“I’m glad I survived”
Exclusive interview with Hans-Joachim Stuck on his 70th birthday: About his career, Mick Schumacher and motorsport itself.
Mr Stuck, congratulations on your 70th birthday. 70 years of Hans-Joachim Stuck – what do you think of that?
Hans-Joachim Stuck (70): First of all, that I survived this. You just have to look at all the cars I drove in the 1970s and 1980s and how dangerous Formula 1 was back then. I was there in a few accidents – whether with Tom Pryce or Ronnie Peterson, Manfred Winkelhock or Stefan Bellof – I was always in the front row in the middle. So I’m glad that I survived, that I’m still healthy and fit and can enjoy life.
In all of these accidents, it was always a burden for me. But as soon as I was in the car and the engine started, everything was gone. That was also good because: If I had had these thoughts while driving, I would never have been able to perform. That was an important switch for me that I could always flip. What was really extreme: When Ronnie Peterson died in Monza in 1978. He was with me and my parents the previous Wednesday and we drove to Monza together from there. The accident happened on Sunday and my mother has never watched Formula 1 again since then. She couldn’t cope with the fact that he was with her on Wednesday. Although she was used to that from her husband, my father, and from me too.
I think the phase with the 962 Porsche was the most dangerous. In terms of aerodynamics, that was the maximum I’ve ever ridden. But you can see what happened to a Manfred Winkelhock, Jo Gartner and Stefan Bellof. You have to be aware of the danger. Above all, I drove most of the test kilometers in the car. In terms of the cornering speeds, that was pretty tough. But the worst accident was definitely at the Nürburgring in 2010, when I flew off on a damp track at the Schwedenkreuz (in the Audi R8 LMS; d. Editor). I hit it at 220 km / h and contracted an aneurysm that also had to be operated on. I was really lucky that I also had a very good surgeon. That was the most dangerous of the matter, it’s a matter of millimeters with this bleeding.
I can not say that. The Romain accident showed that there will never be 100 percent safety. There was also something wrong with the guardrails. His luck was that the halo was introduced and his head wasn’t cut off like it was with Helmut Koinigg, whose head slammed from the guardrail onto the rear wing right in front of me. That brings everyone back down to earth. That’s why I don’t understand why people complain about Lewis Hamilton’s salary. They risk their lives and any reward is right.
Let’s go over your successful career a bit. You came to racing through your father – one of the most successful German racing drivers, mountain king and GP winner in Italy in 1935.
I admired him very much. It’s a shame I never drove against him. Most of all, I learned from him to concentrate on the point. He set an example for me. I still accompanied him on hill climbs in the 1960s and he was always there for me. But half an hour before the race was his shutdown phase, he focused specifically on the race. What I also learned from him: Even if he failed or didn’t win, it was a setback for him – but also an incentive to do better next time. I took this positive attitude with me.
In Formula 1, you were the second son of a former F1 driver. Did that help or was there more pressure?
Papa knew all the people. Thanks to his good contacts and relationships, he has already been able to do a lot. That was important to me. The name has always helped me, at every opportunity. And it’s still the same today: I get a lot of fan mail and people aged 80 or older write to me who have found photos with my father. In my whole life it has always been an advantage to have the name Stuck. You could go anywhere, Argentina or anywhere else – everywhere they said he was a great guy and a good driver. I have always benefited from the name, from the successes, but also from my father’s demeanor. In the 1970s, many attractive women who were older than me came up to me and said: Ah, you are Hans’s son. He was always so nice. He probably got to know them all somewhere (laughs).
Back then it was not as important as it is today. That only came through the success of Michael Schumacher. In my time we were never the great heroes because a) we didn’t win anything. You have to be clear about that. And b) because we didn’t have any big sponsors either. Michael Schumacher touched all of this with his successes.
Although you had the chance to go to Williams in 1979, when the team was just becoming the world champions …
At the last race at Watkins Glen in 1978 I had a seat rehearsal with Frank Williams at half past twelve and everything would have been fine. I would have had to pre-qualify at every European Grand Prix, which I would of course have done, but it was just awkward. And with Günther Schmid, I was number one in the ATS team with just one car. I would have needed my father to make the right decision. But even if that was perhaps a mistake; i have no regrets in my life. What I was able to experience: I got to know royal families, I was in the spotlight and was successful, I also made good money. All the traveling we have made to other countries cannot be taken away from me.
And the 1970s are also considered the wild party time in Formula 1.
There was a lot going on there. We all flew there on the same plane to the overseas races. These flights were all legendary. Back from Japan in 1976 I sat further back and everyone was asleep. Then I switched 50 pairs of shoes from the back to the front and they couldn’t find the shoes at the airport (laughs).
1976 was the year of the Lauda accident, in which you helped a lot.
Niki was lying on the bar, was approachable, didn’t look too bad at all, was just a little red in the face. Then the ambulance was supposed to go to the hospital in the same direction, but it was just a mile away as the crow flies. So I convinced the driver to drive against the direction of travel because no one could come. They used to be able to pump their lungs there. So that wasn’t a bad thing. Afterwards, Niki also thanked me.
Certainly the first Le Mans victory (1986 in a Rothmans-Porsche; editor). If you’re a good racing driver, you definitely have to have won the Indy 500, the Monaco GP or Le Mans. And I succeeded in Le Mans. When I stood on the podium in the middle for the first time, I will never forget my life.
You never competed in the Indy 500.
I was close to that. When Porsche got into IndyCar in the 1980s, I could have helped develop the car, but I didn’t fit in there. The chance passed by.
Hans-Joachim Stuck in front of his DTM Audi
That’s why you won the DTM in 1990.
It was fiercely competitive, especially because we kept getting weights in the car. Finishing the year with the title was also a relief. That was incredibly emotional.
The DTM will switch to GT3 vehicles from 2021 – which was also your idea.
I’m a neighbor of Gerhard (Berger; d. Red.). We had a lot of conversations. I am now happy that this is picking up speed. I do think that it is going in the right direction because there is no GT3 sprint series anywhere in the world. I do think that we can offer people a good weekend and good sport – especially with the variety of brands.
You need a smart engine with a lot of power. A combination with a hybrid for overtaking would be cool, so that you no longer have to open and close the stupid wing (DRS; d. Red.). Then you should think about the regulations for tires and the costs. It cannot be that out of 20 cars only four can win. The field has to become more compact, that would be important.