LONDON (Reuters) – Stirling Moss, the British racing driver who ranked as an all-time Formula One great despite never winning the world championship, died on Sunday at the age of 90 after a long illness.
“He died as he lived, looking wonderful,” his wife Susie told the Daily Mail newspaper.
“He simply tired in the end and he just closed his beautiful eyes and that was that.”
A team mate at Mercedes to Argentine five-times world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, the Briton survived one of the deadliest eras of motorsport with 16 grand prix wins in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Four times a championship runner-up, and also third overall on three occasions, no other driver has won as many races without taking the title.
Moss was the first Briton to win his home grand prix, beating Fangio at Liverpool’s Aintree circuit for Mercedes in 1955, with his name becoming a byword for speed for a generation of fans.
He also won grands prix in Maserati, Vanwall, and Rob Walker-entered Cooper and Lotus cars.
News of his passing was mourned across the world of motorsport, with Formula One and Jean Todt, president of the governing FIA, hailing a ‘legend’ of the sport and ‘one of the true greats’.
“Today, the sporting world lost not only a true icon and a legend, but a gentleman. The team and the Mercedes Motorsport family have lost a dear friend. Sir Stirling, we’ll miss you,” said Mercedes.
“RIP Sir Stirling. A true legend and a wonderful person. To Scuderia Ferrari, he was a formidable opponent,” said the Italian team.
“A prodigious competitor, supremely talented racer, and consummate gentleman, he leaves an indelible mark of greatness on the history of international motorsport,” McLaren posted on Twitter.
But for his sense of sportsmanship, Moss could have been Britain’s first ever world champion in 1958 instead of Mike Hawthorn.
He lost the title by a single point that year after asking stewards to reinstate his disqualified compatriot at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
“I felt that it was quite wrong and I went and gave evidence on Mike’s behalf and said no way should he be disqualified,” Moss, who won four races that year to Hawthorn’s one, told Reuters in an interview at his home in 2009.
Moss ended his professional career after an accident at Goodwood in 1962 left him unconscious for a month and paralysed for six months.
Knighted Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss in 2000 for services to motor racing, the London-born dentist’s son retired from all forms of motor racing only in 2011 when he was 81.
He regarded the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix as his greatest Formula One race but the 1955 Mille Miglia, a sportscar race on Italian public roads, was as memorable.
He covered the last stage, some 83 miles from Cremona to Brescia, at an average speed of 165.1 miles per hour from a standing start.
Moss was taken ill in Singapore in late 2016 and spent 134 days in hospital battling a chest infection.
He also survived a three-storey plunge down a lift shaft at his London home in March 2010, breaking both ankles and four bones in his feet.
“A man that will never be replaced,” said Britain’s three-times world champion Jackie Stewart, 80. “Stirling Moss walked like a racing driver should walk, he talked like a racing driver, he looked like a racing driver.
“When Stirling Moss was driving racing cars, men were men. It really was a dangerous time.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by John Stonestreet and Pritha Sarkar