Blink and you’ll miss it. That is very much the case with pit stops in Formula 1 right now. They are lightning quick, with mechanics working in synchronisation to pull off the perfect tyre change. Here’s everything you need to know:
In F1, every tenth counts, so when drivers pit, the pressure is on for their crew to get them back out on track as quickly as possible. Currently, just the four tyres require changing during a pit stop. Red Bull Racing holds the record for the fastest time having registered a time of 2.05 seconds at the start of the 2013 season. The team then bettered it at that year’s United States Grand Prix, changing Mark Webber’s tyres in 1.923 seconds. It hasn’t been bettered since, although teams are now looking for consistency, rather than outright speed.
Stops can often be longer in modern F1 if parts need changing, if there’s a problem with the wheel nut or if the front wing angle needs adjusting to combat oversteer or understeer.
The pit stop times will also increase if a driver suffers a puncture or if debris has been collected and needs to be cleared. The longer stops are painful for drivers, but times of seven seconds or over used to be very common in the sport.
While the driver may be the one getting all of the attention, F1 is very much a team sport and this is no more evident than in the pit stop. Each outfit has a crew of nearly 20 people.
Each tyre requires three mechanics – one to operate the wheel gun, one to take the tyre off and one to put a new one on the hub. There are two people stabilising the car, as well as two people operating the rear and front jacks to lift the machine up when it arrives in the pit box.
There are two mechanics making front wing adjustments and they will also remove the nosecone if it needs replacing. Finally, there are two back up front and rear jack crew members and one or two others operating the lighting system.
Cars would previously be guided into their pit box by a lollipop man, who would be in charge of telling the driver when it was safe to go. He would have a lollipop instructing a driver to brake on one side, select first gear on the other and go when it was lifted up.
However, this job died in 2008 when Ferrari started using a traffic light system. The team reverted back to the lollipop man after a mistake during the Singapore Grand Prix but quickly returned to traffic lights, as did many other teams during 2010 and 2011.
The pit crew is positioned so that the job can be done as quickly and smoothly as possible. This requires drivers to stop on a specific mark, and if they overshoot or stop too soon, it can add several seconds to the stop as the mechanics adapt or reposition themselves. It’s a hugely important part of each pit stop.
When the F1 world championship first started, pit stops only usually took place if a driver was retiring from the race. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they started to be common, as tyre changing became the norm.
They were usually long and chaotic, with none of the choreography and synchronisation of today’s pit stops. Refuelling was introduced in 1994 and increased times considerably, but it was banned at the end of 2009, leaving teams to just focus on tyre changes once again.
Drivers and teams can be handed penalties that are applied during trips to the pits and for mistakes or errors that take place during stops themselves. 10 and five second stop/go penalties can be handed out, with mechanics having to wait for the penalty to be completed before starting work on the car.
Despite the traffic light system, mistakes still occur and drivers can be released unsafely, coming close to hitting other cars, being let out of the pits with a loose tyre or narrowly avoiding rival pit crews. These often result in time or stop/go penalties, or team fines.
Because refuelling is no longer allowed, very few pieces of equipment are required for a pit stop. There are front and rear jacks, with the former having a swivel feature so the mechanic can move out of the way sooner and then release the car. Jacks have a quick release lever and no powered device can be used.
Each corner of the car gets two pneumatic wheel guns, in case one of them fails, operating on compressed air. The system is hugely sophisticated and has changed considerably over the years. Mechanics have buttons on the wheel guns to signal when a stop has been made, but may also raise their hands too.
There is also the light system, which hangs from the pit gantry. This also houses CCTV cameras, air lines and trigger wiring for the wheel guns.