Bernd Mayländer becomes the oldest driver to ‘lead’ a Grand Prix

Yes, you may need an asterisk with this particular fact – but Bernd Mayländer broke Luigi Fagioli’s 73 year old record and became the oldest driver to ‘lead’ a Grand Prix when the Safety Car was deployed at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix!

On Lap 13 of the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix, Bernd Mayländer ‘broke’ a 73-year-old Formula 1 record. Mayländer celebrated his 52nd birthday on May 29, making him 52 years and 21 days old on the day of the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix. That’s 12 days older than Luigi Fagioli at the 1950 Belgian Grand Prix – the race at which the Italian driver became the oldest to lead a World Championship Grand Prix.

Bernd Mayländer became the oldest driver to 'lead' a Grand Prix at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix

Luigi Fagioli – the only driver to win a Grand Prix who was born in the 19th century – drove for Alfa Romeo in 1950 and 1951 and would finish as runner-up to Juan Manuel Fangio in his record-setting race. Fagioli is the only driver over the age of 50 to have ever led a World Championship race.

Strangely, Mayländer ‘breaks’ Fagioli’s record 73 years to the day since Fagioli set it at Spa-Francorchamps in 1950.

50 years of the Safety Car

Formula 1 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Safety Car’s usage at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix. It was first deployed at the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, which was held at Mosport Park. A yellow Porsche 914 was used at the event, with local driver Eppie Wietzes acting as Safety Car driver. However, he picked up the wrong driver. It allowed some cars, including eventual race winner Peter Revson, to gain a lap on the rest of the field.

After those teething issues, the Safety Car was not used again for 20 years. Following trials at two races in 1992, the Safety Car was written into the regulations in 1993 and made two appearances that year. It would be deployed 30 times in total during the 1990s.

Multiple drivers were allocated the role of Safety Car driver in the 1990s including Mark Goddard, Max Angelelli and Alex Ribiero. Oliver Gavin became the regular Safety Car driver in 1997. Ribiero notably took over duties at the 1999 British Grand Prix as Gavin was competing in the supporting Formula 3000 race.

Bernd Mayländer has been the regular Safety Car driver since 2000. There have been very few occasions since then on which Mayländer has not been the Safety Car driver. An injury put him out of action at the 2001 Canadian Grand Prix, where Marcel Fässler deputised. Meanwhile, Irish driver Damien Faulkner deputised at the 2002 United States Grand Prix, though the Safety Car was not deployed during the race.

Image: © Andrew Balfour

Since its introduction, the Safety Car has been deployed over 300 times and almost 1,500 laps have been completed behind it. The longest ever Safety Car deployment came at the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix, when Bernd Mayländer led the field for 19 consecutive laps.

Will Fagioli’s record ever actually be broken?

Luigi Fagioli’s actual record of being the oldest driver to ever lead a Grand Prix will likely never be broken. It’s a number of F1 records still held by drivers who raced in the 1950s, including the oldest driver to start a race (Louis Chiron) and the biggest gain in position in a Grand Prix (26 places).

In terms of drivers who’ve actually led a Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso could become only the 13th to do so at the age of 42 years or older later this year. The last time a driver led a lap at an age older than Alonso’s current age was at the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix, when Michael Schumacher led three laps at the age of 42 years, 9 months and 6 days.

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