porsche engineer hans mezger, who helped niki lauda and alain prost to formula 1 championships in the 1980s, has died at the age of 90.
mezger was the most famous porsche engineer from the 1960s until the late 1980s, enjoying huge success with the 917 sports car, the tag-porsche f1 engines, the 956 and 962 sports cars and the road-going 911.
mezger was born in a small village near porsche’s hometown of stuttgart, germany, in 1929. he was 16 when the war ended and attended his first race meeting at hockenheim in 1946. he was fascinated by aviation and racing cars and that led him to study mechanical engineering at the technical university in stuttgart.
mezger had 28 job offers when he graduated from college in 1956, but he didn’t want any of them. he wanted to work for porsche. he had seen the 356 and loved it. so he went to them. luckily for history, they hired him.
“i wanted to join porsche because the type 356 sports car inspired me,” he said. “so i applied, got an interview and the company offered me a job in diesel engine development. until then, i didn’t even know that porsche had such a thing. but i envisioned working on sports cars. they showed understanding, and that's how i started in the calculations department at porsche," said mezger.
who knew there was a calculations department?
mezger's passion was in motorsports, though, and soon he was working on race engines. this led to him becoming involved in the development of the 1.5-liter porsche formula 2 engine. he worked on the notoriously complex (for its day) four-camshaft type 547 engine. he developed a formula for calculating cam profiles. and he soon became part of porsche's first formula 1 project in 1960. in f1 he was involved in the development of the 1.5-liter eight-cylinder type 753, as well as the car it went into, the 804. this saw his first f1 victory. while not a huge success, the knowledge he gained resulted in the development of a new 2.0-liter six-cylinder engine for the 911—known as the "mezger engine."
“on this formula 1 project i also learned a lot about the design of combustion chambers,” mezger said. “that knowledge directly benefited the design of the six-cylinder boxer engine for the later 901/911."
in 1965 he was asked to head the competition department and was told to build a car to win le mans. there were several engines before the arrival of the no-compromise porsche 917, with a flat-12 engine producing huge power. in can-am form, with a turbocharger, the engine turned out over 1,000 hp.
his knowledge of turbos led to a flat-six engine that powered the porsche 935, 956 and 962 to a long series of race wins in sports cars, although he continued to be involved in developing the 911 engines until his retirement in 1993.
it was his f1 adventure, however, that gave him the most pride—especially an engine commissioned by mclaren and paid for by tag that won 25 races, two constructors’ championships and three drivers’ championships (one for niki lauda in 1984, two for alain prost in 1985 and 1986).
a few years later, when f1 switched to normally aspirated engines, mezger designed a v1, but this proved to be a complete debacle with the footwork team giving up on the engine after just a few months after it became clear it could never be competitive. despite this, mezger’s reputation remained largely undamaged, although he retired soon after the f1 program flopped.
“the news of his death represents a very sad loss for us,” said michael steiner, member of the porsche executive board, research and development. “we thank hans mezger for his extraordinary engineering achievements, which he has done for motorsport in general and for porsche in particular. his innovations for our series sports cars will remain unforgotten forever.”