Hans Herrmann, one of motorsport’s all-time characters, turns 84 years old today!
‘Herrmann the German’ competed in 19 World Championship Grands Prix between 1953 and 1961, peaking with a podium at the 1954 Swiss Grand Prix for Mercedes.
Between 1954 and 1955, Herrmann was part of the five-man Mercedes-Benz factory team alongside Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling, Hermann Lang and Stirling Moss. Very much the junior driver in the team, he was often confined to the older versions of the W196 car. Although he set the fastest lap at that year’s French GP (where the team took a dominant 1-2), he was forced to retire.
His is perhaps best known for surviving one of the most spectacular accidents at the 1959 German GP. Held at the daunting AVUS circuit, the brakes of his BRM failed and poor Hans was thrown from the car and slid along the track as his machine somersaulted through the air.
A baker and café proprietor by trade, he also competed in legendary road races such as the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and Carrera Panamericana.
At the 1954 Mille Miglia race, Herrmann and his co-driver were faced the the railroad crossing gates being lowered at the last moment to allow an express Rome-bound train to pass. It being too late to stop in time and driving a very lower Porsche 550 Spyder, Herrmann knocked back his navigator’s helmet, they both ducked, and passed below the boom gates by millimetres before the train came through, to the horror and amazement of the spectators (and no doubt to Herrmann)!
He switched to the World Sportscar Championship in 1966, and won the 1968 24 Hours of Daytona and Sebring 12 Hours in a Porsche 907 alongside fellow ex-F1 pilot Jo Siffert. The following year, he piloted a Porsche 908 and lost out on victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours by just 120 metres!
He would finally achieve overall victory the following year in a Porsche 917K (pictured above) with Richard Attwood, as the field was decimated by heavy rain. Having achieved his ambition to win Le Mans, he promptly and sensibly retired.
[Images via Quillp, Serious Wheels, The Cahier Archive]