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The safety car

The safety car on track during the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix. © Allianz The safety car on track during the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix. © Allianz Allianz branding on the FIA Medical Car and FIA Safety Car.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 23 September 2010 The safety car leads the field. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 26 September 2010

The safety car comes into use during a race when the Race Director wants to reduce speed for safety reasons - for instance, after an accident or because the track is waterlogged after heavy rain. According to the 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 safety car is on standby throughout a Grand Prix, ready to be dispatched by Race Control at a moment's notice. State-of-the-art radio and video equipment enable communication to be maintained at all times. When the Race Director 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.

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 racing again. The safety car will pull off into the pits at the end of the lap and - as they cross the line - the competitors restart their battle.

Since 1996 the official Formula One safety car has been supplied by Mercedes-Benz and the current model is a 571-HP Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, featuring a 6.3-litre V8 engine, seven-speed double-clutch transmission and composite brakes. On its roof sits an aerodynamically optimised 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.

Since 2000 the FIA has entrusted the task of driving the safety car to Bernd Maylander, a former successful touring-car racer. He knows how to keep the pace during the safety period just high enough so that the Formula One cars’ tyres and brakes do not cool down too much. Maylander started his career in karting at the end of the 1980s. In the following years he progressed to Formula Ford, the Porsche Carrera Cup, the FIA GT Championship and the German DTM touring car series.