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 aged 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 and was admired by generations as ‘Mr Motor Racing’.
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’.
“Sir Stirling was a larger-than-life figure in our sport and one of the survivors of an age when motor racing was about danger, bravery and camaraderie,” said Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff.
“But most of all, Stirling’s career was characterised by an impeccable sportsmanship and in this he truly set himself apart... it is no exaggeration to say that we will never see his like again.”
Ferrari hailed “a true legend and a wonderful person” and added: “To Scuderia Ferrari, he was a formidable opponent.”
But for his sense of sportsmanship, Moss could have been Britain’s first 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.”
Fellow British world champions Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton also paid tribute.
“No-one ever regarded Moss as anything less than one of the greats,” said Hill, whose double world champion father Graham also raced in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
“He launched all the other careers of British racing drivers who went on to become world champions of which he was sadly denied.”
Hamilton, now a six times world champion and the most successful British racer of all time, became close to Moss after his own move to Mercedes.
“Two people from massively different times and backgrounds but we clicked and ultimately found that the love for racing we both shared made us comrades,” he said on Instagram. “I am truly grateful to have had these special moments with him.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by John Stonestreet/Pritha Sarkar/Ken Ferris