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Top Gear chats with Sir Stirling Moss
Sir Stirling Moss is not smiling. “Today’s cars are even uglier than they already were,” he says. “It’s because of the modern regulations, but there really should be a regulation that says your car ought to be attractive.”
A look of concern flashes across the iconic octogenarian’s face. ‘Ugly cars shouldn’t be allowed to win,” he says. He is smiling now. Sir Stirling might be in his twilight years, but his advancing age hasn’t trampled his enthusiasm for Formula One. He is upright, his tiny frame aided only by a shooting stick, and fizzes with fervour on the upcoming season - and ‘those’ controversial noses.
“I suppose all that really matters is how competitive they are,” he says, “but personally, I think the Formula One cars just after the war were very pretty, the ones in my era of racing.”
Ah yes, that era. Fangio, Moss, Hawthorn, Brabham and the very pinnacle of automotive motorsports style with Ferrari, Lotus and of course, Mercedes-Benz, among others. It’s also the era that unfortunately earned Moss the clichéd but tragic moniker, ‘the greatest British driver never to win a world title’.
Perhaps, some have argued, had Sir Stirling been more selfish he could have been crowned champion. But it’s not in the man’s DNA. “The worst thing that can happen is if you get someone who doesn’t deserve it, or wins by default or something,” he says.
“And frankly, I’d always like to see the best and the fastest driver win, as long as it’s won by a person who deserves it,” he says, when pushed on who he would like to see win this year. He hesitates slightly. “I would say Vettel starts as a fairly good favourite though.”
Vettel. The indestructible young German with an indestructible index finger and a voracious hunger for podium finishes. Oh, and the man who tops the Top Gear F1 leaderboard. We’ve rarely seen him lose his footing and prove he remains human: once in a superbly realised, Hollywood-spec wobble at last year’s rain-soaked Canadian GP after being pushed by Button on the charge, maybe. But elsewhere he’s been nigh-on faultless. Sir Stirling agrees.
“Hopefully this season will be better than last year, but we’ll really only find out at the first race in Australia. But it should be good. I can’t honestly see Sebastian being beaten. He’s a tremendous driver and his car is superb.
“Having said that, I think that Jenson Button, although he’s an outsider on getting the title, will do very, very well this season. But with Vettel it isn’t only him, you’ve got Adrian Newey as well. I mean, Adrian Newey on his own is difficult enough to beat, but then you give him the fastest driver in the world and it’s not easy to beat them, you know.”
Quite. A point not lost on the grid, which this year hosts a total of six world champions (welcome back, Kimi). One of whom is the once indomitable spectre of Michael Schumacher; a man who made headlines with his comeback, and continues to make the news through his inability to trump team-mate Nico Rosberg.
“I think Michael’s greatest contribution to motor racing is taking Ferrari when they were down and helping them become the team that’s now as good as any other,” Moss opines. Whether Ferrari believe that today is another matter altogether, but one thing is clear: Schuey’s daisy chain of Formula One world titles that can intimidate even the rawest talent doesn’t sit well with the 82-year-old legend.
“The fact he’s got seven world titles doesn’t impress me much,” he says. “It doesn’t, really. I mean he’s a good driver, but he always had the best car. You can’t compare it to winning in my era.”
And watching him exhort the virtues of that golden period of motorsports leaves you with the lingering impression that Moss still pines for his glory days. Sure, he might respect today’s KERS (“I’m a very big fan - I reckon in ten years every road car will have it, it’s something for nothing”) and reliability (“you don’t really get cars breaking down now, the best thing in the world is how strong they are”), but for him, one vital, elemental and instinctive aspect of Formula One is at risk.
“I wouldn’t swap my era for this modern era of Formula One,” he says, without hesitation. “I’d build a brick wall all around the outside of today’s tracks. All this area they run off into, personally, I think it spoils it. I think motor racing is - sorry, was - a dangerous sport.”
Take for example, Ayrton Senna’s untimely fatality. “The real tragedy with Ayrton was that he died in a really safe era,” says Moss. “The reason he died was because of safety. If they hadn’t pushed the Armco back where he went into it, he would have glanced off it.”
Proof then, that despite his genial, grandfatherly and warm demeanour, the heart of a hot-blooded racer still boils within. “I don’t want any of this spin off area, because I don’t think it’s improved anything, I really don’t.
“As a kid of 18 years old, dangerwas what I wanted.”