Why manners maketh the man
your mind but the image of a man who does things well and lives his life with passion. ‘Elegance’ is perhaps a better word, if you factor in the passion – but it’s more than that. There’s a politeness about Stirling. He never tells you how good he was as a racing driver and he’s always aware of the details: for Stirling, no person is more or less important than another; be it the chap down the road serving the tea or a current F1 driver with whom he’s spinning a yarn.
One of Stirling’s trademarks was the hand wave. It was used to good effect at Monaco – I think in 1960 – when he became the only racing driver in history to chat up a good-looking girl in the Station Hairpin grandstands, and negotiate, while he was racing, a post-race meeting (and, yes, she did turn up at the appointed hand-signalled time). The other hand wave was a ‘thank you’ note to drivers who moved over for him.
I was chatting to Stirling about this when we met recently. “You were resolute, weren’t you?” I said. “You thanked every slower driver you ever passed.”
“Just about. I suppose there were moments when I had two hands on the wheel and was sliding the car a little but, even then, I’d wave to him on the next straight.” “When he probably wouldn’t have been able to see you…”
“Yes, but that wasn’t the point. Of course I was saying ‘thank you’ but I was actually doing if for me. It just wouldn’t have felt right if I hadn’t done it. It was a part of racing, of driving, of good manners.” Which made me wonder why today’s F1 drivers never seem to say thank you when they pass a slower car. Is it too much effort in a modern cockpit to raise your hand? I don’t think so. Some of the arm-waving antics that celebrate a win suggest the opposite: it’s actually very easy to take a current hand away from a current steering wheel.