Formula 1 Safety Cars

Formula 1 Safety Cars

As the Formula 1 drivers zoom around the track, they are sometimes interrupted by an uninvited guest–the Safety Car. The Safety Car looks much like a sports car or even an unofficial race car, but it’s not there to race; it's there to ensure everyone stays safe when something dangerous occurs on track. The safety car's job is to slow the competitors down and give the F1 marshalls time to resolve whatever issue has happened on the track. The safety car comes in two different varieties. There is the Aston Martin Vantage and the Mercedes Benz AMG GT. Read on to learn more about the safety car, how it is used, what rules the competitors must follow, and how its younger sibling, the virtual safety car, comes into play.


Formula 1 Safety Cars Deployment

The Formula 1 safety car is utilized when there is a danger on the track, such as large debris from another car, a multi-car pile-up, or if there is a car that a crane is removing. However, it is also used at the beginning of the race to lead the formation lap. Aside from the formation lap and danger resulting from an accident on the track, it is also used when there is severe weather. While Formula One drivers do continue to compete in rainy situations, the safety car will be deployed if it is raining so heavily that it is deemed unsafe for the drivers to race at full speed. When the safety car is deployed, all competitors will receive a notification stating “SAFETY CAR DEPLOYED,” the light panels around the track will show SC, and the track marshals will wave yellow flags on the side of the track. In cases where it is too dangerous for the cars to continue to stay on track, the safety car will not be utilized, and the race clerk will call a suspension of competition.

Competitor Procedure

formula 1 safety cars competitor procedure

The safety car will have flashing orange lights to be easily visible to the competitors when first coming onto the track. No competitor is allowed to overtake another car once the safety car is on track. The safety car will lead them away from the dangers on track and require them to reduce their speed. While the cars are not allowed to race or pass one another, they will be allowed to pit if their team calls them in. 

After the debris is cleared off of the track or the heavy rain has stopped, the safety car will flash a green light allowing the racers to pass it until it is driving directly in front of the race leader. This procedure allows all lapped cars to unlap themselves and line up in their respective positions behind the safety car. For example, when the safety car first comes onto the track, it may be between the number two position car and the number twenty position car. The competitor in twentieth place is allowed to pass the number two car and safety car to take up its position at the back of the pack. After all competitors have taken their positions accordingly, the safety car will switch back to the flashing orange lights and wait for race control to call it off the track.

Competitor Strategy

When a safety car is called onto the track, it can be one of the hardest and most crucial points of race strategy for all teams in the competition. As the race goes on, each team's strategy group constantly evaluates what might happen if a safety car is deployed within the next three to five laps. The first thing they need to worry about is the car's tyres. In order to function properly, Formula One tyres have to be extremely hot. As the safety car slows the entire grid down, the tyres on each car begin to cool, causing them to lose grip. Typically, this won’t be a large problem if the tyres on the car are relatively new, but if the tyres are at the end of their life span, it will be almost impossible to continue racing on them once they cool down.

The next problem that arises when a safety car is deployed is each race car’s brakes. During the laps led by the safety car, each competitor will have to be extremely cautious not to overheat their brakes. Formula One brakes are naturally cooled by the airflow created from driving fast. Once the safety car is deployed, the speed of the race is reduced by almost 60%, meaning the brakes are not getting the airflow they need to cool. 

Virtual Safety Cars

formula 1 virtual safety cars

Much like the physical safety car, the virtual safety car is utilized when there are dangers on track. However, these dangers are not sufficient enough to significantly slow the pace of the race, so the virtual safety car is used instead. It is deployed when small pieces of debris need to be picked up or if a car simply needs to be pushed off track. The idea of the VSC is still to slow the cars down to a safer speed while the problem on track is solved. It reduces the speed of the grid by 30%, and each car must follow a specific delta time. By maintaining a certain delta time, each car will stay the exact same distance from the position in front of it and behind it.