- F1's safety car driver
Who on earth is ... Bernd Maylander?Laurence Edmondson January 21, 2010
He's driven in 57 grand prix in the last ten years and has led every lap he's taken part in. Bernd Maylander is the man behind the wheel of the Formula One safety car, and as a result, has one of the highest-pressure jobs in the sport.
If Maylander takes to the track it usually means somebody else has crashed off it. It is his responsibility to bring order to chaos until any danger to drivers or track marshals has passed. That may seem simple, but he has to do it in a car with two thirds of the power of an F1 car and with none of the trick aerodynamics. That's not to say his car is slow, the stripped-out and tuned Mercedes SL 63 is capable of some impressive lap-times, but it is still just a modified road car. The real skill comes in driving at speeds approaching 170 mph while maintaining a constant dialogue with the teams in the pit lane, whose primary concerns are the decreasing pressures in their car's tyres and the rising temperatures of their air-starved engines.
"During a safety car phase, safety is the most important element; however, I still need to maintain a certain level of speed, [because] it's incredible how fast these cars are," Maylander told F1's official website. "The teams also have an impact on the velocity [I drive]. They inform race control if they want me to speed up or slow down. I tend to drive at my limit during the safety car phase."
Unsurprisingly, Maylander is an experienced and accomplished racing driver. He started karting in the early 1980s and then rose through the ranks in Formula Ford and the Porsche Carrera Cup. In the 1990s he split his time between DTM, FIA GTs and the Porsche Supercup, a series which follows the European grand prix calendar. In 2000 he proved his mettle when his team won the Nurburgring 24 Hours, held on the daunting Nordschleife. Throughout the early 2000s he continued to compete in DTM, but with little success and in 2007 he stopped racing competitively.
Nevertheless he's still a very busy man on F1 race weekends. On the Thursday he is the first person to take to the track, completing a number of laps to ensure everything from the kerb stones to TV cameras are perfectly in place. He makes similar runs on every morning of the weekend to check the circuit's GPS system, which allows the F1 cars to be tracked and triggers warning lights in their cockpits if there is an accident. During the Friday practice session the safety car is not in use (the track action is simply halted if an accident occurs), so Maylander watches proceedings from the FIA motor home before attending both the F1 and GP2 driver briefings.
On Saturday he has to be on stand-by for both qualifying and the first GP2 race, in which incidents often occur. However, it is Sunday when he really earns his money. After an often eventful morning working on the GP2 and Porsche Supercup races, he takes to the grid for the main event. Five minutes before the race he drives from the startline to his agreed parking spot, which allows him quick access to the circuit if necessary. He watches the race on a TV in the car and receives constant weather updates.
Ultimately it is race director Charlie Whiting's call as to whether Maylander is deployed, but he does have some say by communicating with race control throughout the event. On hearing the command "Safety car stand-by", he prepares the car to leave and on the words "Safety car go" he heads out onto the track to try and pick-up the race leader.
It's a job that requires skill and quick reactions, but in his ten-year career, Maylander hasn't put a wheel out of line yet.
Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1