South African racing driver Alan Van Der Merwe is set to become the official full time Medical Car driver for the 2009 season, it is being reported. Although it would appear that the FIA are yet to make an official announcement, the news comes after Alex Wurz and Sebastien Buemi all subbed for the previous regular pilot of the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Estate, Dr Jacques Tropenat, last year.
The Medical Car is on standby during all sessions that make up a Formula One weekend, and sits at the far end of the pitlane ready for deployment. For the race itself, the car waits at the back of the grid and follows the grid off the line. Once the Medical Car reaches the end of the pitlane, assuming the start has been incident free, it pulls in and waits with the Safety Car.
At the Australian Grand Prix last weekend, the car was in fact deployed after Robert Kubica slammed his BMW into the barrier. Although Kubica was perfectly fine and managed to vacate the car unassisted, the Medical Car was sent out along with the Safety Car as a precaution.
While Bernd Mayländer has been piloting the Safety Car for a number of years now, it was reported last season that Medical Car driver Dr Jacques Tropenat was suffering from an ear infection which resulted in him being unable to drive. Alex Wurz subbed Tropenat at the Singapore Grand Prix, while Sebastien Buemi stepped in for the Japanese race.
Since last season, Tropenat has apparently been promoted to the position of Deputy Director of Medical Affairs at the FIA, and thus the Medical Car driver vacancy became available. It may seem strange to some that a racing driver is really required for this and the safety car role, but when you consider the length of some tracks, and the fact they are sharing it with Formula One cars, the need for rapid driving becomes a little clearer.
It is often remarked that on the television screen, it looks as though the Safety Car is driving very slowly around the track, but in reality Mayländer is actually flooring his Mercedes and throwing the thing into the corners in an effort to ensure the tyre and brake temperatures of the following pack of cars don’t fall too far out of their usual operating window. The same can be said for the Medical Car, although the reason for driving quickly are obviously because they could be travelling to the scene of an accident.
Thus, it is useful to have someone who knows what they’re doing behind the wheel. Alex Wurz has just been announced as a test/reserve driver/developer for Brawn, and Sebastien Buemi is now racing full time with Scuderia Toro Rosso. So instead, the FIA have called upon South African racer Alan Van Der Merwe.
Van Der Merwe has raced in lower formulae for many years, taking the British Formula Three Championship in 2003 before venturing into F3000 with Super Nova outfit. Van Der Merwe has also tested for the former BAR team and was the pilot of the modified BAR-007 when the team attempted to break the 400kmh hour barrier at Bonneville in a Formula One car.