British racing driver Stirling Moss became a star of the Mercedes-Benz racing department in 1955. He celebrated outstanding victories with the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S) and was Formula 1 runner-up world champion with the W 196 R. His successes are highlights of 125 years of Mercedes-Benz motorsport history. On 17 September 2019, the motorsport racer, who was knighted in 2000, will be 90 years old.
“In 1955, with triumphs such as his overall victory in the Mille Miglia and winning the British Grand Prix, Sir Stirling Moss wrote motorsport history for Mercedes-Benz. He has been closely associated with our brand ever since. We would like to congratulate this outstanding racing driver on his 90th birthday,” affirms Christian Boucke, head of Mercedes-Benz Classic.
On 1 May 1955, Stirling Moss wrote motorsport history: in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car, the then 25-year-old British driver won the legendary Mille Miglia in the best time ever achieved there. He completed the race that began on 30 April from Brescia to Rome and back on an extremely challenging 1,000-mile route together with co-driver Denis Jenkinson at an average speed of 157.65 km/h.
Another great moment is Moss’ victory with Formula 1 racing car Mercedes-Benz W 196 R at the British Grand Prix in Aintree on 16 July 1955 ahead of his team colleague Juan Manuel Fangio. It was the first victory ever for a British racing driver at this Grand Prix.
The foundations for the career of this British driver were already laid at primary-school age: inspired by the motorsport successes of his mother Aileen and father Alfred, the youngster dreamt of becoming a professional racing driver. With special permission, he already had his driving licence at the age of 15.
In 1948, Stirling Moss bought a Cooper 500 racing car. With it, he took part in 15 Formula 3 races, winning 12 of them. This was the start of an international career. In 1949, the young racing driver became a part of the British H.W.M. works team in Formula 2 and won the English Formula 2 championship title in 1949 and 1950. In 1950, Moss also won the Tourist Trophy in a Jaguar XK 120, beating the works racing car of the manufacturer. A year later, he headed the Jaguar team.
Moss not only had clear goals regarding his sporting successes, but he was also very decisive when it came to the professionalisation of his career. As a result, he was one of the first professional drivers of this era to hire a manager who dealt with engagements and fees. How important this decision was became clear in 1953, when manager Ken Gregory approached Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer: would the brand from Stuttgart like to hire Moss for the re-entry of Mercedes-Benz into the Grand Prix sport?
In the 1954 season, however, Moss still raced in Formula 1 in his own Maserati 250 F as the private team “Equipe Moss” (later “Stirling Moss Limited”). His gripping duel with Silver Arrow chief driver Juan Manuel Fangio at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza was one of the moments that left a great impression: Moss was in pole position until just twelve rounds from the finish, when he was hopelessly thrown back into the pack by a technical defect. Winner Fangio paid great respect to the Brit and called him the actual winner of the race.
By 1954, Neubauer had been convinced of the great talent of the British racing driver. He invited him for a test drive and hired him for the 1955 season as a works driver of the Mercedes-Benz racing department. Moss was to complete 17 races with the successful W 196 R Formula 1 racing car as well as the new 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S).
Moss made his Formula 1 debut for the Silver Arrows on 16 January 1955 at the Argentinian Grand Prix, where he was able to clinch 4th place in the heat of Buenos Aires together with Hans Herrmann and Karl Kling. The highlight of the season was his victory at the British Grand Prix. At two further Formula 1 races (the Belgian Grand Prix on 5 June 1955 and the Dutch Grand Prix on 19 June 1955), each time Moss came in second behind Fangio. He ended the season as runner-up in the driver standings.
Sports car racing
Stirling Moss was his most successful in 1955 in sports car racing with the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car developed solely for this season. The vehicle had its exceptionally successful premiere at the Mille Miglia. With it, the British racing driver also won the Tourist Trophy in Dundrod (Northern Ireland) and the Targa Florio in Sicily. This allowed him to secure for the brand from Stuttgart – alongside the win of the Formula 1 world championship by Juan Manuel Fangio – victory in the 1955 sports car world championship. At the height of its success, Mercedes-Benz withdrew from racing at the end of the season.
Stirling Moss continued his career on other racing teams. He raced in racing cars by Maserati, Vanwall, Cooper, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lotus and B.R.M, amongst others, and again and again proved himself to be a world class driver. Moss attained many victories and excellent finishes in Formula 1 (runner-up in 1956 to 1958, third place in the drivers’ world championship in 1959 to 1961) and in sports car races. After a serious injury at the “100 Miles of Goodwood” on 30 April 1962, Moss ended his active career at the age of 33.
Stirling Moss continued to stay closely connected to motorsport as an author and a racing expert. In particular, he was involved for many years as a Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador at automotive classic events. The contemporary witness of one of the most glorious eras of motorsport under the star took part in the Mille Miglia and the Goodwood Festival of Speed, amongst other events, in 2015. At both events, Mercedes-Benz looked back on the successes of 1955, 60 years earlier.
In his home country of Great Britain, Moss was known as “Mr Motor Racing” and “the epitome of speed” during his active career. For his services, Queen Elizabeth II honoured him with “The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” (OBE) in 1959. In 2000, Moss was raised to Knight Bachelor, making his title since then Sir Stirling.