Sir Stirling Moss has insisted that Lewis Hamilton fully deserved to win the 2008 Formula 1 drivers' crown in the Brazilian Grand Prix at the weekend and that his title success will do wonders for the sport – irrespective of the 23-year-old having made history as the first-ever black world champion.
The British racing legend – arguably the best driver never to lift the ultimate prize himself, despite triumphing in no fewer than 16 grands prix over the course of his eleven-year career in the top flight from 1951 to 1961 – argues that not only did Hamilton merit the trophy the most, but that he will also be the most effective ambassador for F1, a role some have claimed his predecessors Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have not performed to the fullest of their capabilities over the past three seasons.
“Frankly, he's a racer, and what colour he is doesn't really matter,” Moss told BBC Radio Five Live
, in reference both to the McLaren-Mercedes star breaking the mould, and also the racist abuse directed at him by Spanish fans of former team-mate Fernando Alonso on two occasions this year.
“He drove to win the thing, he's an exciting man to watch and I think he's a tremendous ambassador for our sport. He does bring a whole new thing to the sport.
“The two important things he brings are one, the way he is, his demeanour, the way he dresses and the way he talks to people, and the other one is the way he races because he's exciting to watch.”
Moss' description of Hamilton's performance in Interlagos is right on the money, as the Stevenage-born ace did exactly what he needed to do and not an ounce more as he took the chequered flag fifth – and indeed in the very last laps it looked as if he had not done enough, as he toned down his habitually attacking driving style to such an extent that conservatism very nearly cost him the crown.
“I think it's amazing,” the 79-year-old acknowledged. “If you wrote a book with a finish like that, people would say it was ridiculous and it couldn't happen – but it did.
“If [Timo] Glock hadn't had that problem just before the end, he (Hamilton) certainly wouldn't have got it. I wasn't sure he'd won it, and I don't think he was either when he crossed the line.
“He's had a fantastic year and I think it was a wonderful race. I think it was right that [Felipe] Massa should win the race because I think he drove magnificently, and it was right that our boy Lewis should win the title, and he's got it. It was a staggering race.”
Still a keen observer of the sport today, Moss is confident his countryman's manner both on and off the circuit will stand him in good stead as F1 seeks to revitalise its image – tarred by the espionage row of 2007 and controversial application of penalties and Max Mosley sex scandal of 2008 – and attract a new audience as a raft of regulation changes see it head into the brave unknown next season.
“The three best drivers in the world today are certainly [Hamilton], [Fernando] Alonso and Massa,” the former British Grand Prix winner contended, “and let's hope that next year Alonso's car is a bit better and then we'll get the three of them having a go. I think we can look forward to a new year of fantastic racing.”