Since refuelling was banned in 2010, Formula 1 pitstops have been getting faster and faster. The current record was set in 2019 at the Brazilian when Red Bull Racing serviced Max Verstappen’s car in just 1.82 seconds.
That time, at least in the immediate future, is unlikely to be bettered. As far as the FIA is concerned, the stops are now simply too fast, and they need to be slowed down in the name of safety. Although incidents are rare, they do happen. During pre-season testing, Haas driver Mick Schumacher left the pits with the jack wedged under his car, and we do occasionally see botched stops when wheels aren’t attached properly.
A new technical directive has been issued, which states: “For safety reasons we would furthermore expect the minimum time offset between the initiation of the jack release procedure and the OK signal to the driver given by the green light to be at least 0.2 seconds.” This takes effect from the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix.
The move follows complaints that some of the incredibly fast pitstops we’ve seen rely more heavily on automation than the rules allow. Article 12.8.4 of F1’s rulebook says: “Devices which are used to fit or remove wheel fasteners may only be powered by compressed air or nitrogen. Any sensor systems may only act passively.”
The new directive will hurt Red Bull Racing more than most. As well as holding the current record, the team was the outright winners of the DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award three years on the bounce starting in 2018 and is well on its way to making that four. It’s the only team so far this season to break the two-second barrier, and of the 10 fastest stops clocked in 2021, the Milton Keynes-based team were responsible for seven.
Oft-outspoken RBR advisor Dr Helmut Marko has been quick to point the finger at the team’s arch-rivals, whose stops aren’t anything like as brisk. “Mercedes pushed it because they wanted to steal our advantage during pit stops,” he told Auto Motor und Sport, adding, “We lose up to four-tenths. Seven years of work and training have gone into the consistency and speed of our pit stops.”
Red Bull has used its spectacularly fast stops to great effect in the 2021 season thus far, so the rule changes could prove decisive in the championship. Having chalked up his fourth win at the Styrian Grand Prix last weekend, Max Verstappen enjoys an 18-point lead over Mercedes‘ Lewis Hamilton.