The safety car and suspending a race

What the sporting regulations say:

  • To maintain competitors’ safety over a race weekend, particularly in the event of an accident or extremely poor conditions, the FIA has two main methods of neutralising a practice session or race: the safety car or the virtual safety car (VSC).
  • The latter will primarily be used when double waved yellow flags are needed on any section of the track, but the circumstances are not such to warrant the safety car itself. 

  • If the VSC is called, teams will be notified via the official messaging system, while drivers will be notified by all FIA light panels displaying “VSC”.

  • Under the VSC, drivers must reduce their speed and stay above a minimum time set by the FIA at least once in each marshalling sector. Stewards can impose penalties for any transgressions.

  • Drivers must not drive unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner that could be deemed potentially dangerous to other competitors. Drivers may not pit, unless it is to change tyres. They are also not permitted to overtake, except if another driver in front enters the pit lane or slows with an obvious problem.

  • When it is deemed safe to end the VSC procedure, teams will be notified via the official messaging system. At any time between 10 and 15 seconds later, the FIA light panels will change to green and drivers are free to resume racing. DRS is also re-enabled at this time.

  • In the event of a more serious incident, particularly if competitors or officials are in immediate physical danger, which is not severe enough to warrant suspending the race but cannot be dealt with under the VSC, then the safety car will be called.

  • The safety car is driven by an experienced circuit driver and carries an FIA observer who is in permanent radio contact with race control.

  • The safety car will join the circuit with its orange lights on, and all drivers must form a queue behind it. Overtaking is not permitted, although the safety car will signal backmarkers to pass it using its green light until the race leader is immediately behind it. 

  • Under certain circumstances - for example if the incident that brought the safety car is blocking the pit lane - the safety car may travel through the pit lane. In this case competitors will be allowed to stop at their pit garage.

  • When the safety car is ready to leave the circuit it will extinguish its orange lights, indicating to the drivers that it will peel off. Drivers must continue in formation until they cross the first safety car line, where green lights will indicate they are free to race again. However, DRS will not be re-enabled until two racing laps have been completed.
  • In exceptional circumstances, such as in extremely poor weather, a race may begin behind the safety car, which will put its orange lights on ten minutes before the start to indicate this. When those lights switch to green the safety car will lead the field around the circuit in grid order. 

  • Overtaking on this first lap is not allowed, unless a car has a problem getting away from the grid, in which case the delayed driver may repass cars in order to regain his original position. (If he fails to regain that position before the end of the lap, he must pit and rejoin the race once the field have passed the pit exit.)

  • Should conditions or an incident be severe enough to necessitate the race being suspended, red flags will be shown around the circuit. When this happens the pit exit will close and all cars must proceed slowly into the pit lane, without overtaking, and stop in a queued formation at the end.

  • The safety car will then drive to the front of the queue, while team members may work on the cars. Refuelling is not allowed.

  • Cars that were already in the pits when the red flag signal was given may be worked on there, and then rejoin in the position they occupied before the stoppage. Cars may not be moved from the pit lane queue however, unless the team has been given expressed consent by the FIA.

  • A warning of at least 10 minutes will be given to teams before the race is resumed. With three minutes to go, all cars must have their wheels fitted. At the two minute signal, lapped cars will be able to complete a lap before rejoining the pit lane at the back of the queue.

  • The race will resume behind the safety car, which will then enter the pits after one lap, unless conditions are deemed to warrant more than one lap, or if all cars are not yet in line behind the safety car. Further incidents may also prolong the safety car period.

  • Overtaking is not permitted, unless a driver is delayed leaving the pit lane, forcing others to pass. In this instance, the delayed driver may repass those cars in order to regain position. Should they be unable to do so, they must pit immediately and then rejoin the race at the back of the field.

  • If the race cannot be resumed, the results will be taken from the order at the end of the penultimate lap before the race was suspended.

  • While the suspension is not added onto the maximum race time of two hours, no race may exceed four hours total in duration.

Read the full sporting regulations