Formula 1 | 1958: Sir Stirling Moss, the not quite uncrowned champion?

In 2021, Max Verstappen was crowned in the drivers’ classification, but it was Mercedes who won in the constructors’ classification. In the history of F1, it is only the 11th time that such a separation of winners, between drivers and constructors, has occurred, since the creation of the first constructors’ championship in 1958, won by Vanwall.

If the drivers’ title is the most prestigious (according to Christian Horner), the constructors’ title is nevertheless the one that brings in the most money. Naturally, this very minority phenomenon (17% of championships) augurs well-contested seasons, where the titles are played for little – when they do not depend on improbable events or even dramas. Overview of a few seasons…

1958, a season of knights and dramas

If the first F1 championship in history took place in 1950, and was awarded to Farina, it was not until 1958 that the constructors’ championship was created. Ferrari came close to winning this title, but yet it was another team, British, who won. From the first season, a dissociation between driver and titled team took place.

However, nothing got off to an ideal start for Vanwall: to protest against a start to the season deemed too early (in January, enough to give the FOM ideas!) the British teams, including Vanwall, boycotted the inaugural Grand Prix in Argentina.

However Vanwall had assets to put forward: not only was the car much more competitive this year, although unreliable, but Vanwall also had in its ranks a magic trio of Tony Brooks, Stuart Lewis-Evans and above all Stirling Moss.

The Briton had just finished three times vice-world champion, behind Fangio. But the Argentinian monument was half removed from the circuits, leaving doubts about its future: the opportunity was golden for Moss to obtain a first crown so deserved.

But opposite, there was the Ferrari armada: Mike Hawthorn – Peter Collins – Luigi Musso (plus the joker Wolfgang von Trips).

The season could be summarized as follows: Moss had a string of victories, four in total, but suffered from poor reliability; while Hawthorn, despite a single victory, collected the intermediate points dear to Enzo Ferrari, ensuring a good regular harvest.

At the Portuguese Grand Prix, the title could have changed for Moss. Hawthorn indeed, 2nd, was on the verge of disqualification by the marshals, who considered that he had restarted the race illegally after a spin and a stalled engine (he had rolled in the wrong direction, taking advantage of the height difference, and he had also been pushed by spectators).

However Hawthorn was saved in extremis by… Moss in person. As chivalrous and gentlemanly as possible, even for the time, Moss pointed out to the marshals that Hawthorn had restarted from the loophole, which made the maneuver legal – moreover Moss himself had advised Hawthorn to restart like this.

During this same Grand Prix, Hawthorn had set the lap record, which was worth, as today, one point; Vanwall warned Moss by signposting (« Hawthorn REC »), but Moss read « Hawthorn REG », and in fact, did not accelerate.

But the Ferrari driver was titled for one unit at the last Grand Prix.

« Everything was very confusing then » remembered the late Moss a decade ago. “We had to work with interpreters. Eyewitnesses were called to give their view of things. But the point I wanted to make in front of the judges was that, in my opinion, Hawthorn did nothing wrong. The spectators had tried to help him without realizing that they were breaking a rule. They assumed the loophole he took wasn’t part of the main track, so it was OK, on ​​their end, to push the car. »

“Yes it cost me a league title, yes. So what [So what] ? What I wanted then was respect between the pilots. Of course, that couldn’t happen today. But me, I haven’t changed, in the same situation, my instinct would be to do exactly the same thing. It was the right thing to do. But F1 has changed, my team would never allow me to do something that costs the team points. Today, there is too much money at stake.”

Moss, the champion with crown?

Once again, Moss, by his chivalrous gesture, and by this misunderstanding, saw a title escape. Or not quite…

Because in the constructors’ classification, it was indeed Vanwall who won the title, 8 points ahead of Ferrari (Cooper finishing 3rd, BRM 4th).

The consistency of Tony Brooks, 3rd in the driver standings, allowed Vanwall to also make the difference. However Ferrari also and above all had to suffer the terrible loss of Peter Collins and Luigi Musso; Stuart Lewis-Evans will also die at Vanwall. Collapsed by these dramas, Hawthorn decided not to defend his world title the following year.

Thus the 1958 season, from the first awarding of the constructors’ title, saw a driver-team dissociation. This was of course linked to the tight nature of the Vanwall/Ferrari duel; but also to the terrible dramas of the period.

Ultimately, should we finally continue to call Stirling Moss “champion without a crown”? Isn’t the title in a British team – he who had always refused to run for an Italian team, out of patriotism – also his? Moss may be a champion without an individual crown, but his most beautiful coronation may have been collective.

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