The iconic picture of a youthful Stirling, face blackened by race track filth but for two goggle-sized spots gleaming white around the eyes. It’s all there in one photograph: the danger, the dashing British hero, the slight smile that betrays satisfaction at yet another job well done.
Edwards captures Moss’s character and life just as effectively in prose as the photographer has in their own art.
In motor sport literature the biography is dominant. It’s no surprise at all – in motor racing, like any sport, it is larger than life characters that capture the imagination. Extraordinary men doing extraordinary things.
Unfortunately there are a great number of very ordinary biographies. Just this afternoon I had a rummage through four different book shops for any recent F1 titles that might have passed under my radar and the same few drivers’ names came up again and again.
It irritates me that there are so many F1 greats whom biographers or book publishers have deemed not sufficiently marketable to be worthy of covering. Without disrespect to other authors that have written about him, Stirling Moss seems to fall into that category of drivers who just doesn’t seem to get written about all that much.
It’s not hard to imagine the most obvious reason why that is: Moss is widely regarded to be the greatest racer never to have won the Formula One World Championship. Had he, and not Mike Hawthorn, triumphed in 1958, history would remember him as Britain’s first World Champion – and how many titles on Waterstone’s shelf might bear that phrase?
Just as well then that we have Robert Edwards’ first-rate biography of Moss to set the record straight. The account of his Grand Prix years is particularly detailed and persuasive and leaves the reader with a deep respect for Moss’s raw talent.
Why was he never champion? Setting aside the genius of Fangio (and Moss’s deep respect for it that discouraged him from disrepecting the Argentine ace in any way) we can see more prosaic reasons: simple ill luck with machinery, for example. Those who parrot back cliches like “you make your own luck” should really read this book.
And so should those who think that professionalism in Formula One began with Michael Schumacher. Moss and Mercedes complemented each other perfectly in the fifies – they were almost ahead of their time. Moss’s detailed knowledge of the minutiae of motor racing rules came to his aid on several occasions.
His gentlemanly conduct on the other hand achieved quite the opposite – indeed it probably lost him the 1958 championship to Hawthorn.
Which is perhaps the best way to think of Moss’s Formula One career: that he was simply too great a sports man to be Formula One World Champion.