F1 Is Trialing A Virtual Safety Car In Drivers' Cockpits

The Formula 1 safety car might become a thing of the past, with the recent testing of a new speed governing system in drivers' cockpits at today's Grand Prix at the Circuit Of The Americas in Austin, Texas. The system, which forces drivers to cut more than a third of their speed to meet pre-determined lap times, can be switched on in the case of an on-track incident.

Formula 1 image via Shutterstock

The virtual safety car setup, according to the BBC, has been developed in response to Jules Bianchi's October accident which occurred under safety car conditions -- possibly due to Bianchi's track speed not being regulated enough by the safety car at the head of the pack.

The new system, which drivers trialed at the Austin GP after Friday practice, presents a 'delta' target speed on the dashboard of the steering wheel, approximately 35 per cent below normal dry target lap times. Drivers must aim to meet that target time per track sector, and will be penalised for exceeding it under safety conditions. The virtual safety car will be introduced officially after consultation with teams, but its initial purpose will be only to slow drivers until the safety car is in position at the head of the pack.

The current safety car is a Mercedes Benz SLS AMG, driven by former DTM racer Bernd Maylander. It's not the easiest job on the circuit -- while the safety car might look slow next to a Formula 1 car and laps around 45 seconds slower per circuit, it's often driving at the full extent of its power and performance to get there.

Cracking 280km/h on the long straight at Monza is no mean feat, and in a road car it's not the safest exercise, but it's necessary to get a safety car out there in front of the Formula 1 racers at the right speed to slow the race enough to avoid an accident and the clean-up crew, but to keep everyone just fast enough to maintain tyre and brake heat for optimum racing after the yellow flags are lifted. If that can be done with the current suite of onboard sensors and computers, it becomes safer for everyone involved. [BBC]