The main role of a Formula 1 safety car is to slow the grid down and allow for the trackside marshals to clear any debris from the track and to get any stricken cars to safety. But you might think the cars are slow and wonder how fast F1 safety cars actually are.
F1 safety cars can reach top speeds of about 200 mph. The Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series can reach a top speed of 202 mph (325 kph). The Aston Martin V8 Vantage can hit a top speed of 195 mph (313 kph). However, it is unlikely that either car will reach those speeds when deployed in a race.
Although neither car is slow, some drivers have aired their frustrations at the speed at which they travel during races, complaining they cannot maintain enough heat in their tires when behind the safety car. In this article we’ll look further into the speeds that the current safety cars can reach.
What Car Is The Safety Car In F1?
There are currently two different cars operating as safety cars in Formula 1: the Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series, and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Both cars are modified versions of the original production line models that are available to the public. The two brands share safety car duties in F1.
Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series
The Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series may resemble its publicly available road model in terms of shape and size, but to turn it into a fully functioning safety car, it contains various modifications, with flashing lights integrated into the car, rather than on a light bar that’s present on the Aston Martin.
There are also improvements to the aerodynamics of the car, which are already impressive, due to the car’s large spoiler and multiple vents. The car’s center of gravity has been modified specifically to give it more control around the track. The car produces around 400 kg (880 lbs) of downforce at high speeds, which greatly increases its in fast corners.
The modifications added to the safety car mean that it wouldn’t be out of place if it were to compete in an actual race.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
The V8 Vantage also bears a lot of similarities to its road model, with similar inside specifications as the Mercedes-AMG safety car. The main aesthetic difference is that it features a traditional flashing bar on top of the car, rather than the integrated lights found on the Mercedes.
The car is specially designed for F1 usage and features upgraded suspension and steering from its previous model, which makes it easier for safety car driver and former racer Bernd Maylander to control around the track. The Vantage isn’t as quick when accelerating as the Mercedes-AMG car, and it doesn’t have as high a top speed.
How Fast Does The F1 Safety Car Go?
The F1 safety car goes about 40-60% of the pace of F1 cars. When the safety car is out on track it adheres to the pace set out by the race director. The aim of the safety car isn’t to go as fast as possible, but instead to slow the cars down while the track is cleared or conditions improve.
KEY FACT: F1 safety cars won’t often reach their top speeds when they are out on track, as this would detract from what they set out to do
A lap behind the F1 safety car can take around 60% longer than without it, with certain corners being considerably slower. For example, turn three in Canada is usually taken at around 75 mph (120 kph), but under the safety car it is taken at only about 30 mph (45 kph). On fast sections of the track, the safety car can reach speeds of around 160 mph (257 kph).
While this is far from slow, it’s still nowhere near the speed that F1 cars will usually travel around a track, meaning they have to take extra measures in order to keep their tires warm and grippy.
F1 Safety Car Top Speed
The top speed of F1’s Mercedes-AMG safety car is 202 mph (325 kph), while the Aston Martin is slightly slower with a top speed of 195 mph (313 kph). Despite both being employed to do the same job, the Mercedes-AMG and Aston Martin safety cars have different specifications, and different top speeds.
The Mercedes-AMG also reaches 62 mph (100 kph) quicker than its Aston Martin counterpart, achieving it in 3.2 seconds, compared to the Aston’s 3.5. Both cars are incredibly fast, but in a sport often decided by thousandths of a second, the slight drop off in speed from the Aston Martin is noticeable for the drivers.
This drop off is in part due to the Aston Martin’s reduced 528 hp, compared to the Mercedes-AMG’s 730 hp. Both cars create high levels of downforce when going at top speed, with the Mercedes-AMG able to produce 249 kg (549 lbs) of downforce, compared to the Aston’s 156 kg (344 lbs).
Overall, the technical specifications on the Mercedes-AMG safety car make it the quicker of the two, and subsequently, the less complained about.
KEY POINTS• F1 safety cars are not slow by most standards, reaching speeds of about 200 mph
• There are two safety cars used in F1, with one Mercedes and one Aston Martin
• On track, the safety cars aren’t supposed to go as fast as possible
• They’re designed to give marshals enough time to clear the track of debris and stricken cars
Is The F1 Safety Car Slower Than F1 Cars?
The F1 safety car is slower than F1 cars. While the top speeds of both safety cars are only around 20-30 mph (32-48 kph) slower than the top speed of F1 cars, they aren’t built with the same aerodynamic structures and produce less downforce, and so they can’t go as fast around corners.
Safety cars are also a lot heavier, due to their frames, the equipment within them, and the fact there are two drivers in the car. The Mercedes-AMG and the Aston Martin weigh 1520 kg (3351 lbs) and 1570 kg (3461 lbs) respectively, which is substantially higher than the minimum 798 kg (1760 lbs) weight of a Formula 1 car. This will slow them down and reduce their acceleration drastically.
Despite this, it would still take around three laps for an F1 car to lap a safety car, so while they are slower around a track than Formula 1 cars, they cannot be deemed to be slow by most standards. While F1 cars are purpose built for the sport, the safety cars are adaptations of the two manufacturers’ production-line vehicles, inevitably making them slower.
Why Do F1 Drivers Complain About The Speed Of The Safety Car?
F1 drivers complain about the speed of the safety car because, as it travels anywhere from 40-60% slower than their racing speeds around the track, they can’t keep their tires as warm as they’d like to. This means they can end up with less grip when the race resumes.
If there is one thing that F1 drivers aren’t shy of doing, it is complaining. Within three races of using the updated 2022 Aston Martin safety car, it had already received complaints about its speed, from drivers including George Russell, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, with the latter comparing it to a turtle!
It instantly drew unfavorable comparisons with the Mercedes-AMG safety car, with George Russell claiming, with a tinge of bias, that the Mercedes-AMG car was five seconds quicker around a lap than the Aston Martin.
While it is important for the safety car to slow the race down, slower speeds cool down the tires on an F1 car very quickly, leading to a loss of grip, making cornering a lot more difficult on the restart. Therefore, you will see F1 cars weaving about when they are behind the safety car, as they are trying to maintain as much heat as they can in their tires.
The FIA responded to the complaints in their usual diplomatic style, stating that the primary function of the safety car isn’t to get around the track as quick as possible, but instead to ensure the safety of the drivers, as well as the marshals clearing up the debris. They also reiterated the need to ‘bunch up’ the grid, which is useful for the race director trying to keep everything in order.
Race Control Dictate The Pace
The FIA took a firm stance in deflecting complaints away from Aston Martin’s car, as well as safety car driver Bernd Maylander, explaining that the speed of the safety car is dictated by race control rather than the capabilities of the cars themselves. While the two cars have the ability to be able to clock up decent lap times, the speed they travel at is out of their hands.
Bernd Maylander’s extensive racing experience also means that he will not be the cause of any slow speeds by the safety car, something the FIA were also keen to point out in their explanation statement!
KEY POINTS• Both F1 safety cars are slower than F1 cars around a lap due to their heavier weights and reduced downforce
• They are driven to a set speed determined by race control
• F1 drivers may complain about this speed as they struggle to keep heat in their tires
• This can lead to them having less grip when racing resumes
F1 safety cars can reach top speeds of about 200 mph, but it’s unlikely they’ll do so during a race. Usually, the cars will reach 150 mph or more on the straights, but in the corners the safety cars are much slower than the F1 cars behind them, often about 40-60% of their pace.