Why SA's F1 medic car pilot Alan van der Merwe is the unsung Belgian GP 'Driver of the Day'

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• Alan van der Merwe has been driving the F1 medical car since 2009 without interruption.

• The South African treaded the dangerously wet Spa-Francorchamps racetrack gauging conditions.

• Van der Merwe is one of the unsung heroes in F1.

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If a South African does not know the name Alan van der Merwe by now, where have you been?! Our own 'Van der Merv' has been driving the Formula 1 medical car for more than a decade, with him often the first on the scene in the event of an accident or crash. He is undeniably one of the essential people in F1, with his role often overlooked when things are a bit... boring.

During the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, Van der Merwe was the driver who covered the most laps in his Mercedes-AMG C 63 S station wagon as he treaded around the track. How so? Well, as the drivers waited in the pitlane for the rainy conditions to improve and the race to (finally) get underway, 'Van' and the medical team faced the treacherous conditions as they lapped the 7.0km circuit to gauge if it's safe to go racing.

Van der Merwe raced lap after lap around the infamous Spa-Francorchamps circuit, with each lap going more swimmingly than the one before - no pun intended. But while Van der Merwe's on-track antics are the stuff of legends, the race would eventually be called off after just three laps.

'Van' is the man

While Van der Merwe has been racing around Spa gauging conditions, it is not the first time he has been called into action. Last year, during the Bahrain Grand Prix, 'Van' and F1's medical doctor, Dr Ian Roberts, were the first on the scene when Romain Grosjean's Haas caught fire on the opening lap. While he is just the medical car driver, Van der Merwe assisted Roberts in pulling Grosjean from his on-fire race car in a situation where neither F1 official thought about their own well-being.

At the time, Van der Merwe said: "It was a big surprise for us as well; we've never seen that much fire in 12 years. Romain started to get out of the car himself, which was pretty amazing after an accident like that. It was a relief to see he was okay. It just goes to show all the systems we've developed worked hand in hand - the halos, the barriers, the seatbelts, everything all worked as it should. Without just one of those things, it could have been a very different outcome."

READ: Who is Alan van der Merwe? Meet the SA driver tasked with driving the F1 medical car

Van der Merwe is no stranger to racing. He has a rich competitive history in motorsport. In 2006 and 2007, he raced for Team South Africa in the erstwhile A1 Grand Prix Championship and was also part of the then-BAR Honda F1 team's Young Driver Programme. In 2005, he recorded the highest speed ever in an F1 car - 413.205km/h - a record that stands to this day.

Though his signing with BAR Honda never resulted in a full-time F1 drive, he received the keys to the official F1 medical car in 2009. Since that season, Van der Merwe has been driving the car without fail and he has since become a mainstay on the F1 grid.

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