Mercedes-AMG Safety Cars: The Mayländer fleet

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See your own car flickering over the screen? At prime time? That probably only happens to a few. Bernd Mayländer is one of them. Mayländer, a passionate racing driver and Swabian, is sitting in front of the TV when his company car leads the field of Formula 1 racing cars. That was 1996. His employer at the time, AMG, had moved in Mayländer's still fresh C36 company car a few days before, because M ercedes provided the safety cars for the racing series with immediate effect. 'Even my license plate was still there, S-BM 300, I can still remember that very clearly,' remembers the now 44-year-old.

Mayländer's company car becomes the first safety car

The coupé was used from 1997, and that without being significantly different from a road vehicle - apart from the Christmas tree, of course, which, depending on the color, shows the status of the safety car. Orange flashing light means: absolute no overtaking. If the safety car has to line up in the middle of the field, the green lights come on and signal the Formula 1 pilots driving behind that they are allowed to pass.

And when the entire field behind the safety car has gathered, Mayländer has to step on the gas - and do it properly. 'Of course, it looks slower on TV compared to the actual race, but since the tires of the racing cars have to stay at the right temperature, the pace must not drop too far,' he explains. That is why the safety car is often at the limit, which is of course much lower on the CLK 55 than on the current GT S.

With this youngtimer on the hottest slopes in the world at racing speed? My goodness. Just the good old Ritsch-Ratsch shift gatethe five-speed automatic torpedoed all ambitions for a decent lap time in the pit lane. 'Ha, there must stop switching by hand', Mayländer comments dryly. Well, the CLK is spared that today, it stays with a few leisurely laps.

With its not so squeamish suspension setup and the thundering sound of the 347 hp engine, the coupé says it did not surrender to Jacques Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard and the rest of the troop without a fight, but wanted to lead them with dignity through the bland phases like the wet race in Spa. Incidentally, Mayländer wasn't behind the wheel at the time, because his new job as a safety car driver was still a long time coming after his company car was forcibly recruited. Bernd raged first in the DTM, then in the FIA ​​World Endurance Championship on the racetracks of Europe.

CL55 becomes the first Mayländer safety car

'It wasn't until 1999 that Domingos Piedade, the AMG managing director at the time, asked at the San Marino Grand Prix whether I could drive the safety car in Formula 3000, 'says the racing driver. And when Oliver Gavin wanted to pursue his career in the USA in the following year rather than waiting in a silver Mercedes-AMG for his Formula 1 entry, Mayländer also took over his job.

Oh yes, he drove a CLK 55 after all: 'I got one as a company car,' says the Swabian and grins. A CL 55 served as the safety car during this time, including here in Hockenheim, when a spectator gained access to the track on lap 24, and later when Jean Alesi collided with Pedro Diniz in the Sauber in the Peugeot. In the opulent S-Class Coupé - that was still called the CL at the time - of the 221 series, Mayländer even slipped around on the standard leather armchairs. 'The modifications were manageable. We even only had a handheld radio, and at the end of the race the car was driven home on its own,' he says.

Cut. Wild roars echo in the Motodrom, metallic, even a bit clattering, desolate. If the speed drops, for example in the Sachskurve, the eight-cylinder naturally aspirated engine simmers and gurgles, loud, restless. Even when braking, the rear axle wants to free itself from the obligation of unshakable traction, now even more so when accelerating out. However, knowing about the short wheelbase curbs the appetite for power oversteer - the probability of a spin with the probably unique Mercedes SLK is too high.

Excuse me? That little roadster, for example, whose hardtop acrobatics, which were so spectacular at the time, ensured damp silk sheets in the yuppie apartments between Hamburg and Munich? Exactly that. Between 2004 and 2005, Formula 1 was allowed to be his stage, after the CLK 55 (C209) and the SL 55 compressor.

SLK safety car without silencer

Especially compared to the 500 hp SLMayländer of course misses the performance of the SLK: 'But it was light. And very agile. A really small playmobile'. Indeed. And one thing that, in addition to the somewhat sluggish driving behavior of the production model, was missing something: all the mufflers in the exhaust system. This mutates the two-seater to ... yes, what actually? To Commissioner Bienzle on Ecstasy? Whatever: So direct, so poisonous, so furiously, even the production SLK-AMG did not work its way off a racetrack, not so incredibly roaring anyway.

They built a really small wild boar for the Mayländer back then who today regrets that the SLK was only in service for two years - on the one hand. On the other hand: 'Then came the CLK, then the SL with the new 6.2-liter V8. The SL in particular received quite a few modifications in terms of cooling the brakes, engine and rear axle differential - and for the first time the MCT transmission with double-declutching function 'says the racing driver with enthusiasm that can hardly be concealed.

Now the SL is already howling excitedly with its differential cooler, the speed cameras in the headlights and taillights twitch. So pull the four-point seat belts tight, get out on the track, brake the ant curve, step on the gas, the rear twitches slightly. Even on the competitively flat surface, it quickly becomes clear that there is about as much of the suspension comfort of the base as a packet of cookies in the hands of the cookie monster.

The 525 hp engine, 7,000, rages with similar greed /min and more, of course. The two-seater, which has been lightened by 220 kilograms but still weighs 1.7 tonnes, is braked at the end of the crossbar and in front of the Sachskurve, accompanied by double-declutching gun salutes.

SLS with double-door show effect

The third of the assembled safety cars, like the other two, has its own vision. There is more the angry decathlete than the fighting rage like the SLK, not to mention the CLK's reputable and civil appearance in comparison. From 2010 even more drama comes into play, with the first AMG-owned sports car taking over. The SLS weighs even less than the SL, the V8 develops 571 hp - and yet everything was suddenly completely different. 'You don't need to change a lot. Bucket seats in, lights on, that's basically it. A real sports car, really,' says Mayländer.

However, the GT evolution stage comes to the meeting in Hockenheim, 591 Powerful, with a revised chassis, the gaudy gullwing doors, of course, but without the maddening sound of the old SLK - which Bernd Mayländer doesn't even regret that much: 'Apart from the fact that they don't sound bad either, the SLK was able to give you at some point get on your nerves. '

By the way: does the safety car get on the nerves of the Formula 1 drivers? 'That may be especially true when some pilots are a big head starthave worked out their pursuer. We get on well though, they already know that I don't race to annoy them, 'chats Mayländer, who once fought on the racetrack with the fathers of Max Verstappen and Nico Rosberg.

AMG GT S with turbo power for the first time

Today, however, he no longer has to exhaust himself completely. 'With the SLS and especially with the GT S you can stay a little below the limit without the Formula 1 cars having to suffer. The potential of the AMG is enormous. 'Sure, the GT S develops 510 instead of 597 hp like its predecessor, but the two turbochargers of the four-liter V8 blow with an intensity that fairy-tale wolves can only dream of with destructiveness.

In addition, the GT S is one of the most accurate bullets in the sports car segment due to the active engine and transmission mounts as well as the balanced weight always inspiring, just like the deadly serious traction of the rear-wheel drive vehicle. Oh yes, and the sound? Deep, dirty, nasty, because the flaps of the exhaust system in the safety car are always on storm The two tablet computers in particular stand out: they transmit the international TV signal and an animation of the route so that co-driver Peter Tibbets can keep an eye on the field Mayländer would now see his current company car there, a CLS 63 Shooting Brake by the way, then it would go a little wrong. Totally wrong.

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