More than seven hundred laps in pole position – a record longevity in formula 1 –, (very) noticed appearances almost every weekend… and yet, only insiders know him. Bernd Mayländer is the driver of the safety car or, in motorsports jargon, the safety car. He will officiate again on Sunday March 19, on the occasion of the Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah. “Everyone knows the safety car. A few people know my name. But few know my face”likes to raise the 51-year-old German, graying temples and rectangular glasses on his nose.
In the service of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) for twenty-four years, Bernd Mayländer oversees, in the shadows, the safety of drivers and marshals at the F1 Grand Prix. Its mission: to neutralize the race when an incident occurs, by placing itself in front of the single-seaters to regroup them in a peloton, at moderate speed. “When the FIA offered me the job in 1999, I immediately accepted, even though I had no idea what to do, assures the former Formula 3000 and Grand Touring driver. The next day I was sitting in the car, and a year later I was doing all the grand prix . »
“Bernd has become an essential figure in the paddock!, laughs Esteban Ocon, French driver from the Alpine team. Not only does he have great responsibilities in our sport, but he is also very much appreciated. He is always smiling and available to provide advice. I often had good discussions with him before entering the circuit. »
When the yellow flag is waved and a white plate bearing the inscriptions “SC” appears, all the F1 drivers ease off. They know the protocol: the safety car and Bernd Mayländer enter the track. “I’m always nervous when I arrive on the circuit, because you have to adapt very quickly to the conditions: rain, fog, accident, etc. My co-driver takes care of radio contact and the light signal system, and I concentrate on driving.”explains the German.
Two car models share the heavy task of taming the single-seater peloton: a 730 horsepower Mercedes-AMG GT and, since 2022, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Cars that can go very fast. “Up to 325 km/h!loose Bernd Mayländer, a spark in his eyes. I remain a driver at heart, but my role is not to set the best time. I’m a pilot safety car. And, in the name of the function, there is safety [sécurité]. »
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