The SLS AMG and C63 AMG Estate are back as the official safety and medical cars of the new Formula 1 season but this year they have a slightly more significant role.

They are also representative of the newly christened Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 team, which was formally known as the Mercedes GP and includes star drivers Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.

The SLS AMG, with its characteristic roof lights and distinctive FIA and F1 logos on its aluminum, gullwing body, has been deployed in the role of official safety car in F1 since 2010.

During a race, as soon as race organizers consider that the safe progress of the field may be impeded, it sends the SLS AMG out onto the track. Key reasons the safety car is called out include poor weather or crashes.

Driving the safety cars in F1 since 2000 is 40 year-old Bernd Mayländer, a former DTM racing driving and now an instructor at the AMG Driving Academy. His co-driver is 45-year old Pete Tibbetts who mans the radio.

A significant change in the 2012 season involves lapped vehicles during a safety car phase: they will be allowed to overtake the safety car after race organizers have given the appropriate signal. By allowing them to gain their lap back, the natural race order of the cars will be restored, something which should allow for more equal opportunities when the race restarts.

No technical changes have been made or weight-saving measures applied to the car. The engine, power train, suspension and braking system are the same as those found in the standard production SLS AMG, which means its 6.2-liter V-8 is still rated at 571 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque and capable of accelerating the car from 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds.

The only exception is the newly developed exhaust--designed to provide a significantly louder sound that the production car.

Joining the SLS AMG safety car is the C63 AMG Estate medical car. As in the previous years from 2008 to 2011, the C63 AMG Estate will be responsible for ensuring a rapid emergency response in the event of an accident. It also follows the F1 field during the initial lap, when the racing cars are still bunched extremely closely together during this early phase of the race.

It too is based on the regular production model and is powered by the same 6.3-liter V-8 though with output rated at a lower 487 horsepower. Behind the wheel will be FIA-representative Alan van de Merwe.

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Official Medical Car for 2012 Formula 1 season

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Official Medical Car for 2012 Formula 1 season