Formula 1 motor racing is one of the most popular types of motor racing in the world, and driver safety is a big issue. In cases where safety may be compromised, a white vehicle with lights suddenly appears on the track; this is the safety car. One wonders: what does a safety car do in F1?
A safety car was first used in 1973; in this race, the safety car did nothing but spoil the race. After that, safety cars started to appear again in 1992. The safety car is used to slow down racing cars in cases of severe weather or accidents to prevent damage to drivers or vehicles.
Safety cars began to be a frequent sight in 1993, and currently, the safety car of choice is the Mercedes Benz AMG. These vehicles are equipped with orange and green lights with specific meanings. This publication will explore more about what a safety car does in F1. Other topics such as the meaning of the orange and green lights will also be discussed.
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What does a safety car do?
The purpose of a safety car, or a safety car as it is often referred to, is to ensure that race cars slow down by having drivers position themselves behind the race leader until the hazards are removed. Drivers follow the safety car at a reduced speed while moving them away from hazards. F1 racers cannot overtake any vehicle while the safety car is on the track.
Virtual safety cars are another measure that auto racing drivers have followed in F1 since 2015. Drivers set the pace in cases where a safety car will cause disruptions to the race. There will be more on this in a section later in this post. But first, a section on what safety cars do with their coloured lights on and off the track.
What the safety car does when not on the track.
The driver of the official safety car will remain on standby until called by the race controllers with the help of communication devices. At that time, the safety car will come out onto the race track, the luminous panels at the sides and above the track will notify the drivers when this happens. The race car displays are also used for this.
Safety officials wave yellow flags, and all of these warning and communication methods tell drivers to start slowing down and to watch for the safety car. In some cases, the team of mechanics will also communicate with drivers via radio technology. The safety car will have its orange lights on as the race cars approach to be visible.
What does the safety car do with the orange lights on?
The safety car has flashing orange lights attached to either side of the green light on the roof. The reason the orange lights are flashing is to show race car drivers that it is on the race track and that they should follow it as it goes around the race track. Safety cars only enter the track if requested by race controllers.
It would not be fair to the race leader to lose position, and so the safety car will signal other cars to pass him in safe areas of the track; how the safety car does this signalling is in the next section.
What the safety car does with the green lights on
The safety car will allow race cars to pass it for the race leader to follow. That is what the green light in the middle of the group of lights on the roof is for. As the safety car leads the race cars around the track, it will greenlight the cars until the race leader is right behind it.
The orange lights flash continuously, but the green light only comes on to signal to the cars when it is safe to pass.
What the safety car does when the overhead lights are not on.
When the safety car receives word from the race controllers that the danger is gone or the race can resume, the safety car will have a final lap, but this lap will be done without the orange or green light coming on. It shows the F1 drivers that it is the last lap behind the safety car.
The moment the safety car finishes that specific lap, the race restarts, so this mentally prepares the F1 drivers and gives them an early warning of what is coming. The safety car enters the pit area, and now the race restarts, and everything resumes at the breakneck pace that fans crave.
What does a virtual safety car do?
Immediately the idea of a PlayStation game with a ghost car comes to mind, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work the same way. For minor safety issues, this motorsport uses a virtual safety car system. Flags are still used, media is still used, but instead of the safety car coming out on the track, there is nothing.
And as if by magic, all the cars slow down on their own and form up behind the leader. This safety car system works by using communication with the drivers of the F1 cars through the use of screens inside the cars. The signs at the side of the track and above have the letters VSC, and when it turns green, it means race time.
The virtual safety car system was first introduced in 2015 and means it does the same as the real safety car, but for minor incidents. The real safety car still comes out for bad weather or major incidents.
What do today’s safety cars do vs. historical safety cars?
Not much has changed in terms of why safety cars are used; even historically, safety cars were used to pace cars. The only thing that has changed over the years is the methods of communication and the rules and regulations.
A lot of research went into this section, and the history of the safety car is really fascinating. Going back to F1 history, this is what the safety cars did when the race controllers asked them to take to the track. Here are some event entries that highlight what happened with the safety cars.
1973- What did the safety car do?
The first time an F1 safety car was used was in 1973; here is the information:
Make and model of the safety car? -A Porsche 914.
The reason for calling the safety car?-It was for an accident.
How many laps did the safety car do?-The safety car set the pace of the race for 5 laps.
In which F1 event was it?-The Canadian Grand Prix.
Significant things are done by the safety car?-The safety car passed the wrong race driver, thinking he was the race leader and ruined everything. It is the first time in F1 history that a safety car has been used and, because of this mishap, it was the last time until 1993 when safety cars were officially introduced.
1993 – What did the safety car do?
The return of safety cars occurred in F1 this year after some testing in 1992; here is the safety car information:
Make and model of the safety car?-A Fiat Tempra 16V.
The reason for calling the safety car?-It was raining and caused an accident.
How many laps did the safety car drive?-The safety car set the pace of the race for 8 laps.
In which F1 event was it?-The Brazilian Grand Prix
Significant things are done by the safety car?-The safety car had to set the pace and lead the race for 8 laps. It was between lap 29 and 38.
1997- What did the safety car do?
In 1997, the safety car had to do something that no safety car had ever done before. However, it was not the last time; it was done again in the following years: 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2016 and 2021. The safety car started the race at the front due to torrential rain.
Make and model of the safety car?-Mercedes Benz CLK 55 AMG
The reason for using the safety car?-The race was started for the first time behind the safety car.
How many laps did the safety car drive?-The safety car led and set the pace of the race for 3 full rounds.
Which F1 event was it at?-The Belgian Grand Prix
Significant things are done by the safety car?-It was the first time in the history of a safety car that the race was started by the safety car.
1999 – What did the safety car do?
In 1999 the race finished behind the safety car. The safety car led and accompanied the F1 race cars to the finish line; this was the first time but not the last time. It happened again in 2009 for two races (Australian Grand Prix and Italian Grand Prix) and 2010, 2012, 2015, 2019 and 2020.
Make and model of the safety car?-Mercedes Benz CL55 AMG
The reason for using the safety car?-The race finished behind the safety car for the first time.
How many laps did the safety car drive?-The safety car led and set the pace of the race for the last 3 laps.
In which F1 event was it?-The Canadian Grand Prix
Significant things are done by the safety car?-The safety car had to come out on lap 66 and led and paced the F1 race cars to the finish line.
2007- What did the safety car do?
In 2007, the safety car started, led and paced the race for a total of 19 laps. The safety car only left the track on lap 20. It was raining on this occasion, but it was also foggy. It made visibility very poor, which resulted in the safety car being on the track for the longest period in the history of the sport.
Make and model of the safety car?-Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG
The reason for using the safety car?-Poor visibility meant that the safety car led and set the pace of the race for the first 19 laps due to rain and fog.
How many laps did the safety car drive?-The safety car led and paced the race in adverse weather conditions for a full 19 laps.
Which F1 event was it at?-The Japanese Grand Prix.
Significant things are done by the safety car?-The safety car led and paced the F1 race cars for the longest period in motorsport history.
Safety car plays role in F1-2021 outcome
The safety car had to come out in the last part of the final race of 2021, after a crash on lap 53 of 58. Hamilton’s team decided not to make a late pit stop because they did not want to give up the lead, while the Red Bull team called Max Verstappen in for a new set of tyres. Verstappen won the championship thanks to this decision.
The possibility that Hamilton would have retained his title if the safety car did not come out was perfect. Mercedes appealed several times because of this result.
Many people see the safety car as a nuisance, but the fact is that the safety car is a fundamental part of promoting safety among all stakeholders in the sport. The safety car is there to set the pace and lead the F1 race cars in times of danger. The safety car driver is a professional, and the safety car has gone a long way in promoting safety at events.
There are many interesting facts about safety cars and what they do, but it is too much to share in a post like this, so if you enjoyed this article, then do some more research on this topic. Have fun watching and following this fantastic world of F1.