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| | F1 safety car driver - Bernd Maylander
Hi, found a very detailed article on the role and activities of the safety car driver. One of the world's best jobs perhaps? But also very high pressure! He is under the gaze of millions of people everytime he hits the track Formula 1? - The Official F1? Website
Since 2000 the FIA has entrusted the task of driving the safety car to Bernd Maylander, a former successful touring-car racer. He knows how to keep the pace during the safety period just high enough so that the Formula One cars’ tyres and brakes do not cool down too much. Maylander started his career in karting at the end of the 1980s. In the following years he progressed to Formula Ford, the Porsche Carrera Cup, the FIA GT Championship and the German DTM touring car series. |
Q&A with Bernd Maylander
Q: When are you deployed onto the track?
Bernd Maylander: According to the official regulations of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the car is deployed 'if competitors or officials are in immediate physical danger but the circumstances are not such as to necessitate stopping the race', for example after an accident or in severe rain showers.
Q: What’s the role of the safety car?
BM: It takes up its position at the front of the field and leads the Formula One cars around the track at reduced speed until the dangerous situation has passed. All the cars, beginning with the race leader, must line up behind the safety car.
Q: Who decides when you should take to the track?
BM: The decision is made by the FIA race director, Charlie Whiting. He also decides when the safety car phase is finished.
Q: How are the drivers informed about the safety car phase?
BM: The drivers are notified by the marshals and a 'safety car' board is also displayed to drivers as they cross the start-finish line. Additionally, the driver is informed via radio by the team and a warning light inside the cockpit flashes until the safety car phase is over.
Q: How long does the safety car remain on the circuit?
BM: It will remain until the hazardous situation is under control and the FIA feel that it is safe to resume. The laps completed during the safety car phase count as normal race laps. If the specified number of laps is completed, a race can also come to an end behind the safety car.
Q: What influence does a safety car phase have on the race strategy?
BM: As a rule, the teams use a safety car phase for an unscheduled pit stop, because it involves a much smaller loss of time than if the field is racing at full speed. If a team manages to bring its driver into the pits at exactly the right time, it can result in a crucial advantage. Because the field is pressed up close together during a safety car phase, it also increases the excitement for the spectators.
Q: Since when has the safety car been used in Formula One racing?
BM: Its first introduction was in 1973 at the Canadian Grand Prix. However, the FIA laid down clear guidelines for the role of the safety car in 1992.
Bernd Maylander’s race weekend
“Generally I arrive on Wednesday evening, at European races early on Thursday morning. We meet at the race track at around 10.00 am. First, I go to the FIA office, where we have a short meeting and go through the important documents for the race weekend, such as race schedules, circuit maps, rules and regulations etc. Then I get changed into my race overalls and I am in the safety car at 1.35pm. Between 2 pm and 3 pm the first circuit test takes place. The safety car is therefore the first car that enters the circuit each race weekend. The track test is very important because both the car and the track are being tested, also the radio system, the GPS systems, as well as the cameras.
“Then, I forward our test results to Charlie Whiting, change into my official FIA clothing and attend the Drivers Briefing for the GP 2 series. The meeting takes roughly 10-30 minutes, depending on the topics and how much needs to be discussed. After that I return to the hotel. I usually spend the evening exercising or I go for dinner with the teams and sponsors. It depends on which city we are in - cities like Melbourne and Istanbul obviously offer more possibilities to go out in the evening than others.”
“Friday morning we leave the hotel at around 7 - 7.30 am. After arriving at the circuit we have a brief meeting with Charlie Whiting, the press, the technical and software department and with my team. Afterwards we perform another GPS test of the circuit - this test is performed from Thursday through to Sunday. This is very important because a track system is built into the safety car and all other Formula One race cars, which not only provides an exact location of the vehicles but also transmits the flag signals on the side of the track to the display in the car. Tests have shown that the driver can see them much better on the display - this goes a long way towards increasing safety at the circuit.
“I follow the practice session on the monitor in the FIA trucks, but I am not in my car because there is no safety car during the practice session. I can always be reached though, in case the safety car is needed. The Formula One drivers briefing takes place at 5pm and during the driver briefing the previous race and the current race are analyzed and we discuss what can be improved and how. The meeting is led by Charlie Whiting and all Formula One drivers and test drivers, FIA race stewards and I are present. After the meeting I return to the hotel. I try to exercise or go for dinner with friends - it is completely up to me how I plan my evening.”
“Saturday morning the FIA arrive at the track very early and have another meeting and this is followed by a GPS test, then I watch the third practice session. Directly after Formula One qualifying, the countdown starts for the first GP2 race. The GP2 race on Saturday afternoon is principally the same as the Formula One race, just at a different time and with different cars. Saturday evening we usually socialize a little but we tend not to stay up that late because Sunday is the all-important race day.”
“On Sunday we arrive even earlier at the track. It is one of the greatest moments of the weekend - to see how the circuit and the people slowly awake and embrace the exciting day ahead. The toughest part of the day for me begins right after the GPS test. After the second GP2 race, the Porsche Supercup takes place and at 1pm the showdown for the Formula One race begins.
“At 1.10 pm my boss Charlie Whiting brings the official Formula One safety car to the starting grid and hands it over to me. I check again whether the camera and the radio function properly and I make sure I get the most recent weather update, which is a very important part of my race preparation. At 1.50 pm I join my co-driver in the car. We adjust our helmets, buckle up and check the radio frequency.
“At 1.55 pm we leave the starting grid and park the car in the agreed parking position for the first lap. As soon as all cars have completed the first curve, I am told to move the safety car to the parking position for the rest of the race by my colleagues in Race Control. I observe the race on the TV monitor in the car and I also watch the weather. I usually communicate two to three times with Race Control to check whether all frequencies function properly and to receive further weather updates.
“When I get a command, I always have to confirm it by stating what I am currently doing. It is like the relationship between an airplane pilot and air traffic control: when the pilot receives the order he then confirms it and also re-confirms the update of his or her new position. In addition, our mechanics also follow the radio on the pit lane.
“If the race is finished without a safety car phase - which is thankfully usually the case - I wait for the last race car and I follow it. With this, I notify the marshals that there are no other cars coming behind me and that they are able to enter the circuit. If no support race takes place, my day usually ends there. There are races, after which I leave straight away and others where we depart on Monday morning. When my work is done it is nice to spend Sunday evenings at home.”
When an incident occurs
“If the weather conditions worsen, or an accident occurs, I communicate with Race Control several times. I give them my opinion of the situation and I wait for their feedback. Race Control then decide whether I will be deployed or not. Along with the information I provide, Race Control takes the information of the weather station and the teams into consideration.
“If Race Control sees potential for the deployment of the car, I get the command - ‘Safety car stand-by!’ I prepare for deployment and wait for further commands. If I receive a ‘Safety car stand-down!’ the dangerous situation no longer exists, and there is no need for me to go on the track.
“If I hear ‘Safety car GO!’, I immediately drive onto the circuit and try to quickly go in front of the leading car, so that the race cars can line up behind me. During a safety car phase, safety is the most important element; however, I still need to maintain a certain level of speed. This is so the race cars do not overheat from the lack of cooling air or that their tyre pressure does not decrease.
“The teams also have an impact on the speed 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 - the Safety Car often seems slower than it is. However, for the Formula One drivers 280 km/h is quite slow. Just to give an example, a Formula One race car is on average 35 to 55 seconds faster with every lap it completes, depending on the length of the track. This means that a Formula One car can overtake the safety car every three laps. It is incredible how fast these cars are.
“I then stay on the circuit until the hazardous situation has been overcome. This is the decision of Race Control. Thereupon at the end of the second section I switch the warning lights off. Before taking the next possible exit, I turn into the pit lane and the grid is released. Overtaking is only permitted after having crossed the start/finish line.”