My job in F1: The Safety Car driver

There are people you don't see that often on TV, but who help the Formula 1 circus put up its show. This is the story of Bernd Maylander, who serves as the official FIA safety car driver.

My job in F1: The Safety Car driver

My job is...

Driving the safety car in all the races during the Formula 1 weekends. It’s not only F1. I would say most of the time I’m sitting behind the steering wheel during the support races.

The safety car is there for safety reasons. You will see the car on the track if something happens, for example when the weather conditions are bad or when there is an accident, or when there is a bit of debris on the track.

We also have checks every morning for the GPS and light panel systems and I’m a part of all the drivers’ meetings. If something happens or if there are questions relating to the safety car, I’m always there. This is from Thursday morning until Sunday after the F1 race is over.

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My race weekend schedule...

Normally I start on Thursday. There is one race, the season opener in Australia, where the work already starts on the Wednesday, because they have so many support races. That’s the reason why we do our track tests on Wednesday over there. But normally we do the track tests on Thursday from 2 to 3 o’clock.

Bernd Maylander, bestuurder FIA Safety Car
Bernd Maylander behind the wheel of the FIA Safety Car

Photo by: Sutton Motorsport Images

On Friday I’m just behind the wheel for the track test in the morning. That’s before the F3 cars start with their free practice. I just do two or three laps. At the end of the day we have the drivers meeting.

Sometimes I'm also in the car for qualifying if there is a qualifying on Friday and there are special weather conditions. We can start qualifying only if the weather conditions are OK, so sometimes I do a check lap. For qualifying I’m always on stand-by. That means I’m close to the car, but not sitting in the car.

On Saturday morning we have a small safety car test. That means we have a practice of the safety car situation. That’s especially important for the marshals around the track, so that they are on the right place and show the right flags. And on Saturday afternoon, after the F1 qualifying, we have our first race. It’s always Formula 2.

Before the F2 feature race we send the safety car out for two laps, just to see if all the marshals are in the right position. For me it’s always a good practice to have a couple of laps to know the conditions more or less, because the track changes from Thursday to Sunday. After F2 we have the F3 race and at some events we also have a Porsche Supercup race.

On Sunday we have the F1 race and before that are all the support races. And that’s my normal time procedure for what I have to do in the car.

My days at the track are quite long. I’m arriving every morning around 7:30 to 7:45 am and I’m going back to the hotel between 6 and 7 pm. On Thursday I leave the track a bit earlier, but from Friday to Sunday I always arrive early in the morning and leave after the last race.

The most important thing in my job…

Is to be focused, especially when I’m in the safety car. I have to be really focused on what’s going on, to understand the whole situation and to get the right information at the right time, which is really important for us in the safety car, to know which kind of accident has happened and if there is debris on the track.

Safety Car leads Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90 and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90

Safety Car leads Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90 and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90

Photo by: Lionel Ng / Motorsport Images

That is also what we are checking, but if you have the information already before, it’s quite helpful for me. So you have to be focused on what’s happening, especially in front of you.

Sometimes there is debris or maybe a car that blocks the track. We always try not to stop the race. We always try to keep the race running, even though it's under safety car conditions. Having information and doing the right thing at the right moment is very important for me and for that you need a lot of practice.

After 21 years you have a routine in your job. And while routine is quite helpful, every situation is a new situation. Sometimes it looks like the race be the same, but from one moment to another things can change. You have to be awake, you have to be focused.

Three tools I can’t do without…

Well, the radio is an important one, because that is where I get information from a race director. Another tool is the TV. That’s where I can see what happened on the track if there is an accident and that’s how we follow the race more or less. And we have a GPS map of the track, which is connected to a G-force impact system. So if there is a big impact on the track by any car, we can see that. But still we have to wait for the radio call of the race director. We still have to wait for the green light to deploy.

People I'm always in contact with…

During the races I’m talking to race director Michael Masi and also deputy race director Colin Haywood. Those are the two people I have on my radio.

They give me instructions and give me all the information on what’s happened and tell me when I have to deploy or when I have to come back to the pit lane. I give them all the information from the track from my point of view. What I feel or my co-driver feels is quite important, but the decision is up to race control, to the race director, because they have the whole view of everything.

Bernd Maylander with Michael Masi and Jo Bauer

Bernd Maylander with Michael Masi and Jo Bauer

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

I have a co-driver with me, Richard Darker, and he is very important for me as well, because two pairs of ears and eyes hear and see more than one. To have someone next to me is always good, and I trust him 100 percent.

When not at the track…

During the week most of the time I’m in my office, because I’m a freelancer. I have also some other jobs that I’m doing, preparing and planning my next weeks, booking the flights and hotels, things like this. And I really love to keep some time for my family, for my wife, twins and also for my dog! Sport is always a part of my life too. I like running. Apart from that I like meeting up with some friends and having a nice barbecue with them, the usual things you would do when you have a private life.

Without me…

It already happened four times in 21 years that I’m not at the track because I had an accident or was in hospital. Then there’s a back-up procedure. If something happens during the weekend we will take one of the Formula 1 reserve drivers.

Or we can use the medical car driver, because he knows the procedures and he knows the car, and then we find a spare driver for the medical car. That’s easier because normally the Medical Car only has to run one lap behind the start and for sure all F1 reserve drivers know how to handle a car. There are procedures in place to ensure that there always is someone in the safety car.

Will I be doing this for another 21 years? I still enjoy it. I will await the changes in the future, what will happen. I can say not 21 years, but definitely another few years. I have a lot of colleagues who are 60 years old and who are still bloody quick!

Formula 1 is…

For me it’s the highest and best racing championship with the quickest cars and the best technology. And right now I’m really happy to see how Formula 1 has changed in the last couple of years.

The Safety Car

The Safety Car

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

We especially need young drivers like Max Verstappen. That's what makes the sport, really. Characters. And I think we are on a really good path to support these characters. To be a part of Formula 1 is really nice and Formula 1 is part of my life. For a good part of the year we are travelling around the world together and somehow it’s a little bit of a family.

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