Formula 1 motorsport is one of the most popular types of motorsport in the world, and the safety of the drivers is a real big deal. In cases where safety may be compromised, a white vehicle with lights suddenly makes an appearance on the track; this is the safety car. It makes one wonder: 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 mess up the race. After that, safety cars started appearing again in 1992. The safety car is used to slow down the pace of the racing cars in cases of severe weather or accidents to prevent harm to drivers or vehicles.
Safety cars started to become a frequent sight in 1993, and currently, the choice of the safety car is Mercedes Benz AMG. These vehicles are equipped with orange and green lights with specific meanings. This post will explore more on what a safety car does in F1. Other topics like the meaning of the orange and green lights will also be looked into.
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What Does A Safety Car Do?
The purpose of a safety car, or a pace car as it is often referred to, is to ensure that racecars slow down by getting drivers to fall in tow behind the race leader until the dangers are cleared. The drivers follow the safety car at a reduced speed while guiding them away from the dangers. F1 racers are not allowed to pass any vehicle while the safety car is on the track.
Virtual safety cars are another measure that the race car drivers have followed in F1 since 2015. Drivers pace themselves 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 about what the safety cars get up to with their colored lights on and off the racetrack.
What The Safety Car Does When It’s Not On The Track
The driver of the official safety car will sit on standby until they are called on by the race controllers with the aid of communication devices. At this moment, the safety car will make its way out onto the racetrack, illuminating boards on the side and overhead over the track will notify the drivers when this happens. Display units in the race cars are also used for this.
Safety marshalls wave yellow flags, and all of these methods of warning and communication tell drivers to start slowing down and to be on the lookout for the safety car. In some cases, the pit crew will also communicate with the drivers using radio technology. The safety car will have its orange lights on as the race cars approach for visibility.
What The Safety Car Does With Orange Lights On
The safety car has orange blinking lights attached to both sides of the green light on the roof. The reason the orange lights are blinking is to show the race car drivers that it is on the race track and that they should follow it at the pace that it is going around the racing circuit. Safety cars only go onto the track if called on by race controllers.
It would not be fair to the race leader to lose the position, and that is why the safety car will signal other cars to pass it in safe areas around the circuit; the way the safety car does this signaling is in the next section.
What The Safety Car Does With Green Lights On
The safety car will allow race cars to pass it to get the race leader behind it. It is what the green light is for in the middle of the light cluster on the roof. As the safety car leads the race cars around the circuit, it will illuminate the green light to cars until the race leader is right behind it.
The orange lights blink continuously, but the green light is only illuminated to signal vehicles when it is safe to pass.
What The Safety Car Does When The Roof Lights Are Not Lit
When the safety car gets word from the race controllers that the danger is cleared or the race can resume, the safety car will have a final lap, but this lap will be done without the orange or the green light being illuminated. 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 is back on, so this prepares the F1 drivers mentally and gives early warning of what is coming. The safety car enters the pit area, and now the race is back on, and everything resumes at the fast pace that the fans crave.
What Does A Virtual Safety Car Do?
Immediately the thought of a PlayStation game with a ghost car comes to mind, but unfortunately, it does not work the same. For minor safety issues, this motorsport uses a virtual safety car system. The flags are still used, the communication methods are still used, but instead of the safety car coming out on the track, there is nothing.
And like magic, all the cars slow down on their own and fall into formation behind the leader. This safety car system works utilizing communication with the drivers of the F1 cars by using displays inside the cars. The signs on the side of the track and overhead have the letters VSC displayed, and when it turns green, it means race time.
The virtual safety car system was first introduced in 2015, and it means that it does the same thing as the actual safety car, but for minor incidents. The actual safety car still goes out for bad weather or serious incidents.
What Current 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 the cars. The only things that have changed over the years are 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 actually fascinating. Going back into the history of F1, this is what the safety cars did when the racing controllers called on them to get on the track. Here are a few entries of events that stand out from 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 safety car?||A Porsche 914.|
|The reason for calling the safety car?||It was because of an accident.|
|How many laps did the safety car do?||The safety car paced the race for 5 laps.|
|During which F1 event was it?||The Canadian Grand Prix.|
|Significant things done by the safety car?||The safety car went in front of the wrong race car driver, thinking he was the race leader and messed everything up. It is the first time in the history of F1 that a safety car was used, and because of this mishap, it was the last time until 1993 when safety cars got officially introduced.|
1993- What Did The Safety Car Do?
The return of safety cars happened in F1 this year after a few test runs in 1992; here is the information about the safety car:
|Make and model of safety car?||A Fiat Tempra 16V.|
|The reason for calling the safety car?||It was raining, and it led to an accident.|
|How many laps did the safety car do?||The safety car paced the race for 8 laps|
|During which F1 event was it?||The Brazilian Grand Prix|
|Significant things 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 done before. It was not the last time, though; 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 in front because of pouring rain.
|Make and model of 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 do?||The safety car led and paced the race for 3 full rounds.|
|During which F1 event was it?||The Belgian Grand Prix|
|Significant things 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 was finished behind the safety car. The safety car led and paced the F1 racing cars over the finish line; this was the first time but not the last. It happened again in 2009 during two races (Australian Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix) and 2010, 2012, 2015, 2019, and 2020.
|Make and model of safety car?||Mercedes Benz CL55 AMG|
|The reason for using the safety car?||The race was ended for the first time behind the safety car.|
|How many laps did the safety car do?||The safety car led and paced the race for the last 3 laps|
|During which F1 event was it?||The Canadian Grand Prix|
|Significant things done by the safety car?||The safety car needed to come out in lap 66, and it led and paced the F1 racing cars over 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 at lap number 20. It was raining on this occasion, but it was also misty. It made visibility very bad, resulting in the safety car being on the track for the most extended period in the history of this sport.
|Make and model of safety car?||Mercedes Benz CLK63 AMG|
|The reason for using the safety car?||Poor visibility resulted in the safety car leading and pacing the race for the first 19 laps because of rain and mist.|
|How many laps did the safety car do?||The safety car led and paced the race through poor weather conditions for 19 full laps.|
|During which F1 event was it?||The Japanese Grand Prix.|
|Significant things done by the safety car?||The safety car led and paced the F1 racing cars for the most extended period in the history of motorsport.|
The Safety Car Play A Role In The Outcome Of F1- 2021
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. Hamiltons team decided not to have a late pit stop because they did not want to give up the lead, while the team from Red Bull called in Max Verstappen for a fresh set of tires. Verstappen won the championship because of this decision.
The chance that Hamilton would have retained his title if the safety car did not come out was perfect. Mercedes appealed multiple times because of this outcome.
Many people see the safety car as a nuisance, but the fact of the matter is that the safety car is a fundamental part of promoting safety to all stakeholders in this sport. The safety car is there to pace and lead the F1 racecars in moments of danger. The safety car driver is a professional, and the safety car came far in promoting safety at events.
There are many interesting facts about safety cars and what they do, but it is way too much to share in a post like this, so if you enjoyed this article, then go and do some additional research on this topic. Have fun watching and following this fantastic world of F1.