Safety cars play a critical role at Formula One events. Their primary role is to ensure the safety of the track marshals and safety crews during an accident or other hazardous conditions on the track. Yet while we take them for granted today, there is quite a bit of history behind the safety cars, as revealed in this video on the Formula One YouTube channel.
The first official Safety Car was a Porsche 914/6 deployed at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1973. Since then, Formula One has used various cars to fulfill the role, including a Lamborghini Countach at the 1981 Monaco Grand Prix. More unlikely cars included the Ford Escort Cosworth, a Renault Clio, and the Fiat Tempra. And while the Countach proved sufficiently fast enough for the role, slower cars like the Tempra underscored the need for speed to keep the brake, tire, and engine temperatures of the Formula One cars in their normal operating ranges.
That's why in 1996, Formula One entered into an agreement with Mercedes-Benz to supply the official safety cars. Since then, Mercedes-Benz and AMG have provided a variety of high-performance cars to meet the role's demands, including the CLK63 AMG Black Series, SLS AMG, and Mercedes-AMG GT. It was also the exclusive provider until 2021, when it began sharing that role with Aston Martin.
However, the role of the Formula One Safety car requires more than just a fast car like the Aston Martin Vantage. It requires a skilled driver like Bernd Maylander. An accomplished race driver in his own right, Maylander won the 1997 FIA GT and the Nurburgring 24 Hours in 2000, but for the past 24 years, he's been the primary Safety Car driver in over 212 Grand Prix events.
As for the cars themselves, they are much different from their stock, road-going counterparts. The performance and safety equipment are beefed up to handle track work. They have special lights and communications equipment, including a GPS and telemetry, to pinpoint the accident's area and the lead car's location in the race.
Even today, Formula One continues to evolve, and so does the role of its Safety Car. According to Maylander, the team is like one big family who is always learning and working together to improve their roles. While he has many memories from the past 24 years as the primary Safety Car driver, it's that team work he's most proud of.