Interview with Hubert Hahne

Hubert Hahne is a former racing driver who competed in five World Championship Grand Prix weekends between 1966 and 1970, all in Germany. Here, he talks to us about those experiences in this interview by our forum’s members conducted in 2006.

(The interview with Hubert Hahne was originally conducted in German and this has been translated into English)

PTRACER: Thank you Mr. Hahne for answering our questions. What are you up to these days? 
HH: Although officially ‘retired’, I still work practically full-time as a marketing consultant for engineering and automotive companies. Besides this I do still enjoy very much working as a journalist, best of all with my preferred ‘toys’ – Ferrari, Bugatti, AMG, or Yamaha R1, etc. Challenging professional tasks keep me mentally fit, whilst I try to keep my physical fitness with regular MTB and bike-racing. I currently write a regular column for EVO Italia, called ‘La macchina del tempo’ (time-travel) where I share the personal experiences I have had with Hill, Lauda, Ickx, Mass, Piech, Surtees, Brabham, Lamborghini, Rindt, etc. Unfortunately my work immensely restricts my free time. Today I lost even more time because I was trembling for Valentino Rossi and enjoying the suspense of the MotoGP, a sensation which unfortunately cannot be found in any other motor sport discipline today. On April 29/30, 2006, I was at the Jim Clark Revival Race in Hockenheim. It was the second time that this wonderful event took place with vintage and modern racing cars. Forty racing cars alone fought in the Orwell Super Sports Cup. Equally impressive were the relatively recent Ferrari F1 racing cars from 1972 – 2003. Original models driven by Lauda, Schumacher, Prost, Regazzoni, etc., which are deployed by the “F1 Clienti Team” from Maranello. There were even spectators who came from New Zealand.

It is nice to be approached in this manner, by people who are motorsport-minded like me, to reflect on my fascinating life as a racing driver. The really great thing about it is, the more questions I am asked, the more I remember. 

Hubert drove this Formula 2 BMW in the 1967 German Grand Prix

AaPee89: How did your opportunity to drive in the German GP ‘ 67 with the BMW-F2 arise?
HH: As a BMW works driver, I was sometimes ‘lent’ to other teams. But for the German GP I had to represent the white-and-blue colours. It was astonishing how well this little car could keep up. There were even places where, because of the lighter weight, we could challenge F1 cars. And of course, downhill.

AaPee89: Is it true that in the days before the race, your car was filmed driving around the circuit, in the famous video which now appears on the internet?
HH: In principle, that’s right. However, the recording was made on the Monday, after the race. Unfortunately, the car was an under-powered Formula VW, so it was not really at racing speeds. It was fun watching this footage for the first time afterwards. I purposely took extremely ‘angled’ lines into the curves. I probably wanted to simulate some sort of dynamic in my driving style.

Xen: On the Nordschleife’s yumps, were you leaving the foot off the accelerator pedal or just going pedal to the metal?
HH: Every driver takes his foot off the gas pedal when the car lifts off on the Nordschleife’ because: 1. the engine would over-rev and 2. the wheels cannot generate any grip whilst in the air. Rather, the driver will try to compensate the loss of time by shifting to a higher gear at other places. As soon as the ‘grip’ is back, you press your foot back hard on the gas pedal .

PMik: Since you have a first hand experience driving a 1960’s formula racer, I would like to ask which kind of car setups was commonly used in the era?
HH: Naturally each racing car was individually tuned. However, the influence of features such as suspension, shock absorbers, stabilizers, tyres and other aerodynamic devices was less precise compared with modern days racing. As a result the car handling was the more adventurous and exciting. Considerably more delicate however, was making the perfect choice of gear ratio. I spent many hours studying graphs showing the countless options, and as a result managed to adjust the gear-ratios to suit my driving style. For example, I preferred to have a relatively short ratio on the Nordschleife, meaning I could not drive full throttle on the long straights. This small time loss however did more than balance itself against the time I gained through the endless uphill sections. Or another example, for the twisty Hatzenbach, I chose a short 3rd gear, as opposed to my colleagues who preferred a long 2nd gear. Given that the training of my dynamic driving capabilities did not freeze since I last raced 1970 in Enna, Sicily, I find the advanced technical qualities of today’s racing cars brilliant. Having said that, whenever I have to drive my old racing cars to demo drives, I get a slight scare every time. Really, today I prefer to drive a Bugatti EB 110 rather than with my old BMW F2 on the Nordschleife.

BMW driver Gerhard Mitter was killed during practice at the Nürburgring in 1969

AaPee89: What was your expectation for the Germany GP’ 69, and also your reaction when knew that Mitter had died?
HH: It was the saddest experience I’ve ever had at the ‘Ring’. In 1999, I wrote an entire chapter about this event, published in Jörg-Thomas Födisch book ‘Der Nürburgring’. Gerhard was a very good friend of mine. I was following him during Saturday practice, keeping a gap of around 300m between us. Hence, he was constantly in my sight. We weaved through the slalom-type section of the ‘Hatzenbach’, and attacked the double right handers towards ‘Flugplatz’ (at 200km/h). The last curve leads over a hill, so Gerhard Mitter disappeared from my sight for a short time. Arriving at ‘Schwedenkreuz’, Gerhard’s BMW F2 should have become visible again, but he had disappeared. Instinctively, I said to myself: whoever goes off here, will not survive. Although I was myself on a qualifying lap, I slowed down at the boxes where I could only see sad faces. It was the brutal consequence, which all racing drivers were facing back then. Crashes in formula racing car were almost always fatal. Today’s racing cars are in contrast 100 times safer. Of course it was no comfort to us that Gerhard died because of a technical failure. It was in honour of the team members to not give up the following day.

Hahne failed to qualify the March for the 1970 German GP, citing major problems with chassis and engine development.

AaPee89: If possible, can you speak more about what happened in the March team after the German GP ’70? The car was apparently very bad and you found that it had been sabotaged…
HHThis is a very delicate question, which for today I will respond to in principle, but not in detail. The March 701 was in very bad shape indeed. At Hockenheim, the brakes failed after half a lap. Of course, after the first tests, I asked Max Mosley, the managing director of March, to bring this March F1 up to a technical standard which made it suitable for racing. After ignoring my request I had to exert some legal pressure on him before he began the revisions. I simply wanted the vehicle to become quite competitive. My proposition was only human: Ronnie Peterson should have achieved a lap of Silverstone which was a second slower than the factory March. It took many months until this condition was reached. Max never did cope with being in a losing position, for everyone knows, Max Mosley is an ambitious man and a lawyer.

mikes: Did you ever have a chance to drive at Indy as many formula 1 racers did in the 60s. Would you if you had the chance? I know certain American drivers (A.J. Foyt) tried to give the guys from Europe a hard time, I thought that was ridiculous as most were more than competitive:- Clark, Hill, Brabham, Hulme, Stewart to name a few. What are your thoughts about this?
HH: I had a look at the Indy circuit and decided soon after that I’d never race there. This may sound harsh towards all Indy fans, but you must understand: I am a ‘son of the Nürburgring’. The Ring is at another level. Jackie Stewart called it the ‘Green Hell’. The Nürburgring is a 22,8 km long hilly, country road with 170 curves. On this circuit, aside from the straights, you are constantly under stress, more so because the driver not only has to fight against his nearest competitor, but also against his own car. I compare Indy a little with Nardo, in Italy. I drove there not long ago with a DAUER-Porsche 962. Driving at 370 km/h requires huge concentration, but it is far from the driving experience that the Nürburgring procures. The second most beautiful (and most difficult) circuit for me was Spa-Francorchamps. You would reach a top speed of 320 km/h in the British Ford P68 and lap at an average speed of 235 km/h.

Hahne with wife and German actress Diana Körner

flyinsii: Have you ever been to the Festival of Speed and if so what was it like seeing some of the cars from your era out in all their glory once more?
HH: I drove there in my very first works BMW, the 700 Sport Coupe. Of course I drove the 1800 TI as well as the Elva BMW Sport Car, but it was not my ex-race car though. The Lola-BMW which I drove in some Hill-Climb races, does not exist anymore.

Roy: Which race sticks in your mind …forever?
HH: A very beautiful, almost romantic question. I do not need to think too long about the answer on this one; there are three. My very first race, back in 1960 at the Nürburgring Südschleife, in a Fiat 1500 OSCA Pininfarina Spider, with which I beat the entire pack of Porsche-Super-90, in the most beautiful rainy weather.
The first Formula 2 race, on the same track, where I started from last place and finished fourth. And… of course, my very last race in Enna, Sicily, on 2nd August 1970, without knowing beforehand that it would actually be my last race. It is surprising, how much I have read about why I did suddenly end my racing career there. Of course, for the tabloid press, it was for a woman. But, even without this very attractive woman at the time, Diana, I would like to say that no woman, no matter how beautiful, can ever stop a thoroughbred like me from racing. There was more than that going on at the time, but that is another long story, but it was a based on a spontaneous decision.