FIA Safety Car, Albert Park, 2022

FIA responds to Verstappen’s criticism of Safety Car performance

2022 Australian Grand Prix

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The FIA has responded to Max Verstappen’s criticism of the performance of the Safety Car during last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.

Since last year, Formula 1 has used two different Safety Car models during the season. The car used last weekend was an Aston Martin Vantage, while a Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series appeared at the first two rounds of the season.

The Red Bull driver complained the Safety Car was being driven too slowly during the race and afterwards described it as being like a “turtle”. Red Bull were sponsored by Aston Martin until 2020.

Mercedes driver George Russell claimed there is a significant performance difference between the two Safety Car models.

“We don’t have the issue with the Mercedes AMG Safety Car,” he said. “On a serious note, the Mercedes AMG is like five seconds a lot quicker than the Aston Martin Safety Car, which is pretty substantial.”

Charles Leclerc, who followed immediately behind the Safety Car during the race, said “it always feels too slow” because F1 cars have such superior performance.

“We have so much grip and it’s very, very difficult, especially on the compound we were all on, which was the hards,” he said. “I was struggling massively to put some temperature in them so I also struggled.

“To be honest, I wanted to complain, but then I checked how much the Safety Car was sliding in the corner and I don’t think there was anything more that he could give so I didn’t want to push too much pressure. It’s the way it is. But for sure with the cars that we have now it’s very difficult to keep the temperatures in the tyres behind the Safety Car.”

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The FIA pointed out in a statement that the performance of the Safety Car is its primary requirement.

“In light of recent comments regarding the pace of the FIA Formula 1 Safety Car, the FIA would like to reiterate that the primary function of the FIA Formula 1 Safety Car is, of course, not outright speed, but the safety of the drivers, marshals and officials.

“The Safety Car procedures take into account multiple objectives, depending upon the incident in question, including the requirement to ‘bunch up’ the field, negotiate an incident recovery or debris on track in a safe manner and adjust the pace depending on recovery activities that may be ongoing in a different part of the track.

“The speed of the Safety Car is therefore generally dictated by race control, and not limited by the capabilities of the Safety Cars, which are bespoke high-performance vehicles prepared by two of the world’s top manufacturers, equipped to deal with changeable track conditions at all times and driven by a hugely experienced and capable driver and co-driver.

“The impact of the speed of the Safety Car on the performance of the cars following is a secondary consideration, as the impact is equal amongst all competitors who, as is always the case, are responsible for driving in a safe manner at all times according to the conditions of their car and the circuit.”

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2022 Australian Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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41 comments on “FIA responds to Verstappen’s criticism of Safety Car performance”

  1. 5 Swiss Franks say Lawrence was unhappy with the characterization of his turtle.

    1. Not betting against you.

      As if the performance of their F1 cars over the first three rounds of championship wasn’t bad enough, to then have your road car belittled would have understandably made him apoplectic.

      As a PR exercise, it was a total, and in the context of the weekend, unmitigated disaster, and not supporting the effort to build the AM brand up.

      Otmar must be crying tears of relief, because people at both Silverstone and the road car division will be having new ones torn for them by Lawrence.

      1. On the plus side, it’s the only time we’re going to see an Aston Martin leading the field for the foreseeable future.

        1. Who knows, Lance may take out enough competitors during practice, then all he has to do is weave on the straights…..

    2. I would say that it is about time that the FIA did point out something that should be obvious and which Leclerc pointed out – that the entire point of having a safety car is that it is meant to slow the cars down to make conditions safer for those working on the track and to create room for them to bring equipment and marshals onto the track to address any issues.

      There has to be a compromise between what the drivers want and the duty of care that the FIA has towards those marshals, and in this case that compromise should lean towards prioritising the safety of the marshals, as they are in a more vulnerable position. Why is it that their welfare always seems to be ignored in such debates?

      1. This is all true. Also true that per Leclerc the car was was going 10/10ths and the only thing worse than it going too fast is to hit the wall or a safety crew. It’s a good question that if the car has to have its neck wrung to keep the target speeds then maybe we should not be using an off the shelf road car? That said tires are probably limiting issue and no matter how quick the car is cold tires are not fast whether slicks or super high end Michelin pilot cups.

        1. I’m quite sure no driver is being flippant about the safety of the marshals when they speak of the ‘turtle’ safety car, and there is absolutely no reason it cannot be used to well control the pace of the cars in the danger area only to then speed up sufficiently for the rest of the lap. Part of the problem is obviously that they could be using a faster safety car, and part of the problem remains the finicky Pirelli’s that remain too much of a challenge to keep in their optimum operating temps. That’s pretty typical of Pirelli but I do cut them a bit of slack for having to use dummy cars with which to develop these tires. Perhaps there is better yet to come from them, not that I will hold my breath.

          The drivers do have plenty of grip at safety car speeds, and if the car was 5 seconds a lap faster in the rest of the lap that doesn’t involve the danger area, then that would allow the drivers even more grip at such relatively low speeds, by allowing them a better chance at keeping their tires in the required operating window.

          I find it a bit condescending of FIA to feel the need to remind drivers that marshal safety is the first priority, as that is obvious by the very bringing out of the safety car. No driver is suggesting they should be able to speed through dangerous zones, but they would ask simply for a faster safety car for the rest of the lap so that they can keep their tires in a safe zone. Otherwise, why remind the drivers when they are controlled by the safety car anyway and have no choice but to follow at the pace that is being set for them.

          I do find it interesting that ‘Verstappen criticism’ gets used in the headline for his quoted one word whereas two other drivers are quoted much more, but I guess Max and ‘criticism’ draws a lot more attention than CL or GR:)

          1. I find it a bit condescending that you to diminish the safety of the marshals.
            Just to put up for your boy.

          2. Sam, and exactly where have I done that? And where has any driver done that?

          3. @robbie it does come across as condescending because it’s not just about the speed that the drivers do through an accident zone – although, contrary to your suggestion that drivers don’t want to speed in accident zones, we have seen multiple times over the years that drivers are perfectly happy to do that (just look at Tsunoda and Gasly in Baku in 2021 for a particularly blatant example).

            As pointed out by the FIA, you have to think about the entire sequence of operations that the marshals might have to go through in order to address an incident on track and how that might then be adversely impacted by giving them less time to deal with those issues.

            For example, if marshals are having to sweep the track clear to remove debris, making the safety car faster cuts into the time that they have between each lap to then get out onto the circuit to inspect it for debris and to then clear it away. Similarly, if the marshals are having to bring lifting equipment onto the circuit to remove a vehicle, given that presents a significant risk to the marshals – it’s not that long ago that we had a marshal run over and killed due to a mistake when using such equipment – you want to avoid having to rush the process of moving that equipment into place between laps under the safety car.

            Realistically, the argument that it is for “safety” also seems rather dubious. After all, we have the slightly absurd situation where the drivers complain that they need to go faster during the safety car period for “safety”, but then seem to be content crawling around at extremely slow speed before restarting a race – often at speeds that are so slow that the rate at which their tyres would cool off would negate any supposed advantage from going faster under the safety car, but without that practice being criticised by anybody.

          4. anon I still say it is condescending of FIA to point out what the drivers already know. And the drivers are not asking for the procedure to be less safe. As if. I think it is fair game given the nature of the tires they have, for them to ask for more pace from the safety car when it is not going through the danger zone.

            I think you are grasping at straws for the sake of an argument. In your first paragraph I doubt you are citing ‘multiple’ incidents that took place of drivers being perfectly happy to speed through accident zones while behind a safety car, and that is what we are talking about. We’re not talking about drivers who didn’t want to lose out too much and therefore took a chance and didn’t slow down appropriately at a yellow flag zone. The drivers are constantly monitored for their behaviour when flags come out. No, this is about trailing behind a safety car…being controlled by the safety car…and at what pace.

            Of course we and the drivers all know what can be involved in cleaning up a mess. Again, they don’t have to be told that and neither do I. And if going 5 seconds a lap faster means the crew has less time to ‘sweep up’ etc…if that 5 seconds a lap is so vital, let’s say 25 seconds over 5 caution laps, then they can just bring out a couple of extra crew.

            I’m not even sure the drivers are really trying to argue that it would be safer if they could keep their tires warmer behind a safety car, but I think it is valid, some posters have mentioned it, and it is certainly fair game for the drivers to at least broach the subject when the slower pace of the car can harm their race by screwing up their plan for their finicky tires. If only the Pirelli’s weren’t still so finicky this wouldn’t be a topic.

            Yes of course it happens that for a very brief time a leading driver might crawl along to try to bunch up the pack and wrong-foot the guy behind on the cusp of the safety car coming back in, but that is simply a fleeting racing tactic, and the drivers would simply like to have been able to keep their tire temps up ahead of said brief ‘crawl’ and then gunning it on the restart. The crawl is a tactic and they would prefer to do it on tires that aren’t as cold as they are getting. And they have a precedent to back the argument through the use of a faster safety car at other times.

            And that’s the point that really shoots down what you are trying to sell. If it has not been a problem at other tracks to have a safety car that is 5 seconds faster, as GR points out, then why is it suddenly throwing caution to the wind, and suddenly drivers are heartless daredevils willing to risk marshals’ lives when they would simply prefer that 5 seconds faster car (or at least performance) at all the tracks. Are you telling me you have been horrified when you have seen the faster pace car GR cites? Or did you even notice?

          5. @robbie it’s rich of you to accuse others of “seeking an argument” when you are resorting to utterly absurd hyperbole and exaggeration, and then keep trying to shove arguments that were not being made into the mouths of others to then take pot shots at them.

            No, others find it absurd that the same drivers who were claiming that the tyre temperatures were supposedly so utterly unsafe, dangerous and so on were able to then immediately start setting lap times that were pretty much matching what they were doing before the safety car came out.

            They’ll complain that they have “no grip” and are “driving on ice”, but the performance on the laps after the safety car comes in often shows a very different picture. I mean, come on – the drivers could cope with 10ºC ambient conditions and longer safety car period during the 2020 Eifel GP, and it wasn’t as if the drivers were careering out of control all over the place.

            The drivers are never going to be happy with the speed of the safety car – you can substitute it for one that’s another 5 seconds faster, and they’ll still complain it’s too slow. In Australia, the laps under the safety car were around 2m30s long – do you really think that it is going to make such a drastic difference if you went from a 2m30s lap time to 2m25s instead? You could have made the safety car 20-30s a lap faster in Australia, and it would still be around 40 seconds a lap slower than an F1 car – it’s never going to be seen by the drivers as “fast enough”.

            Your attitude, with the whole “just throw more people at it” comes across as utterly condescending – it gives the impression that you don’t care for the marshals and see them as little more than a tool to be used and then shoved to the side afterwards. Your viewpoint is so centred around the drivers alone that you seem to have become incapable of understanding that there are others who exist outside of that bubble and that their views matter, or that the sport might even have to consent to taking their welfare into consideration.

          6. anon What a load.

            “the same drivers who were claiming that the tyre temperatures were supposedly so utterly unsafe, dangerous and so on were able to then immediately start setting lap times that were pretty much matching what they were doing before the safety car came out.” Perhaps you have quotes from the drivers then, or is this just utter hyperbole. We know the answer.

            As to drivers never being happy with the pace of the safety car. Probably not but a bit faster for these Pirelli’s is obviously better.

            “Your attitude, with the whole “just throw more people at it” comes across as utterly condescending – it gives the impression that you don’t care for the marshals and see them as little more than a tool to be used and then shoved to the side afterwards. Your viewpoint is so centred around the drivers alone that you seem to have become incapable of understanding that there are others who exist outside of that bubble and that their views matter, or that the sport might even have to consent to taking their welfare into consideration.”

            That you have chosen to take the attitude that me suggesting if 5 seconds faster safety car laps is a problem for the marshals getting their job done, and therefore a couple extra guys with brooms could help, is endangering marshals, is complete and utter hyperbole and you should be embarrassed for trying to twist my words into this garbage you’re spewing. If you’ve been given an impression that is on you, and you’re being utterly childish and ridiculous. Stop embarrassing yourself.

  2. It’s supposed to go slow

    1. It’s supposed to go fast enough to keep the F1 tyres from overcooling, which is a safety issue, and the PUs from overheating, which is a reliability issue.

      1. No it isn’t. If the engines get hot then drop the revs. If the tyres and brakes get cool then take care after the restart.
        The safety cars job is in its name.

    2. Then bring the Opel vectra back.. I forgot the year but it once was a sc.

  3. If I remember right, last year, the first one with 2 separate safety cars, it was the Aston Martin that was lighter and faster. Now, Mercedes got a faster and lighter model to trump Aston Martin.

    It seems like a corporate war at play.

    1. Ferrari road car division furiously sending emails looking to get into the inaugural “WSCC” (World Safety Car Championship).

  4. It’s an interesting one a for once, drivers actually have the power to change this. If they keep complaining that the Aston Martin is much slower than the Mercedes over the radio and in interviews, Aston will achieve the opposite of what they had hoped by having their car as the safety car and makes the Mercedes look even better.

    Leclerc’s comments are the harshest (I think without deliberately being so) – “I wanted to complain, but then I checked how much the Safety Car was sliding in the corner and I don’t think there was anything more that he could give”. Oof…

    Seems at odds with the FIA statement that the safety car was going slowly under instruction… Is the car that bad that even when driven relatively slowly, it slides about in corners?

    1. It’s likely both are telling the truth, since a common Race Control command is for the car to be driven as fast as it can safely be driven. Since the cars were picked to have a particular performance profile, Race Control knows this will produce a particular pace (thus, it counts as being driven at Race Control direction). Since the cars are being driven at their fastest, they’re also being limited by the boundaries of their performance profiles (which explains Leclerc’s observations).

      The car was probably being driven as fast as possible under those conditions, it’s just that F1 cars are apt to make any performance street car, even after the tuning they tend to get for the SC role, look like the road cars they are.

  5. Verstappen should know that had the safety car been faster like he wants it to, he would not have got the last lap of green flag racing in Abu Dhabi as the time required to clear the track would still be the same but the cars would have reached the last lap faster.

    1. That’s probably a good observation.

      1. That’s probably a good observation

        Sort of yes, and sort of no.
        Masi didn’t have time to restart the race, that’s why he brought the safety car in a lap earlier than the rules allow. Which was a contributing factor in him not being RD anymore.

        As it was, at least one marshal was recorded diving behind barriers as cars at full race speed approached.

    2. Fair point. Likewise it really rankles me how long we spend behind the safety car for relatively minor things. There were at least 4 laps (I can’t remember to be honest, possibly 5) just to recover a car beached in gravel.
      No damage to clear up, track to sweep or barriers to repair, but so long. I guess if the SC goes faster, that’s even more laps, but in this instance the focus should be on quicker action.

  6. I hear all this *stuff* about cold tires but all of these drivers come out of the pits flying. Last race, someone came out and defended the position immediately against cars that were on track.

    1. Tyre warmers are still used in the pits (albeit at 70 C instead of 100 C/80 C like last year). So they’re hotter in the pits than behind the Safety Car.

  7. As others have pointed out above, the point of the safety car is to slow the drivers down to ensure the safety of the drivers, marshalls, etc. I think this article taken in the context of the article the other day about the near-miss during the safety car period involving Schumacher and Tsunoda indicates that race drivers are going to be race drivers and some external limits are needed to be placed on them to keep them from driving too fast during safety car periods.

    Maybe an RPM limiter similar to the pit lane speed limiter during safety car periods needs to be investigated? It would be faster than the pit lane speed limiter and would scale down as the pack bunches up and cars catch the safety car. But I think at this point it is clear that the drivers will always want to go much faster than has been deemed safe by race control and need to held back by external limits to keep everyone, including themselves, safe.

  8. Its a case of going slowly makes F1 cars unsafe to drive. It’s fine to slow down considerably where cleanup work is going on but no reason to slow down on the straights and we’ve seen that many times or to take it particularly slow around the corners. Despite what it is called, the race (to keep the tyres and brakes warm) does not stop when the safety car comes out. Either do it at considerable speed or throw a red flag.

    1. Once the SC comes in the leader drops back from the SC and becomes the de facto SC until the restart.

      Why not maintain that setup for one extra lap where the leader sets a pace they think is necessary to get back up to racing speed sensibly, so like an intermediate lap between last slow-ish SC lap and full green flag racing speed? Where the intermediate lap is covered by full course yellow flags.

      Just an idea – likely not perfect in other ways but seems like it could have a place

      1. It’s a good idea but it wastes a lap… not many will like it.

  9. I once again think that a SC should be followed by a VSC period so the drivers can get back to their respective gaps and warm up the tyres properly for the VSC end.

  10. Use a Ferrari SF90. Everyone but AM and MB will be happy.

    1. It’s not designed to be driven as slowly as the Safety Car is sometimes instructed to go.

      1. It’s a docile road car. It can be driven on any track at any speed the driver likes, between 10 to 210 mph.

  11. The FIA could if they wished commission a purpose-built platform designed to deliver better performance. It could be fitted with a lightweight shell of the sponsors’ car. It would obviously be able to operate safely at slow speeds and carry two passengers plus the required equipment.
    When required It would still be capable of lapping at a pace to allow the race cars to heat their tyers and brakes to an acceptable level.

  12. Doesn’t Aston Martin make a certain Valkyrie car? Why not use that?

  13. Nice ideas in the above comments but in my eyes the safety car is about bunching up the field, so for me no additional complications regarding rebuilding laps under virtual safety car and just get rid of unlapping too. Safety car is there for safety, not for spicing up the race by lining the cars up astern

    1. LPM1 car as the safety car. There you go, problem solved.

  14. I liked the “turtle” comment, found it fun, also I like people who are honest and aren’t afraid say what they think.

    1. to say*, edit button is still sorely needed!

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