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Formula 1 Canadian GP

"I still get nervous": Maylander on 24 years in F1's safety car

Last weekend the FIA celebrated 50 years of the safety car in Formula 1. Bernd Maylander has been at the wheel for the past 24, and he hasn't lost his passion for the gig.

Bernd Maylander, Safety Car Driver, on the grid

At the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, a Porsche pace car intervened for the first time after a collision between Francois Cevert and Jody Scheckter.

The FIA's 50-year safety car anniversary is somewhat misleading, however, as further appearances were few and far between. The safety car as we know it has only been a regular fixture since the 1993 season.

One man has been at the wheel for 24 of those 30 years. Former DTM and sportscar racer Bernd Maylander was entrusted with the role by the late Charlie Whiting in 2000, after starting the year prior in Formula 3000.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Maylander has seen it all and has long settled into a routine role, but after to speaking the 52-year-old German at the anniversary weekend in Montreal, it is clear that that is far from the truth.

"Maybe it's my character," he tells Autosport. "On the Saturday evening before the race I'm still thinking: 'Have I done this right? Is this correct?'

"I haven't lost this passion, because I like my job. I like what I'm doing and I'm fully focused. I think that's the kind of passion you want to cover your job as well as possible.

"And if you're asking if I still get nervous, yeah, that's a kind of nervous. I think that's like an actor or a singer. If they have to go on a stage and they're not nervous anymore, I think the voice will be not as good as it could be.

"So yeah, I'm really on. That's my character and I love this. If I lose that, then maybe I have to think about doing something different. But even at 52, after 24 years, I'm still full on and always looking forward to every race."

Bernd Maylander, the driver of the Safety Car, 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix

Bernd Maylander, the driver of the Safety Car, 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix

Photo by: James Bearne

A particular point of pride for Maylander is seeing how safety standards in Formula 1, and motorsport at large, have evolved over his tenure. Not only eye-catching features, such as the halo and HANS devices, but also how the FIA's safety protocol has matured over the years.

"In Formula 1, we are the highest racing league, so we should always be the example championship for categories, to be as safe as possible," he explains.

"It's a learning procedure from all sides. Like every team has to understand its car at the start of the season, we also have to understand what we can do better. Developing safety cars in different ways, communication and safety devices with the HANS, with the halo, with all the big safety issues over the years.

"I started in a normal aluminium chassis, right now I'm sitting in a carbon fibre chassis. So, I think all this development helps a lot.

"In motorsport it's still possible to create things in a very short time and that makes motorsports quite important for normal road cars as well. And that's quite impressive.

"Formula 1 is not just 10 teams, it's 12 teams together with F1 and the FIA. Competition is a different part, but on safety we're all in the same boat. And that's what we have to cover in the best way possible."

If F1's safety procedures have come on in leaps and bounds, then so too have F1's safety cars, with Maylander now alternating between a 527bhp Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition and a 730bhp Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series. Two high-spec sportscars optimised for the track are a far cry from some of the leisurely saloon cars and hatchbacks used in the early years.

Maylander enjoys being involved in the safety cars' development, which is where his history as a racer comes in handy.

The safety car at the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

The safety car at the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

Photo by: Andre Vor / Sutton Images

"I thought in 2000, that must be a perfect car," Maylander recalls his original Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG. "Sometimes I have the opportunity to drive these old cars and then I say: 'Oh, that's an old car.'"

"But at that time, it was really the top-level sportscar. And if you jump right now in the Aston Martin Vantage or the Mercedes-AMG, this is a race car like I was in a race car 20 or 30 years ago.

"The level is really, really high, but we never stop improving and doing things better. And that's quite impressive for me. Also, if you see the Formula 1 cars from 20 years ago compared to right now, it's quite impressive what is possible.

"When Aston joined us two years ago, I tested the car together with our test driver. We now have our engineers, our software guys... it's proper team that works together so everything runs in in a good way.

"That's quite an interesting part of my job. I think every race driver loves to test and to engineer new things."

But despite all his experience, the German feels no two race weekends are the same.

Sometimes he is stuck in his usual holding pattern, on standby at the end of the pitlane. And sometimes he 'leads' the most laps of the race - with some working out he's still in the top five of most laps led around the perilous streets of Singapore. His total number of race laps is now believed to be well over 1,000.

The Safety Car Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

The Safety Car Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Patrick Vinet / Motorsport Images

"I say there are no standard races anymore in my life because everything can happen," he explains. "So maybe you think on to Sunday morning, it's a normal, smooth weekend, and then when the lights go out, everything can happen.

"And exactly for that you have to be prepared. That's not only me, but also for the medical car driver, for everyone.

"If there's an accident, we are involved with all the cars, with all the teams and so we are ready for everything. And that can change from one to the other second. Once the chequered flag is out, only then we know what's going to happen."

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