Hans Herrmann: Interview on the 90th birthday

Hans Herrmann celebrates his 90th birthday
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W How are you?

Herrmann: I cannot complain. The hip pinches a bit. This is a souvenir of my Monte Carlo accident in 1955. I got an artificial hip joint many years ago. That worked out wonderfully. Unfortunately, I fell for it again later. It was bent and had to get out. There is now a piece of wire around the hipbone. It hurts a bit when I run for longer.

What are you most proud of?

Herrmann: That is very difficult to answer given almost 19 years of racing. Of course you are proud of every victory, but maybe the 1970 conclusion at Le Mans was the culmination. It was my last race and Porsche's first overall victory. That rounded off my career and was a wonderful farewell.

Was the resignation always planned like this?

The Le Mans victory in 1970 was probably the greatest motorsport triumph for Hans Herrmann.

Herrmann: In 1969 I lost a few meters to Jacky Ickx at Le Mans. In my time, very, very many racing drivers had fatal accidents. My sons were born at the same time. Of course, my wife insisted that I break up. Before each race, she gave the Porsche mechanics a piece of paper to remind me of her wish. At the Targa Florio I was once handed a note from my son. He was only four years old and couldn't actually write at all. Nevertheless, it said: Please dad, drive slowly. How is that supposed to work with a racing driver? Madelaine went to great lengths to get me off the running. It was very clear to me that I was in the yearWould stop in 1970. It doesn't matter how. I made the decision in early 1970. Nobody knew about it. Not my wife, and neither did Mrs Piëchnicht, who was my boss. Before leaving for Le Mans, my wife asked me: Hans, if you win there, will you quit? I spontaneously said yes. Now I've actually won and I've kept my word. I would have done it if I hadn't won. The problem was that I had an agreement with Porsche for the entire season. You can hardly say contract with two sides. Ms. Piëch didn't agree when I told her at the award ceremony that I had just driven my last race. She was really pissed off, and she was tough, like the son too. Ms. Porsche got it. She hugged me and just said; Thank God. I then made sure that Denis Hulme drives the remaining races for me. It was more than a substitute. After all, Hulme was world champion. The commercial councilor was satisfied.

Have you ever regretted your resignation?

Herrmann: It was clear to me : I stop. I never had a problem with that. But since then I've had to work. The decision was in my head. That's why everyone was amazed at how easily I took it.

How strongly did you believe in Le Mans victory?

Herrmann : You cannot plan Le Mans victories. My experience helped me there. And that I had a teammate in Dick Attwood who did what I told him to do. We didn't want to win the race in the first hour. The year before, Jacky Ickx had demonstrated that you can also win Le Mans if you walk to the car at the start and then back off. Attwood understood that we have to last 24 hours, not eleven. I drove at Le Mans 13 times, retired six times, and already had second and third places. After about 12 hours I had the feeling that it might work this time. It was an extremely difficult race. The rain has constantly changed its intensity. We didn't change the tires because of the wear and tear, but because it rained sometimes more, sometimes less. We constantly had to adapt to the situation. It was really dangerous. The track was wet to varying degrees, plus the large differences in speed between the individual cars. Up to 100 km /h on the straight. We drove 384 km /h on the straight in practice. Back then there was still no chicanery on the straight. For the race we downgraded the transmission to 350 km /h so that the car would last. You have to imagine this. The car was constantly moving, not staying in lane. You always had to hold the steering wheel lightly against it. There was nothing to do with resting.

Was the thought: This is my last race?

Herrmann: It's me Race fully driven. HalfRacing driver, that doesn't work. I already knew that I was very lucky. With so many friends you've lost, your thoughts are already there. I didn't want to strain fate any longer.

Were you prepared for life afterwards?

Herrmann: We wanted one Open the hotel in the Schlossstrasse in Stuttgart. We had bought a house in downtown Stuttgart and wanted to convert it into a guest house. It failed because of the parking lots. With so many rooms, we should have had a corresponding number of parking spaces. We couldn't. That was how it was done. Then my racing colleague Jaroslav Juhan called. He had brought the starting aid Snowgrip with him from Norway. We marketed them. Suddenly I was in the middle of work. I traveled across Germany and offered the system to every car dealer. Since I was really well known at the time, the doors were open to me everywhere. All the newspapers wrote about it. That was free advertising. Thanks to my name and my contacts, it was a complete success. This resulted in a car accessories business. With up to nine employees.

Were you not a trained pastry chef?

Herrmann: We had a coffee house in Stuttgart at home. So it was clear that I would take over the coffee house. That's why I had to do an apprenticeship as a pastry chef. But I just wanted to be a racing driver. After the career, it was no longer an issue. The auto accessories business was going too well.

How did you actually become a 26-year-old Mercedes factory driver?

Herrmann survived all crashes - here in 1959 on the Avus.

Herrmann: I started on Porsche. First as a private driver. Back then, they started with reliability drives. Today it is called a rally. To get an international license you needed a certain number of results in the top three at regional events. Mercedes rebuilt the racing team in 1953. Alfred Neubauer had already signed Fangio and Kling. For the third race there was an elimination at the Nürburgring between Gunther Bechem, Hans Klenk, Paul Frère and me. I am actuallya late riser. One morning at half past ten the phone rings and it's a Ms. Heinze's turn. Herr Neubauer wants to speak to you, she said. I stood almost at attention in bed. What is the great Mercedes race director calling me? He explained to me what it was all about and then asked me whether I could be at the Nürburgring two days later for test drives with two SLs. I was speechless and didn't say yes right away. Then Neubauer yelled into the phone: Yes, do you want to or don't you want to? Of course I did. We were told clearly: the fastest gets the third car. I was the fastest, although the others had more Nürburgring experience. Unfortunately, Hans Klenk had a very serious accident. After that he could only walk on crutches. Mercedes got him a job at Continental. He became head of racing there. I then drove my first Grand Prix in Reims in 1954. Unfortunately, I retired, but drove the fastest lap, which wasn't that often on my debut either. '

You had your first shock at Hockenheim?

Herrmann: When I was a Mercedes works driver, the test drives with the Formula 1 car started. In Hockenheim we drove the other race direction back then, and the track led right into the village. Kling and I carried out the test drives. My car was modified over and over again. Once the brake line was not properly fixed. The line broke in the cemetery curve, which was really called that. The 120 degree hot brake fluid has splashed on my foot. Because of the pain, I always had to take my foot off the brake pedal. When I got back on it, everything was lathered with oil, so I slipped. I was already flying towards the houses. Suddenly I see two girls on bicycles approaching from the right. Had I kept my track, I would have gotten her full. So I turned left onto a side street and brushed against one of them. There I crashed into the wall of the house and flew out of the car. We weren't buckled up. As I lie on the street with no shoes on, I notice that I am fainting., I just dragged myself through the open front door into the next apartment. After a minute, I woke up on a couch again. The first thing I see are heads overhead, staring at me in complete amazement. The Neubauer, the Kling, the engineers Uhlenhaut and Kosteletzky. I got off lightly with abrasions. I met the girls again in the hospital. They only had a small scratch.

How was your position at Mercedes?

Herrmann: I was the youngest on the team . There were only three identical cars in Reims. After that, mostly only two of a specification were ready. At the Nürburgring I had to drive the streamline, in Monza the monoposto, and a year later in Monaco the long wheelbase. The other way round would be betterbeen. But I never complained. I was glad that I was allowed to drive in the team. I knew I still had time.

How were your teammates?

Herrmann: The Fangio was an incredibly fine one Human. A man of honor in character. He helped me a lot, even though we could only communicate with our hands and feet because he only spoke Spanish. In Buenos Aires, for example, he showed me in a right-hand bend how he hooks the front wheel into the inside of the bend. You were much faster there. The bell didn't help me. He was the fine man who was a bit reserved about the young guy in the team. “

The accident in Monaco in 1955 destroyed everything?

Herrmann: The accident threw me off course. I've never been to Monte Carlo before. Fangio drove in front of me in practice and showed me the route. That's how he was. He didn't even talk about it. But when it was my turn I felt that he was giving me a little lesson. The accident was really nasty. I've paid for my inexperience. It was the last lesson in training. I felt that something was still going on. On the other hand, in the laps before I noticed that the right front wheel always locks slightly when braking into corners. Instead of going to the pits, I added another lap. And that was one round too many. In the fast left bend in front of the casino, the car simply drove straight into the wall. Actually, I was very lucky in the misfortune. The Mercedes submerged under the stone balustrade and got stuck just outside the cockpit. A little further and it would have cut my head off. Professor Danner said at the time that it was a miracle that I had even survived the delay. But I was already very well trained back then. In any case, I'm sitting in the wrecked car and want to get out. But it didn't work. Then I look down at myself and see that the right leg was on the left. You get scared. It could also have burned. The marshals then pulled me out. '

How difficult was the way back?

Reinhard Sebastian Vettel met his predecessor at the 2011 Race of Champions.

Herrmann: I put up with the accident well. Mentally too. I was in the university clinic in Munich with a Professor Kolle on the ward. He was actually from psychiatry, but also responsible for the department in which I was lying. He told me that in his life he had driven 385,714 kilometers without an accident. I was already thinking: How can a person remember something like that? He used needles to examine my injured leg for reactions almost every day. When I told my friends from Stuttgart about this, they had the idea that we should scare the doctor. We were still young, our heads full of nonsense. I should put on my helmet in bed, pick up a steering wheel, and make engine noises. I called it off at the last minute. Imagine if he had seen me like that. He would have put me in his psychiatry. The doctors were skeptical about my injuries. They said that running is no longer right. But my body was still young, the will strong. In 1955, two or three months after the accident, I asked Ferry Porsche to assign me to the hill climb. I was able to endure such short races again. I just wanted to find out whether I could drive fast again and brake on the last groove. I won the first hill climb straight away. It was stupid, of course, that Mercedes stopped Formula 1. So in 1956 I stood there without a car.

You still had a Porsche?

Herrmann: I joined Porsche and Driven a Mercedes and am now a brand ambassador for both companies. I think this is unique. On Saturday I drove sports car races for Porsche, on Sunday Formula 1 for Mercedes. That was an incredible change. Completely different driving behavior. Front engine, rear engine, light car, heavy car. Neubauer originally wanted to forbid me from doing that. I told him that I was on the floor at Ferry Porsche. I had a handshake deal with him. He then replied: Mr. Herrmann, then it won't work. I was devastated, of course. Two weeks later his secretary, Mrs. Heinze, was back on the line. Mr. Herrmann, can you come to us again. Neubauer then agreed that I should drive both.

But you still showed up at Grand Prix occasionally?

Herrmann: There were no Formula 1 cockpits in the works teams. A Senior Dei from Rome has used private Maserati. I drove it a few times from 1957 onwards. Then everything that was offered to me. Cooper, BRM, Porsche. It then went more towards sports cars and hill climbs. First on Porsche, later on Abarth and Borgward, because I had a row with the Hanstein from Porschehad. “

Couldn't you have been able to drive with Porsche in Formula 1 at the beginning of the 1960s?

Herrmann: Yes , but I would only have been the third wheel on the car behind Dan Gurney and Joakim Bonnier. That's why I concentrated more and more on sports car racing. In 1960 I won Sebring and the Targa Florio. With the Targa, knowledge of the route counted. We trained them for weeks. Over the years I've become a true Targa expert. Porsche once asked me if I could drive two cars. I was in good shape. I drove non-stop in this race. First the Bonnier car, then the Gendebien car. In between, I might have to wait half a lap for the other car to pit. I won with one car, and came third in the other. A poster was specially printed where the result was printed. And I was run in two cars.

Is there anything you regret?

Even at the age of 90, Hans Herrmann can still remember his active days well.

Herrmann: The 1955 Mille Miglia is the only race out of around 300 that still annoy me today. The Stirling Moss would normally never have won that if we hadn't been so unlucky. Mercedes had four cars at the start. All well prepared. Fangio and Kling drove alone, Moss and I with a passenger. With Moss, Denis Jenkinson was in the car, with me Hermann Eger, who actually looked after Fangio's car in Formula 1. It was clear to me that we had an advantage with the co-pilot because the co-drivers could ask us to take the corners if in doubt. I had already caught up with Fangio two hours, although he had started six minutes before us. Moss started like the fire brigade in keeping with his nature. But he also claimed the material. Maybe that's why he never became world champion. The Eger knew straight away: The way Moss starts, the brakes never stop. We just have to be on it. We were always together. The interval is between one and three minutes. Before reaching Rome, a stone fell under the gas pedal. That then got stuck. Somehow my hand is on the pedalcome and loosened the stone. That was investigated during a stopover in Rome. That's why we stood a little longer. A fitter tilted the bayonet catch while refueling. As long as the tank was full, no problem. When the tank level was low, there was an explosion at the Futa Pass, which tore the lid off. We would have easily won the race. At Moss, as expected, the brakes were flat. But from Bologna onwards he no longer had an opponent and could take it easy.

What memories do you have of the Porsche 917?

Herrmann: In the beginning the car was a cucumber. It only had a bomb engine. It went with us, not us with him. Gerhard Mitter said: this is not a car, this is an ulcer. That was terrible for Mr. Piëch. We tried everything. Suspension, damping, wheel position. It was only the aerodynamics to blame. The English brought us up on that. But then we put the car in such a way that it was unbeatable.

Was it possible to get rich in your time racing?

Herrmann: We had little money and a lot of risk. Today it's the other way around. I would be a racing driver again in a heartbeat. At Mercedes and Porsache, we made quite a decent income for the time. I won once for Porsche at the Avus on Saturday and in the main race on Sunday I came third for Mercedes. The total prize money was around 28,000 marks. Back then, a bread roll cost eight pfennigs. It was a lot of money for me. To get to the Avus, we had to drive there and back through the East Zone. And we had to state how much money we had with us. When I gave the 28,000 marks, they almost fell off my chair. I had to count the money in front of the customs officers. In their eyes I was the bad capitalist.

When was the last time you sat in the racing car?

Herrmann: That must have been in 2017. A few years ago I met Lewis Hamilton on one of these demo drives. We should trade cars. First I had to explain to him how my unsynchronized transmission works. We still had real steering wheels and gear levers. His steering wheel has 25 buttons. That's why I didn't drive his car either. What am I supposed to do with so many buttons?


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