Formula One legend Stirling Moss, ‘Mr. Motor Racing,’ dies at 90

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LONDON — Stirling Moss, a daring, speed-loving Englishman regarded as the greatest Formula One driver never to win the world championship, has died. He was 90.

Mr. Moss died peacefully at his London home following a long illness, his wife, Susan, said Sunday.

“It was one lap too many,” she said. “He just closed his eyes.”

A national treasure affectionately known as “Mr. Motor Racing,” the balding Moss had a taste for adventure that saw him push cars to their limits across many racing categories and competitions. He was fearless, fiercely competitive and often reckless.

British driver Stirling Moss fastens his helmet at the 1961 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, International (AP Photo/stf FILE).

That attitude took a toll on his slight body. His career ended early at 31, after a horrific crash left him in a coma for a month in April 1962.

“If you’re not trying to win at all costs,” he said, “what on earth are you doing there?”

By the time he retired, Moss had won 16 of the 66 F1 races he entered and established a reputation as a technically excellent and versatile driver.

“The sporting world lost not only a true icon and a legend but a gentleman,” Mercedes, one of the many teams Moss represented, posted on Twitter. “The team and the Mercedes Motorsport family have lost a dear friend. Sir Stirling, we’ll miss you.”

Arguably his greatest achievement was victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia – a 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) road race through Italy – by nearly half an hour over Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentine great who was Moss’ idol, teammate and rival.

An F1 title didn’t follow, though – a travesty to many in motorsport. Moss finished second in the drivers’ championship four times (1955-58) and third on three occasions.

In 1958, Moss lost out to Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn by one point despite winning four races to his rival’s one. His sportsmanship cost him the title, with Moss defending the actions of Hawthorn following a spin at the Portuguese Grand Prix, sparing his rival a six-point penalty.

In 1959, Moss’ car failed during the final race at Sebring International Raceway when leading and again in with a chance of the title.

“I hope I’ll continue to be described as the greatest driver who never won the world championship, but it doesn’t really matter,” Moss once said. “The most important thing for me was gaining the respect of the other drivers, and I think I achieved that.”

When his resolve to drive solely for English teams waned, Moss raced for Maserati, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz – partnering with Fangio in an all-star line-up. In total, Moss raced in 107 types of cars and boasted a record of 212 wins in the 375 competitive races he finished.

“A prodigious competitor, supremely talented racer, and consummate gentleman, he leaves an indelible mark of greatness on the history of international motorsport,” F1 team McLaren said.

Moss was born in 1929 into a racing family. His father, Alfred, competed in the Indianapolis 500; his mother, Aileen, was English women’s champion in 1936. The young Moss learned his trade during a racing boom in England after World War II.

Sir Stirling Moss and Mercedes F1 driver Lewis Hamilton shared a moment at Silverstone on May 31, 2013 (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images).

His knowledge of racing cars was second to none and he took his profession to the extreme, experimenting and risking his own safety in the process.

Moss broke both legs and damaged his spine in a crash in 1960. Even worse was the accident in Goodwood, England, two years later, when he smashed into a bank of earth at 100 mph (160 kph) without a seatbelt while competing in the Formula One Glover Trophy.

It took 45 minutes to cut him from the wreckage. He suffered brain injuries, and his body’s left side was partially paralysed for six months. With his eyesight and reflexes also permanently damaged, Moss quit racing.

“I knew that if I didn’t get out, I’d kill myself and maybe somebody else,” Moss said.

Moss then became a successful businessman, selling property and designing gadgets out of his state-of-the-art home in central London and working as a consultant to car manufacturers. He received a knighthood in 1999.

In 2010, he broke both ankles and hurt his back in a fall three floors down an elevator shaft at home.

Six years later, Moss was taken ill with a chest infection while on a cruise in Singapore and was hospitalized for 134 days before he could return home. The family described it as a “subsequent slow and arduous recovery” that led to Moss retiring from public life in 2018 at the age of 88.

Stirling Moss attended the 2009 British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, FILE).

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.