The safety car is the biggest strategic challenge in racing. How can you win races during this phase?
Teaser source: Codemasters
“The safety car has been deployed.” This sentence on your team radio can either doom your race or help you win it. To make the best out of it, you need to take the right strategic decisions. What must you do in a safety car phase to benefit the most from it? We will talk you through everything you need to know about safety car strategies.
What happens during a safety car phase?
Let us talk about what makes the safety car phase interesting: as soon as the car comes out of the pits, racing immediately stops. Drivers must slow down, and they cannot overtake opponents as it is prohibited.
The drivers will slowly drive around the track until the race leader reaches the safety car, which is required to stay on the track until the remaining cars have queued up.
Upon its return to the pits, drivers must stay in line until they cross the “safety car line”. From there onward, overtaking is allowed again.
Some drivers tend to immediately rush into the pits as soon as they hear about the safety car’s deployment., but there is much to consider if you want to seize an advantage during the safety car phase.
How to get a free pit stop
A safety car can be great news for you, especially if you need to pit.
To put it under perspective, let us take the following scenario: you are in first place in a Formula 1 race, and you have built a medium gap ahead of second place. However, the pit stop that you need to take would cost you around 20 seconds. Upon entering the pit lane, you must slow down and respect the speed limit. In the meantime, your closest pursuer is going full throttle, and he will pass the pits after 15 seconds, overtaking you in the process. Congrats, you have lost your lead.
A safety car can change this situation to your favor because every driver has to slow down, therefore increasing lap times across the board by 60% on average. With the safety car on the track, your opponent will not be able to overtake you due to the speed limit that it introduces to the race.
Without the safety car, your opponent needs 15 seconds to overtake you. However, with its speed limit, he would need 25 seconds, which is above the 20 seconds it costs you to perform the pit stop. Congrats, you just got a free pit stop thanks to the safety car.
If you consider pitting, keep in mind how long driving through the pit lane will take you. Additionally, watch out where the cars behind you are and where they will be after your pit stop. If they cannot catch up to you by the time your pit stop is finished, you can enjoy a free pit stop without losing a single place.
Dropping a few places for better tires
Sometimes the decision of whether to pit or not is not that easy to consider.
Here is another example: you are in the lead again, and the safety car comes out. However, when you check the gap between yourself and the cars behind, you notice that a pit stop will cost you the lead and drop you to sixth place. Despite that, pitting can be especially useful.
As the safety car returns to the pits and racing resumes, you hold an enormous advantage: fresh tires. While the other drivers stayed on the track and overtook you, you have improved your setup. Because of that advantage, the drivers in front of you will heavily struggle to keep their position against you due to their old tires. In the best-case scenario, your advantage is so big that you can easily overtake them.
If you want to pull off this move, you have to ask yourself a few questions. In this case, the most important one is: how hard is it to overtake on the track where I am currently racing? On narrow circuits like Monaco, overtaking is almost impossible. Falling back a few places might not be clever here because you will not be able to use your fresh tires to overtake.
There is also another question: how many laps are there remaining to overtake? Falling back several positions right before the end will not benefit you, because there will be too little time for you to catch up to your adversaries — even on better tires.
Other things to consider
So far, this tutorial has focused on pit strategy because it is the most important decision during the safety car phase. But there are several important aspects you must consider even if you do not pit.
First and foremost: save your resources! I have seen too many drivers waste their soft tires because they would not slow down enough during the safety car phase. Keep your tires warm in case the race restarts again, but do not let them wear off too much. Take it easy, set your motor to minimum settings and give your car some time to relax, because it will need every bit of power it can afford when the race resumes.
And watch out for the safety car itself, because it might glitch or not behave as it should in some games.
Keep your tires warm in case the race restarts again, but don’t let them wear off too much. Take it easy, set your motor to minimum settings and give your car some time to relax. Because when racing starts again, it will need every bit of power it can.
Finally, do not let your brakes cool down too much. If you do so, you will be in for a nasty surprise in the first corner after the restart.
The perfect restart
Let us get to the final part of the safety car phase: the restart. All gaps and time advantages have been eliminated, and active racing resumes after the safety car returns to the pit. In this phase, you must fully concentrate: as soon as it leaves the track, the race leader decides when the restart happens. That is because other drivers are forbidden from overtaking him before he reaches the safety car line. In this situation, some drivers will accelerate early, whereas others will do so late.
For you, it is important to stay focused and to lose no time when the grid speeds up again. Even the best pit strategies during safety car phases will not work if you mess up your timing here. By the way, do not forget to set your car back to racing mode before the restart.
A safety car phase is about very quick decision-making that can either make or break your race. Many drivers consider safety cars the biggest strategic challenge in racing, and that makes it even more exciting.
If you want to become a champion, you must master difficult situations like this one. And with these tips, I am sure that the next safety car phase will go in your favor.