FIA Statement Defending Aston Martin Vantage Contradicts Safety Car Driver

The statement claims that the safety car itself isn't the limiting factor on pace, but their own safety car driver doesn't seem to agree.

an aston martin vantage, the official safety car for the 2021 f1 season sits on the grid head of the bahrain formula one grand prix at the bahrain international circuit in the city of sakhir on march 28, 2021 photo by andrej isakovic  various sources  afp photo by andrej isakovicafp via getty images
ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/Getty

The governing body of Formula One issued a statement Thursday defending the Aston Martin Vantage safety car, following high-profile comments by three top drivers claiming that it was too slow. The statement said the speed of the car is limited by race control and "not limited by the capabilities of the safety cars." But that didn't seem to be the case at their recent race weekend in Australia.

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The comments came after drivers struggled to keep their tires up to temperature during the safety car period. Red Bull driver and reigning champion Max Verstappen, never one to hold his tongue, said after the race that the Aston Martin Vantage safety car "was like a turtle." George Russel, who drives for Mercedes, pointed out that the Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series safety car—which alternates races with the Aston—is about five seconds faster per lap, a significant difference when you're trying to keep heat in the tires of an open-wheel car. Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc, though, was quick to say that it didn't seem to be a driver problem.

"I was struggling massively to put some temperature in them, so I also struggled," LeClerc told reporters, per Motorsport.com. "To be honest, I wanted to complain, but then I checked how much the safety car was sliding in the corner and I don't think there was anything more that he could give so I didn't want to put too much pressure."

aston martin vantage safety car
Aston Martin

This seems to directly contradict the FIA statement, which didn't name a specific safety car but noted that both are bespoke high-performance cars built by "two of the world's top manufacturers" and driven by former professional drivers. Their statement implies that LeClerc was mistaken to assume the car was on the edge of its performance envelope. Yet, as Reddit user Mocteus noticed, the driver himself admitted in a German-language interview that he was going as fast as he could in the car.

"Of course it's nice that Charles Leclerc saw that I was absolutely at the limit. More was not possible with the best will in the world," former DTM racing and current F1 safety car driver Bernd Mayländer told Auto Motor und Sport, according to a translated version of his comments.

That doesn't mean that the car is never limited by race control, but the quotes from LeClerc and Mayländer show that the roughly 527-hp Vantage struggles to maintain a pace suitable for keeping F1 tires warm. That's not because the Vantage is historically slow, but rather because it seems like this year teams are having to work harder to keep their tires up to temperature. The Vantage is getting flack primarily because it's doing a harder job than ever and splitting those duties with the Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series. That car isn't just faster than the Vantage, it's the single fastest production car around the Nürburgring. Getting within 5 seconds of it on any track isn't that easy.

Aston Martin could of course replace the Vantage with a faster car it makes, like the V-12 version of the same car or the V-12 DBS. Given the statement, though, it seems likely that the automaker and the sport itself will stand behind the Vantage. We'll have to see if drivers keep making noise on their own or if this statement is a signal that F1 doesn't want to hear those complaints. After all, it's tough to sell a huge marketing opportunity like the safety car slot if automakers have to deal with drivers publicly criticizing their product.

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