Mercedes-Benz has been the exclusive provider of safety cars for Formula One since 1996. That arrangement looks like it will change beginning next year, as Aston Martin is rumored to join the German automaker and split duties over course of the 2021 calendar, kicking off a new era in the fascinating, but rarely discussed, history of F1 safety cars.
Mercedes and Aston Martin vehicles will each assume the post for about half the season, according to a Motorsport.com report. I say “about” because the 2021 F1 campaign was supposed to consist of 24 races until management scuttled the Vietnamese Grand Prix that was originally planned.
So, instead of an even 12 races each for Mercedes and Aston Martin, one will have to take an extra weekend. RaceFans says it’ll be Aston. Maybe they’ll draw straws! We reached out to Aston Martin for comment, and a spokesman had only this to say:
“It is Aston Martin’s policy not to comment on speculation. As a manufacturer we are extremely excited and focused on our imminent return to Formula 1 as a full works team, for the first time in more than 60 years, in 2021.”
Anyway, Aston Martin’s introduction would end Mercedes’ 24-year-long run as the only F1 safety car. It comes at an appropriate time for the British company, as 2021 will also mark the first season for Aston Martin’s factory-backed F1 team, thanks to a hefty investment from Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll.
As it happens, Racing Point employs Mercedes power in its F1 cars and will continue to do so next season when it’s rebranded as Aston Martin. Mercedes also announced in October that it plans to increase its existing stake in Aston Martin’s production car business, and of course Mercedes F1 team owner and principal Toto Wolff holds a private investment in Aston Martin as well. Frankly, you’d think the two parties would’ve just gotten a room already.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing a new make of safety car on the grid. We don’t know for certain which Aston will be chosen — the Vantage seems like a safe bet — though it’s been said the new DBX crossover will play medical car.
The news inspired me to reminisce about F1 safety cars of earlier seasons. While safety cars were officially introduced for the 1993 season, the three years that followed saw a rotating cast of models and body styles from different brands, ranging from the humble Renault Clio and Honda Prelude to the Porsche 993 GT2. It was like the Wild West, until Mercedes got involved and made everything samey.
From 1997 to 1999, Mercedes trotted out the W208 CLK 55 AMG to lead the field, probably my favorite of the company’s many F1 safety cars. Compared with modern luxury sports coupes and sedans that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination, the CLK 55 had that kind of restrained, sleeper quality often desired in a car like that. Also, you could get one in the proper color in Gran Turismo 3 and hoon it around an unlicensed doppelgänger of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. It was like a Bernd Mayländer simulator within a simulator.
The current safety car, which has served us since 2018, is the AMG GT R. It’s a far cry from the ordinary passenger cars of decades past, but obviously a much better choice in the interest of safety and maintaining the integrity of the race. A safety car moving too slowly won’t allow the cars behind to stay cool and keep their tires at ideal temperatures. Still, there will always be something mildly amusing about seeing a Renault Clio flogged harder than it ever deserved to be, running from a pack of wailing banshees.