25 August 2020
25 August 2020
Seeing a Mercedes-AMG at the head of the Formula 1 Grand Prix field is a familiar sight these days. The Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team has dominated the sport since the start of the ‘hybrid era’, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas having led hundreds of laps between them.
But there’s a third Mercedes-AMG driver on the F1 circuit – and he leads every single lap he drives.
Bernd Mayländer is the driver of the official FIA Formula 1 Safety Car – the stunning Mercedes-AMG GT R.
The 49-year-old German began his career as a racing driver, competing for Mercedes-Benz since 1995 in various major categories including the International Touring Car Championship, FIA GT Championship and Germany’s famous DTM touring car series.
Mayländer has piloted the F1 Safety Car since 2000, but Mercedes-AMG has been providing the official car since 1996. A number of iconic models have been tasked with leading the F1 field since then – the CLK 55, SL 55, CLK 53, SL 63, SLS and the AMG GT.
The role typically falls to the fastest machine in the AMG fleet, because the job of the Safety Car is to slow the field from racing speed so accidents and other incidents can be cleared up.
But F1 cars can never really be driven slowly – not in the way we would consider ‘slow’. These are high-advanced prototype racing cars requiring air flowing around them at all times to keep engine and transmission temperatures cool, and also to be going fast enough to keep their slick racing tyres warm and sticky.
So the F1 Safety Car must be fast, which makes the AMG GT R the ideal choice. Powered by a 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 engine making 430kW of power and housed within a chassis featuring state-of-the-art active aerodynamics, the GT R is one of the world’s most track-capable road cars.
As Mayländer explains, no modifications are needed to ensure the car is fast enough to lead the F1 field, aside from obvious safety additions.
“The car is equipped with a specific communications and GPS mapping system and with highly visible safety lights, but most of the car – the engine, the gearbox, the suspension – is all standard,” Mayländer says.
Mayländer has led more than 700 laps in F1 and, remarkably, led the infamous rain-soaked 2011 Canadian Grand Prix for a whopping 47 per cent of the distance.
Mayländer takes his job seriously, quitting his racing career in 2005 to focus solely on F1. As he explains, it’s a complex role that not only requires superior driving skill (pushing the AMG GT R to its limits without making a mistake while leading millions of dollars worth of F1 cars) but also awareness of the unpredictable nature of incidents requiring Safety Car intervention.
“I need to know where there has been an accident, where in the field I join the track, where the other cars are and if there are any cars that need to overtake me,” he says.
“I also need to know where they can best overtake me without creating a risk for the other cars or for the marshals. I’m also in constant contact with race control. Every Safety Car deployment is different – but that’s what I like about it.”
For the 2020 season, Mercedes-Benz is also using the Safety Car to promote worthy causes in front of F1’s international audience. The sport’s new “WeRaceAsOne” campaign that encourages diversity sees the rainbow logo proudly visible on the flanks and bonnet of the AMG GT R, as well as branding for the #PurposeDriven hashtag that supports the FIA’s road safety, equality and diversity program.
So next time you’re watching a Grand Prix and the field lines up behind the majestic AMG GT R, spare a thought for Mayländer and the important role he and Mercedes-Benz have played in keeping your favourite drivers safe in one of the world’s most dangerous sports.
By Stephen Ottley