Alan van der Merwe, who serves as the official Formula 1 Medical Car driver on grand prix weekends, says his role is about being quick “while maintaining a huge margin of error to deal with the unexpected”.
The South-African has been on duty since 2009, rushing doctors and their equipment to the scene of an accident in seconds at the wheel of the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Medical Car
Talking to the official F1 website in a wide-ranging interview, Van der Merwe explains what it takes to occupy this crucial position.
“The most important factor is not that you can drive a car fast: there are millions of people who could drive the car fast enough to get to an incident within a clinical time frame where it matters,” the 37-year-old said.
“The thing to consider is the environment: you’re driving a big, heavy estate car and sometimes sharing the track with extremely fast racing cars, probably the fastest racing cars in the world over a lap. It’s a difficult combination.
“You need the extra capacity to be driving close to the limit while thinking about what’s ahead, what’s behind. You have to be prepared for drivers making mistakes, marshals jumping over the barrier ahead of you.
“It’s about having the capacity to drive the car quickly enough to get to the scene, stay ahead of the cars on track while maintaining a huge margin of error to deal with the unexpected.”
Although his Medical Car is a familiar sight for F1 fans around the world, van der Merwe insists his job is also about shunning the spotlight.
“We’ll be most visible if we make a mistake - so the biggest part of the job is being as anonymous as possible,” he added.
“We want to be on track as little as possible; when we are on track we never want to shunt the car, or get involved with any of the race cars.
“There’s a lot that goes into that, from making sure the cars are mechanically right, to how we drive on the circuit to ensuring there is sufficient margin for error.”