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Sir Stirling Moss remembered at Westminster Abbey memorial

Racing hero honoured with packed memorial service

A memorial service for Sir Stirling Moss OBE has taken place today at Westminster Abbey. Having passed away in 2020, when public gatherings were not permitted, the service marked a chance to pay public tribute to the motorsport legend. Westminster Abbey was filled to capacity, with no seats left empty and an estimated 2000 attendees.

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Though poignant, the service was very much a celebration of Moss’s life and legacy rather than a purely solemn occasion. Tributes were paid by journalist Simon Taylor, three-time F1 world champion Sir Jackie Stewart and Moss’s son, Stirling Elliot Moss, who led the organisation of the event. Speaking in a personal tribute during the service, Sir Jackie Stewart emphasised that a gathering of this size, in such a setting, has not been seen before in motorsport. 

Attendees included F1 champions Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill (who carried Moss’s Monaco trophy at the start of the ceremony, which was received by the Dean of Westminster Abbey and displayed together with Moss’s British Racing Drivers’ Club Gold Stars and trademark white crash helmet). Oscar Fangio, son of Moss’s Mercedes-Benz team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio, who Moss often named as his own driving hero, was also in attendance.

Moss’s sheer versatility, and passion for driving any form of car (though preferably British, if possible) in any form of event was also acknowledged. In his tribute, Simon Taylor emphasised that Moss won 219 professional races from 529 starts, a win rate of nearly 40 per cent, in machinery and disciplines wide and varied. In Formula 1, he frequently drove cars which were underpowered against mighty opposition (indeed, he holds the record for the lowest-powered car to win a world championship Grand Prix). He won Grands Prix in more marques of car than any other driver and, infamously, won more championship races than any other driver without taking the title. (Even though, Stirling Elliot Moss notes, given the increased number of rounds in today’s championship season, it would take a driver less than three seasons to race in as many Grands Prix as Sir Stirling did in his entire career.)

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Famously Enzo Ferrari offered Moss a works Ferrari seat, which he declined in favour of racing for the privateer Rob Walker team: ‘If he had put reason before passion, he would have been world champion many times,’ Ferrari was quoted as saying. Moss famously came within one point of winning the 1958 F1 World Championship, ultimately won by Mike Hawthorn – Moss having advocated for Hawthorn to have seven points reinstated following a disqualification.

Despite his racing successes, the service’s emphasis was very much on Moss the man as much as Moss the driver: his sense of sportsmanship, his modesty and his charisma. 

A household name six decades after his professional career ended (prematurely, as a result of a life-threatening accident at Goodwood in 1962). And passion before reason; of wins over championships, and sporting fair play over victory at any cost – was clearly the mark of the man.

Stirling Elliot Moss read an extract from a personal letter from his father:

‘The Stars, to me, symbolise all I ever wanted to achieve. Look at the Stars, my son, and know you can do it too. They will be different Stars for something quite different but just as important and precious – to us both – as mine. But take time out, also to consider the helmet and be reminded that everything worth achieving comes at a cost. If you are lucky, you might never get the bill. But don’t bank on it. Before you start, be sure you are willing to pay the price. I was, and I did, and I have no regrets.’

Cars from Moss’s career were on display outside Westminster Abbey, including the Ferrari 250 GT SWB in which he won the 1960 Tourist Trophy (reputedly while listening to commentary on the car’s radio – it was a road-spec car…); the Mercedes 300 SLR no.722 in which he won the 1955 Mille Miglia road race at an average speed of 98mph over 1000 miles; and the privately entered Lotus 18 in which he won the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix against the works Ferraris (which Moss considered his greatest win). 

The Mercedes 300 SLR will remain on display at the Royal Automobile Club in London for one week following the ceremony.

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