Sir Stirling Moss – interview with a motor-racing legend.
“Neubauer was a father figure”.
Sir Stirling, the racing manager at Mercedes-Benz back in 1955 was Alfred Neubauer — a man who was almost as popular as his drivers. What sort of person was he?He was an exceptional man: people warmed to him because he had a great sense of humour, but at the same time his strength and determination earned him their respect. Above all, though, he was a father figure who kept a protective eye on the whole team. Look at it this way: my career lasted for 600 races, but no one I ever met in the world of motor racing made quite such an impression on me as Neubauer.
When did you first meet him?My father first spoke to him in 1953, to ask if Mercedes-Benz would give me the chance of a test drive. Neubauer said: “We’ve already watched your son in various races and will be following his further development with interest”. So in 1954 I joined Maserati, so that I could get to drive in Grand Prix races. And in doing so I came sufficiently to the attention of Mercedes-Benz for Alfred Neubauer to offer me a contract for the following year.
A question of the steering wheel.
What was your first impression of the W 196 R formula racing car?The car did precisely what its driver wanted. I knew immediately that with a car like this, you could win races. The team’s technical capability was equally impressive. When I told them that I thought a three-spoke steering wheel would work better for me than the existing four-spoke one, they had one made for me.
Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the man responsible for developing the W 196, had an English mother, so he of course spoke perfect English. That made it much easier for me to make myself understood and to secure my place in the team.
The greatest racing car of all time.
But your greatest triumph was in a different car…Yes, how should I describe the 300 SLR? As far as I’m concerned, this is the greatest race car that has ever been built. In endurance races like the Mille Miglia, the reliability of the vehicles was particularly important. The 300 SLR was just indescribably robust. It kept you safe and was extremely powerful. Other teams in that era also had outstanding designers and engineers, but it was the way the ideas were implemented technically at Mercedes-Benz that made the difference. Any malfunction in those days not only affected your chances of victory, but could also cause a serious accident. I lost a wheel off my car more than once over the course of my career. The 300 SLR gave me the reassurance to be able to concentrate fully on the race and winning.
Fear was a constant companion.
How did you cope with the mortal danger inherent in your sport?I wouldn’t say that I loved the sport because of the danger. The fear of having a serious accident was always there; an ever-present black shadow lurking beside me in the car. When I was driving for Mercedes-Benz I was always more relaxed, because their race cars gave such a feeling of safety. I ended my career in 1963 as a consequence of a serious racing accident, because I no longer wanted to expose myself to that danger. Later on I thought perhaps I could have carried on after all, but that was the decision I made at the time.
Full speed ahead into the unknown.
Was the Mille Miglia of 1955 your biggest race?And the toughest. The whole attraction and risk of the Mille Miglia lay in the unknown: you never knew what awaited you round the next bend. It might be a straight section, where you could put your foot down hard, or it could be an even tighter counter bend. It’s quite different from circuit racing, where you memorize the course and distinctive points along the way.
The sense of safety that you had with the 300 SLR, even in critical situations, was very reassuring. Its balance was perfect, and even when you had to brake harshly, it never lost directional stability and remained extremely precise to steer.
“Today you were simply the better man”.
What were the other great moments of that successful year?Well, of course, winning the Grand Prix in England, in front of a home crowd. To this day, I still don’t know whether my teammate Juan Manuel Fangio did all that he could have done to win that race. He knew how much a home victory meant to me. When I asked him, after the race, if he’d held back, he said: “No, you were quite simply the better driver today!” Over the years I asked him the same question time and time again, but the answer was never any different.
How would you characterize Juan Manuel Fangio?He was the best Formula 1 driver of his day. I knew that if I kept my eyes on him and followed his line, I would be very fast. But I saw no chance of being faster than him.
“Motor racing was my training”.
Did you do any sport in those days, to keep yourself fit for racing?Motor racing provided its own training. I drove at least one race most weekends, and on top of that there were the development and set-up runs. We kept ourselves fit for our sport by sitting behind the wheel of a racing car more or less every day.
What did you do to relax and take your mind off things between races?I did what probably all young men of that age enjoy doing most: I flirted with the girls.