In timely fashion, amid these days of motor sport’s scandal and turmoil, one of my colleagues sent through a request from his editor for ‘top ten heroes’ to have graced the cockpit of a competition car. It’s always good to remember how there are always more heroes than villains at the heart of our passion for racing.
There will be a Top 100 heroes published in Motorsport News at Christmas time. Here are my ten submissions, based not only on their achievements but to what they’ve given the sport and my passion for it. After all, as has been proven, many people can win races, it’s how they do it that counts.
So here are my ten – have a think about yours and let the debate begin!
The greatest virtuoso of all? Most likely. Name any branch of the top-line sport and he excelled in it. If you want to define ‘cool’ then there is little to compare with Moss in a powder blue shirt flinging a Maserati round Monaco or a Vanwall through the narrow streets around Pescara. The cars he drove carry with them their own aura – whether a Mercedes-Benz, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Lotus or Ferrari – but their lustre was so often enriched by ‘the boy’.
2 Gilles Villeneuve
These days drivers do their utmost to avoid any thought of the people in the grandstands but Gilles was a fan and with that in mind he played to the crowd. It didn’t matter how many races went un-won because of his all-or-nothing style: here was a man so in love with the sport that he seduced millions.
For me the stand-out moment came while standing at Maggotts-Becketts in 1992 watching him attempt to qualify the repellent Ferrari F92A for the British Grand Prix. The car was trying so hard to harm him that he might as well have had a live cougar in the cockpit, but the commitment was absolute, the car control amazing and the bravado captivating.
Cleland was twice a British touring car champion on the track – and the man who took the series to the man on the street. Ever-ready with a quip, often at the expense of his rivals, yet equally someone who genuinely cared about the sport and those involved in making it happen.
Britain had only the ghost of Dick Seaman and silent movie reels of Sunbeams and Bentleys to call upon when Hawthorn arrived. When he left it was as Formula One world champion, with Vanwall as constructors’ champion. The huge grin, bow tie and the stories of havoc he would wreak in the pursuit of fun, remind us that if you’re going to do something – you should have a bloody good laugh while doing it.
In 1983 Eau Rouge was bumpy, sharp and dangerous – and Rosberg alone took it flat. Then there was that 160mph lap of Silverstone, which I witnessed as he flew over the Woodcote chicane, and followed up with astonishment of 1500bhp powerslides down Paddock Hill at Brands Hatch. In a word: fever.
During WW2, Hamilton flew a Supermarine Seafire which was bright blue with a lightning flash down the side. In peacetime the thunderbolts were all Hamilton’s own work, not least drowning hissorrows after being excluded from the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hours, then getting reinstated and having to regularly pit for brandy to stop the hangover putting him out of the race… which he famously won.
8 Stefan Bellof
On paper the Group C formula for sports car racing was an economy marathon for races of between 6 and 24 hours. But then came Bellof, and suddenly there were fireworks, the dull drone of a Porsche 956 became more urgent – and inspired others to follow his loony lead
9 Peter Collins
The pin-up boy of 1950s British motor sport was the sort of bloke who would be captain of the football team, pinch your girlfriend and copy your homework. In days when Enzo Ferrari treated most drivers like cattle, he was so overwhelmed by the talent and charm of Collins that he gave him a home at Maranello.
A lot of this vote is down to Stucki’s enduring commitment to the sport. On almost any given weekend you can guarantee he is racing somewhere, and loving it. From reaching Grand Prix status to living legend in sports cars he’s done it all, done it better than most – and much more fun.
More feature stories here