• Sir Stirling Moss

Let the mind games begin

Sir Stirling Moss November 5, 2010
Five drivers are still in the title chase ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix © Getty Images
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The championship is very delicately balanced heading into the final two rounds and the psychological approach of the top five drivers is becoming increasingly important. The title can be just as easily lost as won at this point, and the drivers' split-second decisions in Brazil and Abu Dhabi will be crucial.

Fernando Alonso is currently leading the championship and I have to say he appears to be very cool. He's won the title twice before, which is a big advantage, and if I was going to pick one of the top five drivers to defend the title going into the last couple of races, I'd pick him. It's now up to his rivals to put him off his stride and it will be very interesting to see how they attempt to do that and if they succeed.

I'm a racer, so personally I'd rather be chasing the championship than defending it. If you're chasing, it's always more acceptable to push the boundaries and go a bit quicker than you should, which suited my approach to racing. If you're leading you're told to keep your speed down and not to overdo it - that always seemed a bit boring to me.

But of course I never won the title; I finished second four times, lost by a couple of points one year and by one the next, all for different reasons. The closest I came was in 1958 when I entered the final grand prix in Morocco needing to win, secure the fastest lap and have Mike Hawthorn finish lower than second.

Sir Stirling Moss on his way to victory and the fastest lap at Morocco © Getty Images
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I went there knowing exactly what I needed to do and crossed the line with the win and the fastest lap, with Mike back in third. Of course Mike's Ferrari team-mate Phil Hill did the correct thing and let Mike through to take second, allowing him to win the title by a single point. Incidentally, there was never any ill feeling about that from either side, which should also be the case if Alonso wins the title for Ferrari this year.

I always approached each race as a single event and never arrived at a circuit thinking about the advantages of finishing second or third - it simply didn't cross my mind. Ultimately that may have been costly in terms of championships, but I found it to be the most enjoyable approach to racing and have no regrets.

Jenson Button says that he is still aiming to win this year and I have to say that I think he's doing the right thing. To just throw in the towel would be wrong and I don't see why he should support Hamilton unless it is mathematically impossible for him to win. This is the problem with having a world championship, the drivers are more interested in points than wins and it can ruin races. I think it would be quite wrong if Button turned around and said he hasn't got a chance anymore; I think he's doing the right thing, even though I can't see him winning the title.

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel are under the spotlight at Red Bull © Sutton Images
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A lot of the focus is on Red Bull at the moment, with both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel still in contention. Vettel is probably the fastest man in F1 right now and was terribly unlucky in South Korea when his engine failed. Webber's mistake surprised me because I'd have thought he'd have sufficient experience and knowledge to keep the car under control in the wet. The one thing that you've always got to do in those conditions is drive a fraction slower than you think you can, just to allow yourself a small margin for error.

Of course it creates a problem for Red Bull because Vettel is faster but Webber is in a better position to win the title. There are a lot of people saying they should introduce team orders to favour Webber somehow, but I think Christian Horner's hands are tied. There's not much he can do to favour one over the other, and he won't turn to either and say back off and let the other one past, he simply can't. So it's got to be left to the drivers to sort it out in the hope that they won't take each other out - which is of course a possibility.

It was also interesting to see the psychological games on track in Korea. I was impressed by Lewis Hamilton asking for the race to start when all the drivers around him were trying to delay it further. Of course they all had their motives, but I think Lewis was trying to send a wider message to the others.

Sir Stirling Moss always tried to keep a mental edge over his rivals © Getty Images
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People always thought that I liked driving in the wet but, while it may have suited my driving style, I didn't like wet races. I won a few serious races in bad conditions early in my career and I soon got known as a driver who liked wet races. Of course I did everything I could to maintain those rumours because it's a huge psychological advantage to have over your competitors. I'd go around saying that it's great because it keeps the tyres cool and all that sort of stuff, but it was all a show to try and get an advantage over my opponents for the next time it rained.

The other thing I used to do was give each driver that I overtook a wave or thumbs up, to show that I was enjoying myself while they weren't. We don't see those sorts of overt tactics anymore but the drivers can now use the media to get their point across and we've seen quite a lot of that lately. However, gaining a psychological advantage is something you build up to over time and it needs to be backed up by consistently good performances; it can't just be manufactured overnight.

Whether this year's title contenders come out on top mentally will become apparent over the next two races. What makes writing about this season so enjoyable is that it's still so open and these little nuances can make all the difference. I still haven't picked a definite winner in my mind, but that's just testimony to how exciting and unpredictable the title run in has been.

The Hammond meets Moss documentary is released on DVD on 6th November, available to purchase via the Stirling Moss website

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Sir Stirling Moss OBE - a British motor racing legend, recognised as one of the world's greatest racing drivers. He won an astonishing 212 of the 529 races he entered during his 15-year career, competing in just about every class of motor racing, including 16 Formula One races. His victory in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most famous races in F1 history. Stirling's vast experience comes from being a racer and from knowing those who compete in and run the sport now. He never shies away from commenting on all aspects of the sport he loves. Gallery of his career