During the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, a Porsche pace car was called into action for the first time following a crash involving Francois Cevert and Jody Scheckter.
While the FIA is celebrating its 50-year safety car anniversary, the notion is somewhat deceptive since the safety car’s regular appearances only began from the 1993 season onwards.
One individual has been behind the wheel for a significant part of this timeline – 24 out of the 30 years. Bernd Maylander, a former DTM and sportscar driver, was appointed to the position by the late Charlie Whiting in 2000, after commencing the previous year in Formula 3000.
You might assume that Maylander, having witnessed almost everything, has comfortably settled into a routine role. However, during a conversation with the 52-year-old German at the anniversary weekend in Montreal, it’s evident that the reality is quite different.
“Perhaps it’s just my nature,” he shares with F1 Flow.com. “The night before the race, I often wonder: ‘Did I do this correctly? Is everything in order?’
“My passion for this job is still very much alive because I love what I do and I stay completely focused. This passion drives me to excel in my role.
“And if you wonder whether I still feel anxious, indeed I do. It’s similar to the nervousness felt by a performer about to go on stage. If they’re not nervous anymore, their performance might not be as engaging.
“So yes, I am very much dedicated. That’s just who I am and I enjoy it. If I were to lose that feeling, it might be time to consider doing something else. But even at 52, after 24 years, I am still wholly committed and always excited for each race.”
Bernd Maylander, the Safety Car driver, 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix
Photo by: James Bearne
Maylander takes immense pride in witnessing the evolution of safety standards in Formula 1 and motorsport more broadly during his tenure. This includes noticeable advancements such as the halo and HANS devices, as well as the maturation of FIA’s safety protocols over the years.
“We, in Formula 1, are the premier racing league, so we should always be setting the benchmark for safety,” he elaborates.
“It’s a collective learning process. Just as every team needs to understand its car at the season’s beginning, we too must understand what we can improve. This involves advancing safety cars, communication and safety equipment like the HANS, the halo, and other significant safety enhancements over the years.
“I began with a standard aluminium chassis and now I’m in a carbon fibre one. This evolution has been tremendously beneficial.
“Motorsport’s ability to swiftly innovate is not only crucial for the sport, but it’s also quite important for regular road cars. That’s truly remarkable.
“Formula 1 isn’t just the ten teams, it’s a community of twelve teams together with F1 and the FIA. While competition is a different aspect, when it comes to safety, we’re all in the same boat and we need to address this as effectively as possible.”
The improvements in F1’s safety procedures have been paralleled by advancements in F1’s safety cars. Maylander now alternates between a 527bhp Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition and a 730bhp Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series – both high-end sportscars designed for the track and a drastic upgrade from the casual saloon cars and hatchbacks used in the early years.
His racing background proves useful in his involvement with the development of the safety cars.
“I remember thinking in 2000 that the Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG was the perfect car,” Maylander reminisces. “But now when I drive those older models, they certainly feel like old cars.”
“But back then, it was the pinnacle of sportscars. If you compare that with the Aston Martin Vantage or the Mercedes-AMG now, they resemble the race cars I drove 20 or 30 years ago.
“The standards are incredibly high, but we never cease to innovate and enhance. This continuous improvement is what amazes me. When you compare today’s Formula 1 cars with those from 20 years ago, the progress is truly astonishing.
“When Aston partnered with us two years ago, I tested the car along with our test driver. We now have our engineers and software specialists. It’s a competent team working together to ensure smooth operations.
“It’s an intriguing aspect of my job. I believe every race driver loves to test and engineer new things.”
But in spite of his vast experience, Maylander believes no two race weekends are identical.
Sometimes he’s on standby at the pitlane’s end, stuck in his typical holding pattern. At other times, he ‘leads’ the most laps of the race – so many, in fact, that he’s among the top five for most laps led on Singapore’s treacherous streets. It’s now estimated that his total number of race laps exceeds 1,000.
“I’ve come to realize that in my life, there are no standard races because anything can happen,” he asserts. “A seemingly normal, smooth weekend can suddenly turn chaotic once the lights go out.
Photo by: Patrick Vinet / F1 Flow Images
“And it’s exactly for such scenarios that we must be prepared. Not just me, but also the medical car driver, and everyone else.
“If there’s an accident, we have to deal with all the cars and teams, so we are always ready for anything. The situation can change in a split second. It’s only after the chequered flag is out that we know what’s next.”
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