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 for the 2015 season the German manufacturer's new 510bhp GT S model replaces the gull-wing SLS AMG that has been used for the past five seasons. It is equipped with radio systems, fully integrated iPads and in-car WLAN hotspots to ensure constant contact with race control throughout a Grand Prix weekend.
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.