German Bernd Mayländer has been a safety car driver in Formula 1 since 2000 and will be present on Sunday (3pm) for the start of the French Grand Prix. Meet with whoever is protecting the pilots as soon as necessary.
No driver in history has so many Formula 1 Grand Prix wins. “I don’t have the exact number of the last races, but I must be at 415 or 417”, smiles Bernd Mayländer, while the record belongs to Kimi Raikkonen with 350 races. It says how much a piece of furniture the safety car driver is in the best class.
“It all started one lucky Friday afternoon in 1999 when I received a phone call from Charlie Withing (the former race director who died in 2019). I was a Porsche Super Cup driver at the time and I had no idea why he was calling me,” said the 51-year-old.
“He said to me: ‘Bernd you know the rules, you were a racing driver yourself in DTM and GT. We are looking for a new safety car driver in F3000, do you want it?’ I didn’t hesitate at all. .”
“Safety comes first”
After a year in F3000, Mayländer moved on to Formula 1 to ensure the safety of drivers of the fastest cars in the world. “The easy part is being in the car and driving it, but you have to know all the circuits, all the rules, it’s more complicated. There are as many rules as there are circuits, so it’s 22 different procedures to know”, explains the one who also served in the safety car for the weekend’s second series.
Bernd Mayländer is also a source of information for the race direction, the one leading the pack of 20 cars behind him. “I communicate to them about the state of the track when it’s raining, for example, and race direction makes decisions based on information from the drivers, but also from mine. The views will always be different between me, the driver behind me and the one behind or at the end of field. But in the end, safety comes first.”
When pilots complain…
What Formula 1 drivers often tend to forget, who quite often complain on the radio about the German’s speed. “Obviously, from the driver’s point of view, I have to go as fast as possible. But I have the information of where a damaged car is, if it’s in the barriers, the gravel, far from the track… all that changes the speed where I have to go according to the situation danger. Even if I wanted to go faster like any other racer.”
Did these complaints reach the ears of the man who competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999? “I understand them completely, I was a driver in my day and I used to say exactly the same thing on the radio ‘the safety car is too slow’ because when you’re a driver you chase achievements. For 23 years they never came. to me and said, ‘Bernd, you’re going too slow’. They never did, because after the race they understand why I was going so slow.”
The race on a TV screen with commercials
In more than 400 Grand Prix, Bernd Mayländer has seen his job develop over the seasons. “At that time we had very simple radios, now they are digital radios and you have the impression of being in the cockpit of an aeroplane.”
“Today we even have a screen where we can see what’s happening on the track, whereas 20 years ago we didn’t have anything. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we had a TV side of the car to watch the race , although there were ads in the meantime depending on which country we were in.
From the “limousines” of twenty years ago to today’s Mercedes and Aston Martin
As for the car, there, too, everything has changed for the German. “Cars now are completely different, twenty years ago what we drove were almost limousines with leather inside.”
While he only had one Mercedes at his disposal for years, Mayländer drives an Aston Martin Vantage alternating with a Mercedes GT AMG Black Series depending on Grand Prix weekends. With what difference? “It’s impossible to compare them. The Mercedes has 200 horsepower more, but for me it doesn’t matter that one or the other has so many more horsepower.”
“It’s good to have it, but I don’t need it because I’m driving the safety car. At least I’m not fighting for pole position, so it doesn’t matter (laughs).”
“Fortunately I was driving an Aston Martin and not a Mercedes” in Abu Dhabi
As the driver of the safety car, Bernd Mayländer was the very heart of the final Grand Prix of the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi, where the world championship between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton was decided in a few laps, just after its passage on the track.
“Fortunately I was driving an Aston Martin and not a Mercedes, he laughs. From a sporting point of view it was very hard for Lewis because he couldn’t really fight Max as he didn’t have fresh tyres. From the moment I got the signal to go, I knew it was going to be like this. But it’s sports!”
And in Formula 1, Bernd Mayländer is no stranger to the smooth running of this sport. Fortunately.