Formlua 1 is the epitome of open wheel single seat car racing. Cars race in all weather unless it becomes absolutely unsafe for driving when a race may be stopped. However, accidents are frequent in formula 1; what with so many men with high adrenaline rush competing to go faster than the other and reaching the end first. Accidents create unsafe conditions for both drivers as well as marshals who are trying to clear the track for normal racing to continue. When an accident happens or the weather turns bad but the situation is not bad enough to stop the race, the speed of the race is reduced for allowing safe clearance of the track. This speed is limited by the use of a safety car. These cars are maintained on a “stand-by” through out every race so that the race control led by the race director can deploy them at a moments notice when required. These cars are driven by professional drivers, usually ex-race drivers who are knowledgeable about track conditions and can also maintain a pace that would be safe but not slow enough to cool down the tyres and brakes or overheat the engines of the competitors. The driver of the safety car is accompanied by a co-driver who manages the operations and communication with race control.
When the safety car is deployed, it joins the track immediately and from that moment onward the competitors are not permitted to overtake. When the safety car is deployed yellow flags are waved by the marshals and they also deploy a board showing “SC” written on it. A yellow warning light also comes up on the driver’s steering wheel which needs to be acknowledged within 5 seconds. The competitors now bunch up behind the safety car. The safety car has a light bar on top with orange and green lights. During deployment the orange lights flash continuously to ensure visibility of the safety car. Green light are flashed when slower cars are permitted to overtake the safety car and join the race behind the leading cars till such time as the race leader is immediately behind the safety car. After a certain restrictive period, after deployment of the safety car, cars are permitted to pit.
Once the safety car restriction is removed, the car switches off the orange lights indicating to the competitors that they can begin racing from the next lap. Then at end of the lap the safety car enters the pit lane an the competitors can resume their battle for supremacy.
The safety car was used for the first time during the Canadian Grand Prix in 1973 when the race was marred by severe inclement weather and several incidents on the track. However, the driver of the safety car joined at a wrong place and the ensuing confusion led to declaration of a wrong winner. It took around eight hours after the race to sort out the mess and declare the final result of the race. Though safety cars were used at several occasions between 1972 and 1993, Formula 1 officially announced the use of safety cars in 1993 after successful trials were conducted in 1992 during the French and British Grand Prix.
The safety cars are high powered modified performance cars. The car used in Canada in 1973 was a yellow Porsche 914. Thereafter the following cars were used: –
- Lamborghini Countach from 1981 till 1983.
- Ford Escort RS Cosworth and Fiat Tempra in 1993.
- Opel Vectra and Honda Prelude in 1994.
- Porsche 911 GT2 , Lamborghini Diablo and wonders, wonders Tatra 613 in 1995.
- The Renault Clio was used for some time in 1996.
From 1996, Mercedes Benz has been the official safety car for Formula 1 and Mercedes have showcased some of their exotics on the track. The first car was a C36 AMG, which took over from the Renault Clio in use till then.
- A CLK 55 AMG was the official safety car of Formula 1 from 1997 till 1999.
- A CL 55 AMG was provided in 2000.
- 2001 and 2002 saw an SL 55 AMG deployed as a safety car.
- 2003 was back to the CLK 55 AMG.
- An SLK 55 AMG was deployed in 2004 and 2005.
- 2006 and 2007 saw a CLK 63 AMG being deployed as the Formula 1 safety car.
- Mercedes gave an SL 63 AMG for safety car duties in 2008 and 2009.
- For three years from 2010 to 2012 the SLS AMG controlled the pace of competitors in Formula 1.
- This was followed by an SLS AMG GT from 2012 till 2014.
- 2015 to 2017 saw the AMG GT S as the safety car.
- Since 2018 the AMG GT R has been deployed as the safety car.
In 2014 Jules Bianchi met with and accident which led to his death during the Japanese Grand Prix. An accident panel that investigated the incident recommended that there could be situations on the track which were not safe but did not warrant the deployment of a safety car. To overcome these situations, the concept of “Virtual Safety Car” was introduced. This system is based on the “Slow Zone” system used in Le Mans. During deployment of virtual safety car, a VSC icon appears on the track side and on the drivers steering. Once VSC is deployed, drivers need to reduce speed by 35% and are not permitted to overtake.
Over the next few weeks, I shall cover the cars which have been deployed as safety cars in Formula 1. Till then safe racing and enjoy the excitement of Formula 1.