October 19, 1987 – A controversial Grand Prix winner dies

German racer Hermann Lang was a promising 30 year old Mercedes driver in 1939 when World War II broke out as Germany invaded Poland, an event that may have handed him a championship trophy. The hostile action took place just two weeks after the 1939 AIACR European Drivers’ Championship held its final event of the season in Switzerland. Due to the outbreak of war, the AIACR never had the chance to officially name the winner, a title that is still disputed because that season began without a clear points distribution system in place. The old points system, which was well known at the time, was to be replaced by the French maximum points system, a relative of the current Grand Prix scoring method.  

Lang, who died at age 78 on this day in 1987, was named the the season winner by the president of Nazi Germany’s highest motorsports organization because he obtained the most points under the new system. Herman Paul Muller, another German, would have been crowned victorious if the old system had been used for calculating the winner. The AIACR never spoke out on the topic.

The Mercedes-Benz team at the German Grand Prix on July 24, 1938. From left: Manfred von Brauchitsch, director Alfred Neubauer, Richard Seaman, Hermann Lang and Rudolf Caracciola.

The war likely stunted a prosperous racing career for Lang. Once Hitler had been defeated he headed back to the track, but never quite found the prewar success he experienced. His biggest achievement in the years following WWII was winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1952 with teammate Fritz Reiss behind the wheel of a Mercedes W194, the precursor to the 300SL. The 1954 German Grand Prix at Nurburgring would be his final race. After spinning out after just10 laps he walked away from the track for good.

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