Max Verstappen joked the Aston Martin Formula 1 safety car was “like a turtle” in the Australian Grand Prix and reckons it is problematically slower than the Mercedes version.
Verstappen had a chance to grab the lead of the Melbourne race at the restart after a second safety car period, when Charles Leclerc understeered through the final corner and had to back off on the entry to the start-finish straight.
Red Bull driver Verstappen issued a surprise criticism of the Aston Martin Vantage safety car when asked by The Race what happened to Leclerc.
“It’s just that there’s so little grip because the safety car was driving so slowly,” Verstappen said in an effective defence of the Ferrari driver.
“It was like a turtle. Unbelievable. With that car, to drive 140km/h on the back straight where that was not a damaged car anymore, I don’t understand why we have to drive so slowly.
“We have to investigate. For sure the Mercedes[-AMG GT Black Series] safety car is faster because of the extra aero.
“The Aston Martin is really slow. It definitely needs more grip, because our tyres were stone cold.
“We went into the last corner and I could see Charles understeering, so I’m like ‘OK I’ll back off a bit more and get a better line’.
“But it’s pretty terrible, the way we are driving behind the safety car at the moment.”
The Mercedes is said to have “730bhp, adjustable suspension and a number of track-focused features” and a top speed of over 200mph, according to the information released when the 2022 safety and medical cars were unveiled earlier this year.
Long-time F1 safety car driver Bernd Maylander said at the time he was “blown away by how close it is to a thoroughbred race car”.
The Aston Martin is not a basic model, with chassis and aerodynamic modifications, but it is less powerful and has a slightly slower 0-60mph time.
Asked by The Race for his thoughts on the Aston Martin safety car’s speed following Verstappen’s remarks, Leclerc said: “To be honest it always feels too slow in the car because with those Formula 1 cars, we have so much grip and it’s very, very difficult, especially on the compound we were all on, which was the hards.
“I was struggling massively to put some temperature in them so I also struggled.
“Then, 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 push too much pressure on.
“It’s the way it is. But for sure with the cars that we have now it’s very difficult to keep the temperature in the tyres behind the safety car.”
Mercedes F1 driver George Russell joked as a follow-up to Leclerc’s answer that “we don’t have the issue with the Mercedes AMG safety car” – although, in reality, there have regularly been complaints about the speed of safety cars over the years.
He then added: “On a serious note the Mercedes AMG is like five seconds, a lot quicker than the Aston Martin safety car, which is pretty substantial.”
To that, Leclerc replied: “We need to put a Ferrari so it’s then [another] five seconds quicker!”