Herbert Linge swears by safety on and off the track

The founder of the O.N.S. celebrates his 90th birthday

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Herbert Linge sits leisurely on a work bench in his garage in his hometown of Weissach, his elbows casually resting on the old wooden bench, as if outside a car window. He tells about his eventful life as a race car driver and the establishment of the O.N.S. rescue team, which marked the beginning of thinking about safety in motorsports. His eyes gleam, as if he had just recently retired. He wears a short-sleeved shirt, as if he has to do some quick maintenance work on an O.N.S. rescue car, and his voice is clear and strong. On June 11, Herbert Linge will turn 90, an age that only few race car drivers of from that era have reached. But safety in motorsports has always been important to him.

Was there a moment, a very specific moment, in which you decided to get active in support of safety in motorsports?

“No. It developed over the course of several years. With every accident, the idea grew and grew. In the 1960s and 70s, there was an accident at almost every event, and they were often deadly. The development of racecourses could not keep up with the development of the race cars, which kept getting faster and faster. In 1969, my teammate John Woolfe had an accident with his Porsche 917 right in the first lap at Le Mans. At the time, I was the spokesman of the race car drivers’ association and the drivers came to me – like they did after every accident – with the request: “Herbert, we have to do something. You can be in charge of it.” What the drivers didn’t know was that, at the same race in Le Mans, Ferdinand Piëch had approached me. At that time, we at Porsche had just established the Weissach development center. Piëch asked me if I wanted a contract as a race car driver or as the manager of the workshops in Weissach. Now, I was over 40 and I didn’t have to think about it long. I immediately agreed to be the head of the workshops. Although it meant the end of my career as a race car driver, it gave me the opportunity to get involved in a completely different way for Porsche and for safety in motorsports. Piëch was also the one who supported me in rebuilding the O.N.S. 914 as as a concept car to embody my ideas about race safety in motorsports.”

You developed the rendezvous system which was later also adapted for use in everyday road traffic. How does the system work exactly?

“It is made up of just three components. When an accident happens, first you have to fight the fire. At that time, fire was the main threat in an accident. It has to be fought quickly, because if a fire in crash vehicle is not put out within a minute, the chance of the driver surviving falls very quickly. So we had to develop a system that would let us reach any point on the race track within one minute. So we decided to post track marshals all around the course. As soon as an accident happened, they had to go put out the fire. They were the first ones on the scene, and that’s how it was in Lauda’s accident. If we had not got the fire under control first, no one would have been able to pull Niki Lauda out of his burning car. We called these fire marshals “s-cars,” for safety cars.

When an accident was announced, at the same time the “r-car,” the rescue car, drove out on the track – for many years this was the Porsche O.N.S. 914. It carried an emergency physician. This “r-car” was the second vehicle at the scene, that is the second participant in the rendezvous. Now the doctor could provide expert first aid. The third ones to arrive at the scene of the accident, and they arrived a little later, were the paramedics and the firefighters with the larger vehicles, that is, with the ambulances and fire engines. The paramedics could take the injured driver away in the ambulance.

This rendezvous system, in which the rescue personnel arrived at the accident scenes at different times, was later implemented in everyday road traffic settings. The emergency physician drives to the scene in a fast car, the larger and slower ambulance arrives later. That is still the way it works today.”

Here in the garage we have a picture that shows you with Hans Hermann in a Porsche 356 after the Mille Miglia in 1954. Hans drove and you navigated. Hans signed the picture “für den besten Beifahrer” – “for the best passenger.” In racing that is certainly true, but what about in everyday traffic? Are you a good passenger?

“The worst thing for me was always that, whenever I had to get in a car somewhere, the driver always wanted to show me how well he can drive. At such times, I have always tried to explain that there is a difference between the race track and driving in everyday traffic. Personally, throughout my whole life, I have never had my driving license taken away for driving too fast. I have never had a point in Flensburg.”

Do you have a tip for how to drive safely?

“Well, in the end there is no such thing as being 100% safe. If you want to win a race, it is not possible without a certain amount of residual risk. But I have to say, when I look at how safety in motorsports has developed, today racecar driving is less dangerous than mountain climbing.”

Mr. Linge, 90 years old is an age that you can be proud of. What do you want for your 90th birthday?

“I have collected a lot of documents from the O.N.S., then Germany’s highest commission for motorsports, from the time when the rescue team was being established. It would be lovely if it were possible to document this history in some form, to preserve them for future generations. Many people from that time are still alive and can be interviewed. The history of the O.N.S. rescue team, all in one place…that would be very nice.”

Mr. Linge, thank you for this talk with us.

Herbert Linge interview in Weissach on April 20, 2018
– by Frank Wiesner

With this film we congratulate Herbert Linge on his 90th birthday and thank him for his pioneering work in motorsport safety:


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