THE 300SLR CRASHED SPECTACULARLY INTO THE CROWD AT LE MANS, AND CLOSE TO 100 PEOPLE PERISHED
Legendary Mercedes racing manager, Alfred Neubauer, cast his eye around for a more worthy teammate for his distinguished number one, and concluded that he couldn’t do better than hiring a diminutive Englishman who had spent much of 1954 driving his privateer Maserati — Stirling Moss.
The age gap between Fangio and his new teammate was over 16 years, and Moss has always said he regarded it as a ‘master/pupil’ relationship, as he was learning from a bona fide racing maestro.
Their first one-two finish came at round three of the 1955 world championship at Spa — Fangio leading his apprentice home by 8.1 seconds after nearly 160 minutes of motoring.
A week later Mercedes was back on the front pages, but for all the wrong reasons, when a 300SLR crashed spectacularly into the crowd at Le Mans, and close to 100 people perished. Some nations took a deep breath and considered flagging their Grand Prix away, but it was all a bit immediate for the Dutch who had their GP the next weekend — again it was one-two, with Moss once more finishing in the wheel tracks of the maestro.
France cancelled its Grand Prix a fortnight after the Netherlands race, meaning that there was a month to wait until the British GP. Germany also chose to cancel its race, and that meant the mid-july race in England would not only be round six of the 1955 championship, it would also be the penultimate GP. There would then be nearly two months to wait to until the finale in Italy.
Silverstone had been the home of the British Grand Prix since 1948, but for 1955 the race was moving some 260km north-west to Aintree, on the outskirts of Liverpool. A non-championship Formula 1 race had been held there in 1954, shortly after it opened, and was won by Moss, so the patriotic crowd had every reason to hope that July 16 might be ‘the day.’ Mercedes rolled up with two extra race cars — one for Kling and the other for Italian all-rounder Piero Taruffi. Moss, with his Union Flag proudly planted on his car’s silver body, picked the perfect place for his first pole position in a championship race. Fangio, predictably, was second quickest. Moss won the start, but Fangio passed him before the Brit prevailed again on lap three. The huge crowd loved it — Fangio retook the lead but a roar went up when Moss swept by again. This time he stayed there, but his team leader was right up his chuff the entire way — at the end, Moss won by a mere two-tenths of a second, and for years wondered if Fangio, the overall title already sewn up, had let him win. Fangio kept quiet while Mercedes celebrated a one-two-threefour. The crowd meanwhile was ecstatic. The win didn’t launch the ‘Moss magic’ — that was already well established even before his epic drive around Italy in the Mille Miglia in May of that same year — but the nation’s motor-racing hero was well on the way to becoming a household name.
like this — “In November 1974 a famous motor-racing personality appeared with and introduced a series of three concerts by a progressive rock group. Name the motor-racing personality and the rock group.”
Ever had one of those moments in time when you can barely believe that what is happening is for real? It’s September 22, 2008 — a Monday — and we’re in Mayfair. The invitation was for ‘around seven’, but having read of our host’s insistence on punctuality I had no intention of letting New Zealand down by being late to dinner with Sir Stirling Moss! We waited at the front door until the exact time, knocked, and were greeted by Lady Susie, who took us through the narrow lobby to the stairwell — beyond I spied the office with the deranged steering wheel on the wall that I assumed was off the Lotus from the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix crash.
As we arrived at the first floor we heard the unmistakeable sound of a human impersonating a reversing vehicle — ‘beep, beep’ and looked over to a spiral staircase where the great man himself was reversing down from the top level. He turned around and revealed that the reason why he was ‘reversing’ was the magnum of champagne he’d fetched to kick the party off. This was the Monday after the Goodwood Revival, where he was in such demand that even Susie barely had time to catch up with him. I’d been at the meeting, and saw the pressures he was under to jump from this car to that, pose for photographs, make presentations, and of course the inevitable bumping into old friends. Despite all of that, and being only a few days away from his 79th birthday, he was firing on all cylinders as we sipped the champagne.
We walked to a nearby Italian restaurant, and whereas I imagined a night talking about the Mille Miglia, Fangio, Vanwalls, Rob Walker etc, he seemed more interested in finding out how much my old Formula Ford cost to run, and telling us how much affection he has for New Zealand — “I tell you what boy, if I hadn’t settled here in England after retiring, I’d have quite happily gone to New Zealand — and I’m not just saying that, it’s in print.” And so it is. Susie mentioned some upcoming commitment requiring her husband’s presence to cut the ribbon on a new building. I sensed an opening and asked him, “What’s the most unusual event you’ve ever been paid to attend?” As quick as a flash he asked, “Have you ever heard of Jethro Tull?” My wife and I nodded — they were of my era, and nearly of hers. “Well,” he continued, “I received this invitation to introduce them at some place here in London where they were performing. I’d never heard of them, but assumed the manager must have got the wrong man, however, I was assured they wanted me, so I told them my