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What Is the Difference Between a Safety Car and a Virtual Safety Car in F1?

Published 09/05/2022, 11:35 AM EDT

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via Reuters

Formula 1 is a sport of speed! There’s no denying the sheer extremity of pace F1 has to offer. Most of the cars can easily go beyond 200 MPH on track. But, there’s a time when the cars need to slow down and maintain a certain speed and that’s when the safety cars come out.

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Maintaining the speed limit in Formula 1 feels to be oxymoronic, that too on track, not in the pit lane. However, this happens on special occasions and drivers are to obey the safety car instructions strictly. What is this safety car then? Also, what’s the use of a newly implemented virtual safety car?


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A safety car is usually deployed in F1 when there are obstructions on the track. The safety car comes out on track in front of the packs to reduce their speed, hence preventing accidents or mishaps. The safety cars can come out in case of bad weather as well. Most importantly, no overtakes are allowed in a safety car period.

There are two types of safety cars. One is the usual physical car that comes out of the pit lane and takes control of the situation. The other is the virtual safety car. Even though their main motive is to get the cars under safe speed and get the track cleared, they’re slightly different from each other.

Key differences between Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car in F1

A safety car and a virtual safety car are both deployed in case of obstacles on or near the track primarily. However, there are some differences. The safety car is usually deployed when there is a big mess up, multiple car crashes, or a damaged barrier. Incidents with huge impacts do call out the safety car. The safety car isn’t withdrawn until the track is fully clear to race.

The virtual safety car is usually deployed when a car goes out of the track, a car stops in the middle, and there comes an obstacle on the track. Each car will have to follow a delta time and reduce the speed by 30% to 40% from the normal track pace.


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via Reuters

In the case of a regular safety car, the F1 cars can bunch up and follow each other closely. For virtual safety cars, however, it’s different due to the involvement of delta time.

Let’s look at this with an example, if Lewis Hamilton is 10 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen before the virtual safety car, the Dutchman will be 10 seconds behind the Briton as soon as it ends since they followed the same delta time, which didn’t change the gap between them.


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The safety car was introduced in the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, the virtual safety car was introduced much later in 2015 after the catastrophic Jules Bianchi crash. Bianchi aquaplaned at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix with his Marussia and suffered a head injury. Bianchi breathed his last in July 2015.

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Written by:

Sabyasachi Biswas


One take at a time

Sabyasachi Biswas is an F1 and NASCAR writer at EssentiallySports. He has completed his Master's in Mass Communication and Journalism from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Sabyasachi is an ardent Red Bull and Max Verstappen fan and has been following the sport for over a decade now.
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Edited by:

Ranvijay Singh