Fair play at a furious pace

Formula One legend Stirling Moss is appalled by the Renault episode


The man who could have been Britain's first world champion 51 years ago but for his sense of fair play and sportsmanship can scarcely believe the latest controversy casting a cloud over his beloved sport.

"I just can't understand it; that a driver would go and do that...I mean, to do a thing like that is beyond imagination to me," the greatest driver never to win the title said in an interview at his London home.

Former champions Renault have been summoned to a hearing in Paris on September 21 to face charges that they effectively fixed the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix by ordering Brazilian Nelson Piquet to stage a crash that helped Fernando Alonso to win. Renault have already said that they would not contest the charges.

Moss, who celebrated his 80th birthday on Thursday with the publication of a book entitled 'Stirling Moss: All My Races', said he was flabbergasted by the charges.

"I just cannot believe a man would do that. It really boggles the imagination. For anyone to ask him to do it and then for him to follow through takes some believing, doesn't it?  I just feel it is so foreign to the sport that we used to know. But motor racing now is not a sport, it's a fantastic business."

Moss lost the 1958 title by a single point to compatriot Mike Hawthorn after asking stewards to reinstate his disqualified rival at the Portuguese Grand Prix.

"I felt that it was quite wrong and I went and gave evidence on Mike's behalf and said no way should he be disqualified," said Moss, who ended the year with four wins to Hawthorn's one.

"They obviously gave him his points back and that took the title from me. But really, the thing that mattered to me in those days was to race -- today, not last week or next week. Today I can win and I could die.

"Therefore things take on a totally different complexion. I wouldn't think of holding back and only being fourth to get the world title. It's appalling. I'm a racer," he said.

"But now...last year for instance old Lewis (Hamilton) was told: 'Look you must not try and win this race, just pace yourself'. Well I couldn't do that. That's just driving, that's not racing."

Moss was never to come as close again, finishing overall runner-up on three other occasions and third three times, but he has absolutely no regrets.

"I am in the exclusive position of people saying he should have won it and he never did," he said. "But the most important thing to me really is the respect of the other drivers."

His walls bear witness to that. A print, signed by Ayrton Senna in the year before the great Brazilian's death at Imola in 1994, is dedicated: 'To Stirling, with admiration'.

There are photographs of his late friend and rival Juan Manuel Fangio, and a larger one with an affectionate message from McLaren's reigning champion Hamilton.

Two buckled and bent steering wheels hanging on the wall, one labelled 'Spa 1960' and the other 'Goodwood 1962', are relics and constant reminders of his two biggest crashes.
The latter crash ended his career, leaving him unconscious for a month and paralysed for six. When he came back, he was still quick but realised something had changed and called it a day.

"If I swing at you, you'd normally duck. If you suddenly find you don't duck, then you begin to worry a bit about what goes on," he said, explaining his decision.

"I thought deeply about it. I think really in hindsight, I retired too early. I would love to have gone on and had every intention of racing until I was 50 or so.

"I was very fit, at the height of my game and it meant I had to work for a living," he continued. "That was a bit of a shock. I had spent my whole life being paid to do my sport and when you know nothing about anything you can become an MP (member of parliament) or an estate agent. I went into property."

In fact, Moss is still racing -- turning out with all the energy of a man decades younger to compete in his 1,500cc Osca at historic events -- but the glory years are the 1950s and 60s.

The 1961 Monaco Grand Prix rates as his greatest in Formula One, the 1955 Mille Miglia his best in sportscars. "It was 10 hours, four minutes seven seconds I think," he said of the latter race on regular roads. "On the last stage, which was 83 miles from Cremona to Brescia, I averaged 165.1 miles an hour from a standing start."

In his heyday, Moss entered up to 54 races a year -- compared to the 17 Formula One drivers will do this year -- as well as testing. He said it was a perfect existence.

"All I had to do was arrive, practise the car, race the car and then I could go. Go and chase girls or whatever I wanted to do...it was just a fabulous life."

Moss has little hesitation in naming Fangio the greatest driver of his day, just as he considers Senna the modern equivalent. Asked about his own place, he hesitates.
"Where do I put myself? I don't know really," he said. "I've never deeply thought about it. I don't want to. In a sportscar, I think I was the best. Definitely. There was nobody I really felt I couldn't beat. In Formula One, I think I was running pretty close to Fangio but I couldn't beat him."
 

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