- April 06, 1909
- October 19, 1987
- Not Active
Hermann Lang was a German racing driver, one of the world's best racers in a period before the World War II. He was the one of the original Mercedes Silver Arrows drivers and his most notable results in a pre-war period were few Grand Prix wins and the complete dominance during the 1939 championship, which was stopped by war. After the war, Lang won the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans and participated in two races of the Formula One championship.
At the age 14 Hermann became a mechanic
Hermann Lang was born on April 6th, 1909, in Cannstatt district of Stuttgart, Germany. His father died when Herman was 14 years old, so he left the school and started working as a motorcycle mechanic to help support his family. His work became passion, and at some point he bought a motorcycle and started racing. He entered the competition in the sidecar motorcycle class, and after couple of years he became the German sidecar mountain race champion in 1931, thus showing his incredible talent for racing in general.
The economic crisis that gripped Europe during the early thirties saw Lang unemployed in 1932. The moment which changed his life and determined his future was when he get a job at the Mercedes factory as a mechanic. He was working at the Experimental Department when Mercedes started to develop the original Silver Arrow racing car – the W25.
Young Hermann tested the Fagioli's car
Lang was a part of the crew of the Italian racing star Luigi Fagioli, who moved from Alfa Romeo to Mercedes. During the tests at Monza Lang got an opportunity to drive the race car and Lang's boss Jakob Krauss recognized Lang from the motorcycle races and decided to help young Hermann, so he was promoted as a test driver for production cars.
Krauss also gave an opportunity to Lang to participate in racing trials and he became the reserve driver of the Mercedes Grand Prix team, in addition to his duties as a mechanic. Lang's racing career was launched in 1935 when he participated in few races, driving the Mercedes-Benz W25.
Grand Prix debut in 1935
In that time, the main competition was the AIACR European Championship. The 1935 championship season consisted of five events but there were about 40 non-championship races during the year. However, Lang participated in three championship races and finished ninth overall. His best result was sixth place in the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten. He also took fifth place at a non-championship race ADAC Eifelrennen at Nürburgring.
Ferdinand Porsche asked Lang to join Auto-Union
Besides aforementioned Luigi Fagioli, the Mercedes' stars were Rudolf Caracciola and Manfred von Brauchitsch. They were old school drivers who didn't involve themselves in the mechanical works, so they didn't like that some mechanic became the racing driver in their team.
On the other side, Lang was a great mechanic and he learned fast as a racing driver. His potential grew with every race. In 1936, he participated in two races of the European Championship and finished 4th at Swiss Grand Prix.
Ferdinand Porsche saw the Lang's potential and asked him to join the Auto Union but Lang refused. His loyalty to Mercedes was awarded with a new contract and he became the full-time driver in 1937. Mercedes had two teams, one made of superstars Caracciola and Von Brauchitsch and second was a junior squad with Hermann Lang and Englishman Dick Seaman.
Maiden Grand Prix victory at the fastest track in Tripoli
On May 9th, Lang achieved his first victory at the non-championship Tripoli Grand Prix at Mellaha circuit, which was the fastest of all track at the time. Lang was driving the monstrous Mercedes-Benz W125, which had 5.6L 8-cylinder engine with nearly 650 bhp.
Such power needed a great car to handle it, and Lang almost had an accident at the AVUS circuit when the team prepared some streamlined cars with covered wheels. At the speed of nearly 400 km/h Lang's car almost flew off. Returning to the pits Lang convinced the team to remove the wheel covers for the race. They did so and he won the race.
Dangerous crash and killed spectators in Brno
1937 championship season started in July with the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, where Lang finished third. He participated in three more races and finished second in Bremgarten (Switzerland) and Livorno (Italy). In the championship standings, he was third behind teammates Caracciola and Von Brauchitsch.
In September, Lang survived his only bad crash in a career when he slid on gravel and flipped his car during the race at Brno circuit. Lang was thrown out of a car and he was lucky to escape death with with some cuts. Unfortunately, two spectators were killed when the Lang's car landed.
More success in the non-championship races
In 1938, when the W125 was replaced by W154, results were similar as a year before. Caracciola again won the championship, Von Brauchitsch was runner-up and Lang finished third. In four championship races, Lang's best result was third place at the French Grand Prix at Reims-Gueux circuit. He was much more successful in the non-championship races, winning again at the Tripoli Grand Prix and adding the victory at the Coppa Ciano in Italy. He was second at Donington and Grand Prix de Pau.
Hermann Lang was always considered as a second-class driver compared to wealthy aristocrats in Mercedes' and other teams, but he was a working-class hero and popular among racing fans. His talent and hard work brought him to the top in 1939. He was the winner in five of eight Grand Prix races he started, including two championship races.
The war stopped Lang's best season
Two weeks after the final championship event, the World War II started and the championship winner was never officially announced. Although he was a dominant driver during the year, Lang was second in the championship standings, according to an old points system, behind Auto-Union's Hermann Paul Müller. Nazi' Germany motorsports association declared Hermann Lang the champion, using the new points system.
1939 championship controversy
However, the 1939 championship controversy was never resolved and Hermann Lang was remembered as one of two last Grand Prix champions in the pre-war era.
Seven years later, after the war ended, Lang returned to racing with BMW and won the first post-war race in Germany held at Ruhestein. In 1949, Lang competed in the Formula Two, driving BMW-powered Veritas RS. He joined Mercedes Grand Prix team again in 1951, competing with W154 in some races in Argentina and scoring two podiums.
Lang and Riess won at Le Mans
In 1952, Lang switched to Mercedes 300SL and participated in some famous races around the world. He retired at the Mille Miglia because of accident and finished second at the Carrera Panamericana. He was also the winner of the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring but his biggest victory was achieved at Le Mans. Lang partnered woth Fritz Riess in the #21 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W194) and they triumphed with one lap advantage ahead of #20 sister car, driven by Theo Helfrich and Helmut Niedermayr.
In 1953, 44-year-old Lang debuted in the Formula One. He replaced injured Maserati driver at the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten circuit. Lang was driving Maserati A6GCM and he finished fifth, three laps behind the winner Alberto Ascari.
The last career's race at Nürburgring
In 1954, Daimler-Benz entered Formula One championship with Mercedes-Benz W196 and Lang joined the team. His teammates were Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling and Hans Herrmann. Hermann Lang participated in just one race, at German Grand Prix at Nürburgring Nordschleife. Lang qualified as 13th but he spun during the race and retired after ten laps.
Lang wrote the autobiographic book in 1953
At the age 45, Lang officially retired from racing. The part of his career was described in the autobiographic book 'The Grand Prix driver', which he published in 1953. The foreword was written by the famous Mercedes team manager Alfred Neubauer.
Leaving racing, Lang returned to his job in the Mercedes factory. In subsequent years, he worked as an inspector in the Mercedes-Benz field organisation, never talked too much about his racing life. He participated in some historic events driving Mercedes Silver Arrows, even at the age 77. Lang died in Bad Cannstatt on October 19th, 1987.
Video: Hermann Lang visited Nurburgring in 1962 with W125