“Hans in Luck” turns 85.
A permanent seat for the guardian angel.
That’s what you would call a good eye: as Hans Herrmann exits the blind right-hand corner, he sees the closed railway crossing gate. The racing driver doesn’t hesitate, hits the top of his co-driver’s helmet to make sure that Herbert Linge also ducks his head – and then both barrel through at 160 km/h, clearing the bottom of the gate by mere millimetres. “Technically there should have been an official there waving a flag to warn us,” Herrmann recalls, but it doesn’t really sound resentful. The Swabian tells this anecdote, which took place during the 1954 Mille Miglia, as vividly as if it had just happened. “I was really lucky back then,” he says. Not just in this legendary Italian road race. The sportsman seemed to have a guardian angel next to him on other occasions as well. On 23 February 2013 “Hans in Luck”, as his friends have christened him, will turn 85 years old.
“Motor racing is my life,” says Hans Herrmann – he owes the fact that he didn’t lose his life to motor racing among other things to his wife.
A childhood dream comes true.
Hans Herrmann achieved fame as a works driver for Mercedes-Benz in 1954 and 1955 under legendary Alfred Neubauer, racing manager of the Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team. A childhood dream had come true: “Even as a little schoolboy I wanted to become a racing driver,” says the Stuttgart-born man, who grew up close to the Solitude racetrack.
But young Hans Herrmann first begins an apprenticeship as a pastry chef and acquires a café in Stuttgart after the end of the war – before he rediscovers his great passion in 1952 when he competes in the Hessian Winter Rally driving a private Porsche 356.
The young man demonstrates talent – his 1953 achievements include a class victory at the Mille Miglia – leading finally to his discovery by Alfred Neubauer. “The Big Guy,” as the charismatic racing manager is called on account of his girth, builds a team for the post-war return of Mercedes-Benz to Grand Prix racing in 1953. “As a young lad I was allowed to do a test run on the Nürburgring and apparently I impressed him,” says Herrmann. Neubauer at the time put it like this: “Herrmann is an absolute natural talent and a very tenacious driver.” The problem is: the junior driver has already re-signed with Porsche for the 1954 season with a handshake. Neubauer makes an exception and for a time the young junior driver is allowed to compete in several races in different cars on the same day – or even to switch from the Porsche 550 Spyder to the W 196 during a race. “Unthinkable these days,” says Herrmann with a laugh.
Fastest lap at the debut of the silver arrows.
It wasn’t the only time that the “fatherly, but strict” Neubauer turned a blind eye. “I wasn’t a highly disciplined person,” Hans Herrmann admits with a smile. In turn, he is content with his role as the third man behind the stars Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling – in 1955 Stirling Moss joins the team as well. “I was always the junior,” says Herrmann modestly. And he justifies the trust: at the debut of the new Silver Arrows at the 1954 French Grand Prix in Reims he records the fastest lap right away. He also finishes on the podium in the 1954 Swiss Grand Prix and at the 1954 Avus Race, both of which he finishes in third place. In 1955 he suffers serious injuries in an accident during practice in Monaco and spends weeks in hospital.
“I would have died had it not been for a doctor from Stuttgart, a specialist for heart and cardiovascular diseases, who happened to be in Monaco to watch the race,” Herrmann wrote later in his book “Ich habe überlebt” (“I survived”). His guardian angel is again in the right place at the right time.
Triumph in Le Mans, 1970.
Hans Herrmann celebrates the greatest triumph of his motor racing career with the victory in Le Mans in 1970 driving a Porsche, after Mercedes-Benz ended its involvement in motorsport back in 1955. The highlight at the same time represents the end: quit while you’re ahead, as the saying goes. The Swabian follows this advice and retires from active participation at the age of 42.
He remains loyal to motor racing and to the brand with the tree-pointed star: in his capacity as a brand ambassador of Mercedes-Benz Classic Herrmann still participates in many Classic events and takes the wheel of “his” historic racing cars.
“I watch every race.”
The motorsport legend also follows today’s Formula 1 passionately: “I watch every race on TV,” says Herrmann, who expects Lewis Hamilton’s move to the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula 1 racing team and his old buddy Niki Lauda’s involvement to give the team a “push”. “In the old days motor racing was an adventure,” Herrmann draws the comparison. He is still in contact with a lot of young drivers. Many of his colleagues from the ‘50s to the ‘70s have paid for the adventure with their lives. Even if motor racing is far less dangerous today, the pursuit of records and the search for success still captivates people. While Hans Herrmann no longer hunts for success, being idle still remains foreign to him: he can be found in the office of his Sindelfingen-based car accessories trading company – if his schedule allows.
A sign of fate?
Hans Herrmann probably owes the fact that he is able to celebrate his 85th birthday in good health and great spirit not least to his wife: “I was also very lucky in finding her. We’ve been married for more than 50 years. She often pleaded with me and admonished me to be careful,” the likable and disarmingly down-to-earth Swabian recounts. Before he departs for Le Mans in 1970 it is his wife who ultimately gets him to promise to retire from racing should he win. The good husband spontaneously says yes, based on a gut feeling. “Maybe a sign of fate”.
The rest is motor racing history: together with Richard “Dickie” Attwood Hans Herrmann is victorious and finally announces his retirement. After all, even a guardian angel should not be overworked.