Bernd Mayländer: Meet The Man Who’s Led The Most Laps In F1

The Formula One safety car takes the track during practice for the U.S. Grand Prix. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Formula One safety car takes the track during practice for the U.S. Grand Prix. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Bernd Mayländer is a former Le Mans racer who has also driven in over 100 Formula One grands prix and led over 600 laps in the same span. That’s because he’s the man behind the wheel of F1’s Safety Car.

Bernd Mayländer has been the Formula 1 Safety Car driver in every race since 2000, with the exception of the 2001 Canadian Grand Prix because of injury. In the spirit of the chaos on track we had at Spa last weekend, here’s tribute to the man who kept the race together.

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That’s not an exaggeration. He gathers the flock and protects it when something goes awry, a far harder task than it appears on our television screens, even for a retired racing car driver. Mayländer is left with the taxing task of keeping up with Formula One race cars, in all their technological and high-speed glory, behind the wheel of a car you can drive off a dealer’s lot.

On Thursdays, Mayländer is the first person to take the track — he completes a number of laps to ensure everything from curb stones to TV cameras are properly positioned. He makes similar runs on every morning of the weekend to check the circuit’s GPS system, which allows the F1 cars to be tracked and triggers warning lights in their cockpits if there is an accident.

During the Friday practice session the safety car is not in use, so Maylander watches events unfold from the FIA motorhome before making an appearance at both the F1 and GP2 driver briefings.

Naturally, on race day, Maylander arrives at the track bright and early. By the time the grand prix is scheduled to begin, there have already been two races run that day.

He and his co-driver, Peter Tibbetts, are strapped into their seats of the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT-S, they wear blue race suits, matching helmets, and flame-retardant underwear. An iPad affixed to their center console gives them all the data and information needed about the race.

The Safety Car can be summoned for any number of reasons — a crash, debris on the track, or in some cases, an especially stupid fan deciding to go for a walk along the circuit.

The real skill comes in driving at speeds approaching 170 mph while maintaining a constant dialogue with the teams in the pit lane, whose primary concerns are the decreasing pressures in their car’s tyres and the rising temperatures of their air-starved engines.

Mayländer’s marshaling pace was perhaps no better displayed than during the 2015 United States Grand Prix — a treacherous race which was partnered with drivers’ championship implications. Hurricane Patricia and other weather conditions littered the Circuit of the Americas with more than 6.5 inches of rainfall, turning the 3.4-mile track into a river.

The storm that arrived for Friday practice was so violent, race officials called it quits before drivers could finish the session. The next day, things didn’t get much better — the majority of the day was spent waiting for the weather to break so qualifying could get underway.

When Danill Kvyat put his Red Bull machine into the barrier during the race Sunday, Maylander was sent out immediately with the command, “Safety car, go.” He took off down the pit road at the maximum speed permitted, 50 miles an hour. By the time he hit Turn 1 to begin corralling the cars, the real challenge began.

Even for Maylander, an experienced driver who’s raced on some of the world’s most demanding tracks setting the pace can be quite tricky — at slow speeds, the brake and tire temperatures in Formula 1 cars drop dramatically, which can considerably affect the car’s dynamics.

Too slow isn’t safe and too fast isn’t an option.

The pace of the Safety Car can often times be deceptive, especially at Monza, where the Italian Grand Prix is set to take place Sunday.

“The safety car often seems slower than it is, but in actual fact, I tend to drive at my limit during the safety car phase. This means that in Monza, for example, on the main straight I drive at approximately up to 280 km/h [173 MPH],” Maylander told

And Sunday he’ll be back behind the wheel, adding more laps to his already impressive total.