Stirling was capable of such other-worldly feats in anything he drove: single-seaters, sports cars or saloons. With the engine in front or behind, two-wheel-drive or four. On circuits, on rally stages or on the salt flats or Bonneville. He had God-given talent to match the very greatest natural drivers and combined it with a fierce professionalism and will to win which made him almost unbeatable.
During those four seasons 1958-61, if he didn’t win it was generally because the car had let him down. It all came to an end far too soon against the bank here at St Mary’s on Easter Monday 1962. Stirling was only 32 and, as a driver, was in his absolute pomp. He had bounced back from injuries before and expected to do the same again but this time it was different.
When he first tested his post-crash abilities, fittingly here at Goodwood in a Lotus XIX, he identified a deficit. No longer could he simultaneously corner his car, scan his instruments and mirrors, assess the situation and wave to a friend or to a pretty girl spectator he spotted in the crowd. His special instinctive advantage, his preternatural skills, had been diminished.
So, he opted to retire rather than be less than the absolute best – and this he would later regret. ‘I tried too soon,’ he’d say. ‘I should have waited another two or three years to recover – I would still have been young enough.’ And, indeed, he would.
But unlike other retired drivers, Stirling never disappeared from the public consciousness. Just as he was the first truly professional racing driver, so he transformed himself into the first professional retired racing driver.
In fact, his profile in retirement seemed if anything even higher than it had been when he was at the pinnacle of his chosen sport. Team management, product endorsement, media roles, appearances in TV and film, the voice of Roary the Racing Car – so loved is he by fans the world over that he has enjoyed a hugely successful career for nearly 60 years just being Stirling Moss.
For decades after his retirement, if you were pulled over by a policeman, chances are they would utter the immortal line: ‘And who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?’ It happened to Stirling himself, apparently, on many occasions.