Bernd Mayländer has piloted the Formula 1 safety car for more than 20 years. We talk to the former DTM driver about his unusual path to the upper echelon of the sport, his personal experiences, and what’s in store for the future.
When the start lights turn off on race day and all engines simultaneously roar to life, it's not just the spectators who gaze spellbound at the cars. In the shadow of the spectacle, the safety car approaches from behind the field of drivers and rolls to its final waiting position in front of the pit lane. What is now a familiar sight was long unthinkable after the first safety car debuted in the 1970s, since the first missions ended in chaos.
In 1973, the hour struck for Eppie Wietzes at the Mosport Canadian Grand Prix.
It was not a dream start, as the hometown safety pilot landed in the wrong position among the field of drivers. It wasn't until hours after the race that the ensuing chaos was sorted. This was a time in which laps were still timed by hand. Several drivers took it upon themselves to claim victory. The safety car then disappeared from the scene and didn't return to Formula 1 until 1993. It has been an omnipresent watchful eye at both training and races ever since.
During a race, you may be called into action at any time. What do you do while you're waiting?
The vehicle comes with two inner monitors on which we can follow the race. In the past, it was a little less entertaining. It can be pretty tough to sit in the car at temperatures of up to 40 degrees. Now, however, you're fully involved. You're in the car for more than 12 hours over the course of a weekend. You keep each other awake, talk to each other, and come up with your own strategies and rituals.
Who supports you on and off the track?
Trackside, of course, are our mechanics, who maintain the safety car. This year, we have three mechanics per race. In addition, there are colleagues in Affalterbach who look after the back-up vehicle. And next to me in the safety car is my long-time co-driver, Richard Darker, who supports me on the track and in communicating with race directors.
And which AMG would you like to drive as a safety car?
Well, a Mercedes-AMG Project ONE would be an absolute dream. But I think that would also be too much of a good thing. We're currently driving the Mercedes-AMG GT R (combined fuel economy: 12.4 l/100 km, combined CO2 emissions: 284 g/km), and then there's the AMG GT Black Series (combined fuel economy: 12.8 l/100 km | combined CO2 emissions: 292 g/km). Of course, that's another level of sports car. I'm open to anything, and if a hybrid is added at some point, things will move even faster. The future looks bright.
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