Continental Notes, February 1940

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At the time of writing these notes, I have not yet got to the bottom of the mystery of Hermann Lang. You know, of course, that there are rumours that he died in Vienna soon after the beginning of the war. In normal times it would be easy to check up on this story, but nowadays correspondence with people inside Germany is a complicated matter, only to be carried out by devious routes and methods, and ever subject to the exigencies of censorship.

I had hoped to have obtained some definite proof or contradiction of the report before having to deliver this “copy” for the February issue of MOTOR SPORT, but I have waited on the post in vain. All we can do, then, is to speculate as to the possibility of the rumour being true, and the circumstances in which Lang could have died.

If you refer to the November issue of this journal, you will see that I wrote on this page: “. . . . both the Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union teams actually took part in a Grand Prix at Bucharest on Sunday, September 3rd, the day Britain declared war on Germany. The race was won by Nuvolari, with Muller second and Von Brauchitsch third, and I understand that Hermann Lang crashed when leading. Whether he was badly hurt or not I do not know, as news is rather hard to come by these days, especially from foreign sources.”

That seems horribly ominous, doesn’t it? It is possible, of course, that someone heard that he was seriously injured, even “not expected to live,” and that he recovered after all, but I am afraid that that is taking an optimistic view. It certainly looks as though poor Lang must have been very badly hurt, taken to Vienna as the nearest big German city—perhaps to be under the care of a specialist residing there—and that he succumbed to his injuries. It is to be hoped most fervently that the whole thing is untrue, because Lang was a most likeable man in addition to being a driver of genius. There was nothing of the showman or braggart about him, indeed, he was modest to the point of shyness. His retiring disposition made him prefer the smaller and less frequented restaurants and cafes in the towns where big motor races were being held, and he did not appear to mix even with the other members of the Mercedes team. Some people said this was because he was acutely conscious of the fact that he had “risen from the ranks,” for he started by being a mechanician in the Mercedes factory, was put in the racing department, and showed such promising form in testing and warming up the racing cars that he was given a place in the team. He lived very happily with his wife in a little villa on the outskirts of Stuttgart.

You will notice that all this has been written in the past tense, as though it has been definitely-established that he is dead. I hope it will prove to be an appreciation of a living sportsman instead of an obituary. As to his driving, he was probably capable of getting a car round a road circuit quicker than anyone else alive, though I admit that this is necessarily more of an opinion than a statement of fact. My reason for saying this is that he was the equal of Nuvolari, and frequently beat him, but again I must admit that the relative speeds of their cars must be taken into consideration. He sometimes gave one the impression of being fairly ruthless as far as the machinery under his control was concerned, which was unusual in a man who was a mechanic as well as a driver. Against this is the undisputable success of his career, crowned by his long list of victories last year. Perhaps he just extracted the utmost from his car and depended upon it not to let him down. This was rather like the theory, I believe, held by Segrave, who said that the perfect racing-car should break down immediately after crossing the line, having been developed to the highest possible pitch consistent with the length of the race, and driven to the limit of its capabilities.

Well, we shall have to wait and see. Nothing would gratify me more than to find that Dame Rumour has turned out to be the lying jade she is commonly reputed to be (or am I thinking of Dame Fortune being fickle?).

The International Calendar has now appeared, and a pathetic little list of races it is, to be sure. It starts with the Targa Florio in Sicily on April 7th, which will once more be confined to 1,500 c.c. cars. On the 28th of the same month comes the Grand Prix de Brescia, which is our old friend the Mille Miglia over a shorter course which will have to be completed many times before the winner records the scheduled thousand miles. The next item on the calendar is not a motor-race at all, but the International North African Rally organised by the Italians. This will take place between May 5th and 11th, and the day after the finish will be held the Tripoli Grand Prix for 1½-litre cars. What a pity it is that the Vee-Eight Mercedes-Benz will not be there to show us whether they can repeat their miraculous success of last year.

Then the scene will switch to America, where the International Sweepstakes will be held at Indianapolis under the International Formula. You will remember that an American owned and driven Maserati won last year, and it will be interesting to see whether an American machine will be able to reverse this decision. The Balkan Rally in Greece on June 2nd will be followed by the Parma-Poggio di Berceto for sports-cars in Italy, on June 9th. On the 23rd of that month the Princess of Piedmont Cup will be contested in the Grand Prix of Naples for 1,500 c.c. cars. The only event in July is the Stelvio hill-climb, for sports-cars only, which has been a purely Italian affair for several years, and on August 4th the Coppa Ciano will be held, presumably at Leghorn. The Targa Abruzzo for sports-cars will take place at Pescara on August 15th, followed by the Coppa Acerbo for Formula and 1,500 c.c. cars on the same circuit on August 18th. The month closes with a sports-car event, the Circuit of Carnaro.

On September 8th, will be the big day at Monza, where the Italian Grand Prix for Formula cars and the Milan Grand Prix for 1½-litres will take place on the same day. On September 29th, there is a surprise item in the revival of the Spanish Grand Prix, either at Barcelona or San Sebastian, and the list closes with the Feleac hill-climb in Roumania for cars of all categories.

It is not so long ago that the thought of motor-racing being held again in Spain was remote in the extreme. I hope that our similar thoughts in regard to motor-racing in Britain, France and Germany will be equally disproved, and as quickly.