What Does the Safety Car Do in F1 and When Does It Come Out?


Have you ever wondered just what does the safety car do in F1?

Since the 1970s, the Formula 1 safety cars have been instrumental in keeping the drivers safe as they neutralise the race after an incident by leading the pack at slower speeds.

They even produce some of the best racing anywhere once they retreat in the pit lane since they eliminate the track gaps between F1 cars.

Learn more about the fascinating purpose of a safety car in F1 below!

What a Safety Car Does in F1?

photo source: autosport

Even though it’s not one of the lighting fast F1 machines, the official safety car is still a swift luxury vehicle that comes close to matching the 1,000 hp cars driving behind it.

But how does the safety car work in F1?

Well, the purpose of this pace car is to limit the speed of the other vehicles on the circuit if and when inclement weather or certain events aggravate the track conditions.

In such cases, safety marshals come onto the racing circuit to clear out any debris, help out drivers that took part in accidents, or move stalled cars out of the way.

Once the racing track is deemed safe, lapped drivers are asked to overtake the leader before the safety vehicle returns to the pits. At this point, the current race leader is given charge of the race, which will resume once he starts racing at full speed again.

Note: Since brake and tyre temperatures decrease behind the safety vehicle, drivers warm them up again with zig-zag movements, quick acceleration, and braking manoeuvres.

Related: How heavy are F1 cars?

What Do the Safety Car Lights Mean?

The safety car driver uses signalling lights installed on his vehicle to inform F1 racers about the start and end of the safety car period and if and when they can overtake him.

The 2022 F1 safety cars now incorporate these lights into the chassis (windscreen, rear spoiler, and number plate) instead of using a roof light bar that affected their aerodynamics.

When the safety vehicle is coming onto the track, its signalling lights will show a constant orange, but when it gets into position to neutralise overtaking, they will start flashing.

On the other hand, the green lights are used to indicate to lapped racecars they can speed up, overtake the safety vehicle, and end up behind the pack.

Note: The DRS system that allows for easier overtaking during a race remains deactivated during the safety car period and two laps after a race restart.

Also read: What is Halo in Formula 1?

What Are the Medical and the Virtual Safety Cars?

What Does the Safety Car Do in F1?
photo source: F1

While the safety car slows down the pack and prevents overtakes, the FIA medical car serves a more important objective: to bring a certified doctor to the scene of accidents who checks whether or not the driver is in good health and provides medical assistance if necessary.

On the other hand, the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) does not involve an actual vehicle—it’s only a warning system requiring drivers to slow down by 30%. The VSC is typically activated in situations that will be resolved quickly and do not require a real safety car.

Note: The VSC was conceived and implemented due to Jules Bianchi’s horrendous crash at the 2014 Japanese GP that eventually took his life several months later.

Also read: Why Do F1 Drivers Get Weighed After a Race?

What Role Did the Safety Car Play in the Outcome of F1 In  2021?

The F1 2021 season had one of if not the most thrilling conclusions in the history of the sport as two of the greatest F1 drivers ever went into the final Abu Dhabi race on equal points.

Similar to the previous three races, Lewis Hamilton was dominating the start and the middle of the race, thanks in large part to his overtuned and fresh power unit, and yet fate did not see him win his record-breaking eight World Drivers’ Championship title, and this is why:

  1. Latifi crashed on Lap 52 (six from the end);
  2. The safety car came out and bundled up the field;
  3. Unlike Mercedes, Red Bull pitted Verstappen for fresh tyres;
  4. Debris removal was taking too long;
  5. The race director decided to end the race under a green flag;
  6. He only unlapped the cars between the leader and second-placer;
  7. He recalled the safety car one lap earlier to get a racing finish;
  8. Max overtook Lewis Hamilton on the last lap to win his first WDC.

Mercedes promptly lodged their protests, but it was for nought since the rules were unclear enough to allow for such an interpretation, and had those objections proven successful, the race would have been voided, and the driver standings would have remained the same.

Note: Pit stops are allowed when the safety car is in effect, and they drastically reduce the time loss drivers experience under normal circumstances.

Also read: How much is an F1 car?

F1 Safety Car Rules and Changes After 2021

photo source: autosport

In addition to removing Michael Masi from his role as a race director due to the controversy he brought about with his interpretation of the rules, the FIA has amended and clarified the rules concerning the usage of the official safety car.

The new regulations categorically state that ‘all’ lapped cars must now pass the safety car. The second rule stating the race is to be restarted a lap after the cars unlap themselves has remained unchanged.

Moreover, the FIA has introduced a more robust support structure with a system similar to football’s VAR to help race controllers make the right decisions.

Also read: 24 Fast Formula 1 Facts and Stats That Will Surprise You

Bottom Line

Since they were introduced at the Canadian GP in 1973, the F1 safety cars have become a crucial part of the sport as they keep drivers safe in dangerous situations.

Moreover, safety vehicle restarts are some of the most thrilling moments during any two-hour-long F1 race since they bunch up the field together, thus eliminating the intervals between cars.


Who Drives the Safety Car in F1?

Bernd Maylander has been driving various Formula 1 safety cars since 2000 despite participating in other motorsports competitions at the beginning of his career.

In regards to the new 2022 safety car, he stated: “I’m simply blown away by how close it is to a thoroughbred race car”, further adding that his workplace is a dream come true.

Which Car Manufacturer Produces the F1 Safety Car?

For the 2022 season, Formula 1 uses cars provided by Mercedes and Aston Martin. While the Mercedes model is the AMG GT Black Series, Aston Martin supplies the V8 Vantage.

How Fast Does the Safety Car Go in F1?

The Mercedes GT Black Series features a 730 hp engine that accelerates to 100 kph in 3.2 seconds and has a top speed of 325 kph.

The V8 Vantage, on the other hand, pumps out 528 hp and has a 100-kph acceleration of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 314 kph.

What Does the Safety Car Do in F1 When It’s Not on Track?

The F1 safety car sits at the end of the pitlane area the entire race, ready to go out at a moment’s notice after receiving such directions from Race Control.

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