yourself in a modern day Formula One car, quite honestly, unless it caught fire.” He doesn’t skirt the issue, but the incidents of the past week have perhaps caused Sir Stirling to relive painful moments from his past, and we decide not to follow the reference.
“Obviously this is a good thing,” he goes on to clarify during the pause, but you immediately get the impression that he believes something is lacking in the modern day racing. And as we talk more, the point begins to develop. We briefly discuss Stirling’s era and the different tactics and strategies that would win them races in those days. Mike Hawthorn’s victory against Fangio, at Reims was the result of close following and not an overwhelming margin of speed. So whilst being a huge proponent of progression in the sport, there is that slight grievance hinted at that the rules have been tinkered with too much, especially perhaps where the aerodynamics are concerned.
“I think they should allow Formula One to have anything,” he goes on to state. It may seem like an outlandishly sweeping statement from a man who has lent so much accord and balance to the sport in its lifetime, but on closer reading, he might just have a key point as to why the Formula is failing to excite these days. The examples flow, of the six-wheeler March and the banning of four-wheel drive, all huge developments and in most people’s opinions, leaps forward for the sport. “I think KERS is fantastic,’ he vigorously exclaims, and is immediately followed by a dig at BBC pundit Eddie Jordan’s fickleness on the topic. It gets a big laugh, but on the whole he’s very complimentary of the BBC’s efforts this year. Mike Gascgoyne especially receives Stirling’s blessing for his contributions earlier in the year, and it sparks off the idea that whilst Stirling loves the passion of racing and going fast, he’s a man that doesn’t shy away from the technical side. It dawns that Moss is a guy that every racing fan should sit down for a chat with at least once in their lives, his lucidity and fervour for recalling the events of fifty years ago, pales in no way to his analysis of last week’s race in Hungary.
So what does Stirling do in the days he’s not being harassed by journalists? Sleep? Take it easy? Well apparently he likes to watch a bit of snooker, but as he goes on to explain, he rarely gets the chance. “We didn’t get in last night until two thirty because I had a thing up in Coventry, a Q&A session”. Stirling Moss is approaching his eightieth birthday, and his working day is still longer than that of most people half his age. His work ethic is incredible, but as he so happily reminds us, “I sell my time basically”, referring to the box of Wolfblass sat downstairs with the F1Badger seal on it. Looking at the logo on one of our cards, he begins to chuckle, “What is that when it’s normal?” Adam is straight in to answer that it is in fact a Badger. For the briefest of moments, Stirling considers this, before confidently proclaiming that he thinks it looks rather more like a pregnant horse.
Thank you to Sir Stirling for meeting us, and thanks to Patrick for arranging everything.
It was a pleasure to meet such a legend