Well, that escalated quickly. In the wake of last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, a number of top drivers complained that the Aston Martin Vantage safety car wasn’t driving quickly enough. And now, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has felt the need to intervene with its nuclear option: yep, a strongly-worded statement.
“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 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.”
Lots to unpick there. At the heart of the issue is tire temperatures: if the safety car can’t maintain a certain pace, then the drivers following behind won’t be able to get enough heat into the rubber to make it, you know, grip. And when you’ve got 20 cars all ploughing towards a tight corner at over 320kph with no grip, that can be dangerous.
But as the FIA quite rightly points out, the field sometimes needs to slow right down on certain sections of the circuit to let the marshals do their thing safely. So there’s a fine line to be found.
Clearly, a selection of drivers felt the Vantage, which alternates each race with an AMG GT Black Series—was either being told to be too cautious in parts of the track that were clear, or just didn’t have the speed of the AMG. Max Verstappen called the Aston a “turtle”; race winner Charles Leclerc said afterwards that he “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”.
The question now is, does the FIA insist on improvements that allow the Aston to bridge what George Russell reckons is a “five seconds a lap” difference between the two safety cars? Or does it simply shrug and tell the drivers to get on with it? The last paragraph of that statement suggests the latter…
Alternatively, how about Aston Martin just sticks some lights on top of a Valkyrie?
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.