Life in cars
Bernd Mayländer The F1 safety driver has got his racing gloves around a few dream garages’ worth of metal
Although I’m a Mercedes man, I grew up near Zuffenhausen, so Porsche was a presence in my life from early on. My father was always a sports car fan, and took me to Hockenheim for my first GP in 1977. Niki Lauda won that race.
My first proper race was a club sport event at Zolder in 1990, in my father’s 911 Carrera 3.2. I remember how nervous I felt, because I’d never done anything like that before. But I just rolled up my sleeves and got on with it. I finished fourth.
My first car was a BMW 320i cabrio. I was lucky to get such a cool car for an 18th birthday present. As soon as I could, I drove to the Nordschleife, and I did my first laps of the ’Ring in that BMW. I went there pretty much every weekend, drove around with the roof down, playing music, pretty relaxed really but getting faster and faster. That’s how I learnt the track, and in 1991 I did my first race there, in a 911, and we won in our class. The ’Ring’s cultural impact was growing at the time, especially when the Wall came down. You would see people doing laps in Trabants and Wartburgs.
After that I got a BMW M3, an E30 Johnny Cecotto special edition. You don’t need to remind me how precious that’s become. Then my father bought a 1973 911 2.7 Club Sport… Honestly, back then they weren’t anything like as valuable as they are now. I did a few races in that, then we sold it because the racing was getting too competitive for that car. Yes, I did actual club sport racing in a Club Sport. We’d do sprint races and long-distance ones, at Brno, Zolder, Hockenheim, Nürburgring.
I stopped doing Club Sport racing in 1991. I did Formula Ford, but it wasn’t for me. I raced in the Carrera Cup, and came close to getting a proper job in 1992 because I was just burning money, when luckily some sponsorship came through. I won the Porsche Carrera Cup in 1994, and got a great discount on an Audi RS2. A wonderful car, but the fuel consumption was an issue.
I had a Jeep Cherokee for a while, but I can’t honestly remember how or why I ended up with that. I was actually quite happy when a good friend of mine destroyed the car on a highway.
At the end of ’94 I got the call from Mercedes. I was driving for a factory team, and I thought I’d get a nice car thrown in. But I still had to pay towards it, so to save a bit I got a C 280. My teammates all had the AMG C36, and criticised me for driving an old man’s car so I got the C36 too.
We have a few classics. I own a 1979 Mercedes 280 SL, and the family still has a 1989 Porsche 911 Speedster we’ve had since new. I just did the DTM classic at Hockenheim, driving a 1994 CLK. For a touring car, it was incredible. After one lap during free practice, I was right back in the zone. It’s fantastic being a driver, especially in one of the older cars. You are alone, you can feel everything, and it’s up to you how you manage your race.
The best racing car I ever drove was the CLK GTR – so much power and torque, big wheels, downforce, no traction control, no ABS… a proper machine. There are other cars that matter to me. I’m a big fan of Steve McQueen, so the Porsche 917 is a special car for me. And the Sauber-Mercedes C9, too. That’s a significant car in Merc history.