Thursday 3 April 2014

Safety in Formula 1: The Safety Car (Part Six)

By: Junaid Samodien

The Mercedes AMG Safety car out on track in Korea.
After a lengthy pause in the Safety in Formula 1 series, I have decided to bring it back! This new article will focus on the “safety car”. What is a safety car? A Safety Car is a car which limits the speed of the racing cars on a racetrack in the case of an accident, obstruction or because the track is waterlogged after heavy rain. When the safety car is sent out the immediate job is to pick up the leader. Drivers are then not allowed to pass the safety car or one another, and the safety car usually leads the field at a safe stipulated speed until the safety conditions have improved and the safety car would then be brought in and racing will then resume.

According to Formula 1 regulations, the safety car enters the circuit “whenever there is an immediate hazard but the conditions do not require the race to be interrupted”. The use of a safety car can make racing more competitive when team strategists incorporate a “safety car windows” into their initial strategies (if a driver requires a pitstop during the Grand Prix). Drivers and cars use less fuel while running under the safety car, which would prove to be an advantage with these new 2014 Formula 1 Sporting Regulations where cars are required to start a Grand Prix with a maximum fuel limit of 100 kg’s. 

The first ever Safety car leading the field at the 1973 Canadian F1 Grand Prix.
Source: F1 History.
Where was the First Safety car used? The first use of the safety car in Formula 1 was at the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, but took its place ahead of the wrong driver, which then placed the field (drivers) on a lap down. It took approximately several hours after the Grand Prix to determine the actual winner of the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix. The Safety Car was officially introduced at the start of the 1993 season and the first car to be used was a Fiat Tempra at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

What were the procedures that need to be followed by teams? Two new procedures were instituted in the 2007 season, which were applied to the Bahrain Grand Prix. According, “The pit lane was closed immediately upon the deployment of the safety car. No car could enter the pits for the purpose of refuelling until all cars on the track had formed up in a line behind the safety car, they passed the pit entrance, and the message "pit lane open" was given. A ten second stop/go penalty (which must be taken when the race is green again) was imposed on any driver who entered the pit lane and whose car was refuelled before the pitlane open message is given; effectively these drivers were penalised for choosing to remain in the race, rather than running out of fuel. However, any car which was in the pit entry or pit lane when the safety car was deployed would not incur a penalty.”

The procedure was replaced in the 2009 season by software that calculates where a car is on the track and a minimum laptime it should take the car to get to the pits. Any cars/drivers that enter the pits before this period would be penalised. At the start of the 2010 season, once cars were lined up behind the safety car, lapped cars were then no longer allowed to unlap themselves before the race was restarted. This rule was discarded in the 2012 season, with cars now allowed to unlap themselves before the race resumes.

The Safety Car board held out by a Marshall at a Grand Prix.

What is the Procedure of sending out a Safety car? The safety car is on standby throughout a Grand Prix, ready to be dispatched by Race Control at a moment's notice. When the Race Director (Charlie Whiting) decides to deploy the safety car it will join the track immediately and from that point no overtaking is allowed. The safety car will then allow cars to pass it until the race leader is immediately behind it. Throughout the process, a 'Safety Car' board is also displayed to drivers as they cross the start-finish line, and the information will also be relayed over radios from the pit lane and an onboard lighting system would display a safety car warning to the driver/s .

When the Race Director orders the safety car to leave the track again, a similarly exact procedure is followed. At the start of its final lap the safety car will turn off its orange flashing lights. Competitors must still remain behind in formation, but they know that at the beginning of the next lap they will be given the go ahead to resume racing. The safety car will pull off into the pits at the end of the lap and the leading driver will then become the “safety car” as he would then control the pace until he decides to bolt off and resume racing.

The current Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG with driver Bernd Maylander.
Who supplies the Safety car? According to, “Since 1996 the official Formula One safety car has been supplied by Mercedes-Benz and the current model is a 571 horse power Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. On the safety cars roof there is an aerodynamically designed light bar, with LED signalling lights and two integrated TV cameras. In the cockpit two central monitors allow the safety car driver and co-driver to keep track of the race, while a ‘marshalling system’ in the dashboard’s central instrument cluster displays the cockpit safety signals being shown to the competitors. Radio systems ensure constant contact with race control.” The safety car is a spectacular piece of machinery and compared to the 1993 we have seen vast improvements in the amount of power the car has, as well as the technological improvements. So the next time you see the safety car don’t just boo it for driving slowly it has a responsibility to maintain a certain speed.

Who drove the Safety Car?
·         The first safety car driver in Formula 1 was Eppie Wietzes in 1973.
·         Max Angelelli drove the safety car at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
·         Jean Ragnotti drove the safety car at the 1995 Monaco Grand Prix.
·         Oliver Gavin drove the safety car during the 1997-1999 seasons.
·          Bernd Maylander is the current safety car driver from 2000-present.
·         Marcel Fassler briefly replaced an injured Maylander for one Grand Prix in 2001.

Bernd Maylander and Co-driver Peter Tibbets in the Formula 1 Safety Car.
Source: Googleimages.
The Federation Internationale de I’Automobile (FIA) has entrusted the task of driving the safety car to Bernd Maylander, a former successful touring-car racer. Maylander’s current co-driver is the FIA employee Peter Tibbetts. Maylander knows how to keep the pace during the safety period just high enough so that the Formula 1 cars’ tyres and brakes do not cool down too much. Maylander started his career in karting at the end of the 1980s. According to, “following years he progressed to Formula Ford, the Porsche Carrera Cup, the FIA GT Championship and the German DTM touring car series.” I hope that you have enjoyed this read!

                                   Formula One: History.
                                   The 2014 FIA Sporting Regulations.

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