Stirling Moss: 1929-2020

Edmondson: Stirling Moss was 'a synonym for speed' (1:00)

Laurence Edmondson reflects on the career of British racing legend Stirling Moss after he passed away aged 90. (1:00)

Sir Stirling Moss died at his London home at the age of 90 on Sunday. Although his racing career was cut short and ended without a Formula One title, it was still among the most impressive in motor sport.

Sir Stirling Moss was often labelled as the greatest F1 driver never to win a world championship, but given his 212 victories from 529 races across all disciplines, that title somewhat undersells his talent behind the wheel.

Among those 212 race wins, his 1955 victory at the Mille Miglia -- a torturous road race over 1000 miles of Italian roads -- is in the running as the most impressive drive in motor sport history and underlines his claim to a more representative title as the greatest all-round driver of all time.

Yet Moss' legacy is not limited to the race track. Known as "Mr Motor Racing", he was also one of the sport's earliest celebrities and was among the first drivers to recognise his own commercial worth. He skilfully and successfully exploited that to the full, negotiating sponsorship deals firmly and selling himself dearly.

But his racing career came to an early end with a brutal accident at a non-championship race at Goodwood over the Easter weekend of 1962, forcing him into a new life as a public figure.

"I had to start working for a living at 32 with no knowledge of anything," he told ESPN in an interview fifty years later. "It was a bit of shock, I can tell you."

However, if anything, Moss became more famous and marketable as a commentator, author and celebrity after his accident. Up until he retired from public life in January 2018, he remained a reference point for his sport and an eloquent first-hand source for motor racing's remarkable past.

Moss' racing career started in local hill-climb events before he entered his first professional race in 1948 at just 18 years old. Successes in Formula 3 secured him a drive for HWM's Formula 2 team, and within two years he was racing alongside the biggest names in the sport in both F1 races and sports car events.

His early years in Formula One were unsuccessful, largely because he was in British cars at a time the Italian marques were dominant. Moss had been approached by Ferrari in 1951 and offered a drive assess his talent, but after making the journey to Bari with his father in an overnight sleeper train, he was stood up by the Italian team, which had given his car to Piero Taruffi.

"That really pissed me off," Moss told ESPN in 2010. "Taruffi was a nice guy and a good driver, but Enzo Ferrari had simply changed his mind without telling me. At that point I vowed to myself that I would never race for him and I never did."

In 1954 Moss entered the F1 championship in a Maserati, and a third-place finish at Spa on his first outing in the new car persuaded German motoring giant Mercedes to offer him a full-time drive in 1955. In 1954, Mercedes had returned to motor sport for the first time since the war and with Juan Manuel Fangio as its lead driver, it was building a team to dominate Formula One.

The relationship between Fangio and Moss blossomed from the off, taking on a master-and-apprentice dynamic. Moss' role was to support Fangio and he finished the season second in the championship as the Argentine secured the third of his five titles. He took his first Formula One victory along the way at the British Grand Prix at Aintree, but was never certain if Fangio had gifted him the victory as a friendly gesture.

Meanwhile, Moss was also making a name for himself in sports car events. The most gruelling of all motor races at the time was the Mille Miglia, and Mercedes entered Moss in a 300SLR with his friend and motor racing journalist Denis Jenkinson as his co-driver.

After a series of reconnaissance laps before the event, Jenkinson and Moss graded the corners on the 1000-mile course as "saucy ones, dodgy ones and very dangerous ones" depending on road surface and severity. Jenkinson wrote the notes down on an 18-foot long piece of paper -- "the toilet roll" -- and coiled it within a specially designed alloy box with a Perspex viewing window. This became the pair's "secret weapon", allowing Jenkinson to convert the notes into a series of hand signals so that Moss knew what was coming next.

Moss's blistering pace, combined with blisteringly hot weather that year, meant the Mercedes was storming through the checkpoints at record pace. By the halfway point at Rome he was two minutes clear of Taruffi's Ferrari and by the time they reached Florence the Ferrari had dropped out with an oil pump failure. By that point, Mercedes dominated the top three, with Hans Herrmann in second and Fangio, suffering from a fuel injection problem, in third. A punctured fuel tank accounted for Herrmann's retirement as he traversed the Futa Pass and that left Moss with a 30-minute advantage over Fangio.

By the time he returned to Brescia and crossed the finish line, Moss was 32 minutes clear of Fangio, with Umberto Magioli's Ferrari a further three minutes off the pace in third. Not only had he dominated the opposition, he had shattered all of the event's previous records, averaging 97.96 mph over 992 miles and setting a record time of 10hr7m48s that was never beaten.

It remains one of the greatest performances of all time at the wheel of a racing car.

In Formula One, a return to a Maserati yielded two more victories in 1956 before Moss returned to British machinery in 1957. But by this time the British entrants had become more competitive and he won three races for Vanwall that year before finishing second to Fangio in the championship for a third consecutive season.

Fangio's retirement opened the door for him in 1958, but despite four wins he finished one point behind Ferrari's Mike Hawthorn, who became Britain's first world champion. Again, Moss had to move teams in 1959 as Vanwall folded in the wake of Stuart Lewis-Evans' death in the season finale in Morocco, and in the 1959, 1960 and 1961 seasons Moss drove assorted cars, mainly Coopers and Lotuses, for his friend and privateer entrant Rob Walker.

He was sidelined for much of 1960 after a bad crash in practice at Spa on the same weekend that two British drivers, Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey, died in the race itself. Moss kept the steering wheel from his accident and would regularly take it down from the wall of his office to demonstrate how his head had caused the shape of the wheel to buckle on impact.

In 1961, Ferrari dominated under rule changes that caught the British manufacturers off guard, but Moss' skill was on display in Monaco and the Nurburgring where he more than made up for his outdated Lotus by taking memorable victories. For 1962, Enzo Ferrari was prepared to bury the 10-year hatchet with Moss and offered to build him a Formula One car and 250 GTO sports car.

It was a remarkable deal and would have resulted in Moss competing in a Ferrari painted in dark blue and white of Rob Walker, and, most likely, finishing ahead of the scarlet factory cars. But it never materialised as, on Easter Monday, 1962, Moss' career came to an end with a huge accident at Goodwood.

Moss had yet to take delivery of his Ferrari and was campaigning a Lotus 18/21 entered by UDT-Laystall with a new V8 Climax engine in the back. He took pole position but a gear linkage problem scuppered his chance of a decent result in the race and put him two laps behind the leader Graham Hill.

As he moved to unlap himself Moss's Lotus veered off the circuit at high speed and crashed into a grass bank on the entrance to St Mary's corner. The front of the car folded in on itself and he was left trapped and unconscious in the mangled wreck.

The exact reason for the accident is unknown -- Moss's memory was blank when he came out of his three-week coma -- but when he tried to get back behind the wheel, he found that what had come naturally before now required conscious decisions. At only 32, the same age as Graham Hill who was to win the world title for a second time six years later, he took the decision to retire from professional motor racing.

In enforced retirement, if anything, Moss became more famous and marketable as a commentator, author and celebrity. He made a brief return to racing in touring cars in the early 1980s and continued to race historic cars until he was 81.