Bernd Maylander, 50-year-old German FIA Safety Car driver
Bernd Maylander, 50-year-old German FIA Safety Car driver Image Credit: Supplied

As excitement builds for what will be one of the most thrilling climaxes to a Formula 1 season in recent memory, one person will be will be his usual calm, collected self as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton prepare for the ultimate showdown at a reconfigured Yas Marina Circuit this weekend.

Bernd Maylander, the 50-year-old German former racing driver will again be behind the wheel of the FIA Safety Car, and having performed the role since 2000, Maylander’s enthusiasm and passion for his unique role is still undimmed. Especially so as Abu Dhabi will witness for only the second time in F1 history two drivers entering the last race of the season tied on points — the last being in 1974.

“Two drivers — both the best in the world — fighting in Abu Dhabi on the same points. You couldn’t make it up for a Hollywood script,” he says.

Before Sunday’s showdown, however, there is a lot of work to be done. Maylander explains that before a car even touches the track, everything follows a tried and tested process.

“When I arrive at a circuit, the first item is track walk on Thursday morning, with FIA Race Director Michael Masi and other FIA officials. We walk around and inspect everything — the barriers, the kerbs, the run-offs, etc. Walking provides a more detailed inspection that you don’t get from driving at higher speeds.”

“Then we will do a systems test — a couple of a laps in the car to ensure that all the radios and other systems are working. The official track test comes on Thursday evening, which is later than other circuits because Abu Dhabi is a night race. We drive for one hour and really get the safety car on the limits.”

“Safety is paramount and always at the forefront. There are always checks to be made, even on the F1 cars themselves.”

As the weekend unfolds, Maylander is fully engaged across every aspect of on-track activity. “On Friday, we do another couple of small tests, some press interviews and then we have the F1 drivers’ meeting. Saturday and Sunday is about supporting the whole FIA race series sessions on track across the session — this includes F1, F2, F3 and W Series.”

This season, he will support across 22 races — the longest season calendar to date. But, he says that the process for each race is the same, it just means adapting to the local conditions. “Each circuit has different situations and different layouts, timings etc. Unlike others in the FIA team I get a couple of days off so I get a chance to see some of the country.”

He admits that despite technological advances, little has changed since his first Grand Prix at Melbourne in 2000. “The goal is always the same: Safety first, and to be on the grid at the right time. Everything is managed by the clock, it’s like a countdown. Some technology has changed but essentially things are the same. For example, GPS mapping and digital radio are new innovations but radio is still the way we communicate on race weekend from the car because it’s still the quickest and most effective.”

This will be his 13th Abu Dhabi Grand Prix behind the wheel, and he has some fond memories from his Yas Marina Circuit: “The championship fight in 2016 is still in my mind — it was so dramatic,” he says.

He is also looking forward to taking the Safety Car around the reconfigured track layout during the weekend. “I am really looking forward to it — should get nice flow and open up the racing more with quicker lap times. More overtaking is always helpful. It looks really cool.

“The facilities here in AD are phenomenal — it’s like some kind of dreamland with the harbour and circuit. It’s a fantastic place to race and it’s definitely one of the highlights. It’s one of the big ones as it’s the end of the season too. Brings everything together at the end. Plus it’s only 6 hours’ travel from Europe so it’s convenient — everything is perfect.”