The world of Formula 1 is complex, with a lot of moving parts, as is any other sport. In this blog, we are going to focus on the pit stop phase of this ever-growing sport. Formula 1 is a team sport and, for the team to do well, it has to be working in harmony on all fronts. Pit stops are key to a driver’s success on the track, with the role of the pit crew vital when contesting for a good position. In this post, we are going to dive into some details and also focus on the success of Red Bull in perfecting their craft in the pit lane during a Grand Prix weekend.
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As you read on, you will learn more about the following:
- What is a pit stop?
- The people involved in a pit stop
- The role of the driver in a pit stop
- Fastest pit stop ever
What is a pit stop?
A pit stop is a mandatory change of four tyres that each and every driver on the grid needs to observe during a dry race. During a wet race — when wet weather tyres are needed at the start of the race — it is not mandatory for drivers to come into the pit lane and change tyres during the race. In essence, a pit stop is a stationary couple of seconds where mechanics service the car, and if needed, make a tweak to the front wing angle or a steering wheel change. In such cases, drivers must come into the pit lane multiple times throughout the race.
Due to track abrasiveness, which refers to tyre traction, some tracks might allow teams to run a one-stop strategy whilst others pin teams to go for a two-stop. Some of the most abrasive tracks are the United States Grand Prix, Singapore Grand Prix, Silverstone and Suzuka, which are currently on the F1 calendar.
During a pit stop, you might notice that cars remain stationary for a period of time. This is because they are serving a penalty; normally three seconds or a five-seconds penalty, before the new tyres are placed on the car.
There are two different lanes within the Formula 1 pit lane: the fast lane and the inner lane. The inner lane is where cars are serviced and the fast lane is the lane on which the drivers are released once done from their stop.
Back in the day, during a pit stop, the pit crew fuelled the car as well, but this is no longer done due to safety reasons. Through changes in the rules, fuel no longer had a part to play in the overall strategy of winning races. The ban on refuelling came after several accidents occurred in which the consequences could have easily been much worse.
The people involved in a pit stop
A lot of personnel is required in the Formula 1 pit box in order to execute the fastest pit stops, 17 individuals to be exact: four wheel gunners, eight tyre carriers two for each wheel of the car, two stabilisers, two front wing adjusters, front and rear jack man with backups. Teams up and down the grid work without rest in order to minimise the downtime of their respective cars in the pit lane. In recent seasons, the FIA has limited the time for specific stages of the pit to be done in order to reduce mistakes, which is an obstacle for those who were ahead of the competition, such as Red Bull racing.
There are quite a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the people involved in a pit stop and its crew. None of the people clustered around the box waiting for the drivers are professional pit crew — they have other full-time jobs, but their duties in the lane are nothing more than a side-line job.
Another occasional misconception is that the pit crew are all mechanics. Many of them are, but the crew is selected from a wider base than that. Engineers don’t work on the crew for the simple reason that they’re otherwise occupied during a Grand Prix — but anyone else working in the garage is fair game. While most of the crew are mechanics, they might just as easily be garage support, composites fabricators, gearbox techs and so on. Trials are held over the winter, from which a prime crew is chosen. It’s often the same faces (though not necessarily in the same places) year after year, but it’s certainly not a job for life.
There are many criteria that go into the selection process, with each position requiring important elements, namely and most importantly, balance. Some jobs require raw strength; others are about the quick reflex. There can be many instances during a Grand Prix where a mix-up in the tyre change could really change the end result in a race — pun intended.
Countless hours are spent practicing these pit stops as they could prove to be vital at every stage of the Grand Prix weekend. Red Bull is famous for having one of the best Formula 1 pit stops, owing to its outstanding teamwork over the years. Its record for the fastest pit stops is sub-two seconds, which is bizarre when considering what goes on during that short period of time. We will go into more detail about that fastest pit stop later in the blog.
During the 2021 season, Valtteri Bottas was forced to retire from an excellent position in the race as mechanics were unable to remove the front right tyre from his car during a pit stop. This is an unfortunate incident that might well happen from time to time due to the high amount of downforce the cars produce. All the planning can easily go out of the window and the team’s hopes can become undone by a faulty wheel nut — fine margins.
The role of the driver in a pit stop
After the communication has been done from the pit wall to the driver to ”Box, Box”, the driver needs to stay on the inner lane to show his intent on entering the pit lane so as not to hinder other cars from going in the fast lane. Once approaching the pit entry line, drivers need to be mindful of the speed limiter, which normally stands at either 60 km/h or 80 km/h, depending on the track. Once they lower their speed to that limit, they push a button and the car will not accelerate above that speed in order to protect the personnel working in the pit lane who might come in harm’s way should an accident happen.
The next big thing for the driver at this point is marking his braking spot. This is important, as the pit box has pre-determined marks where the front jack man would be stationed, while other personnel will be at the ready with wheel guns to remove the wheel nuts as quickly as possible.
Albeit a rare circumstance, a lock up or a failure of some sort might hinder the driver from braking in time and the front jack man can be in harm’s way. Therefore, the role of the driver in a pit stop cannot be understated. He needs to put his car in the best position in order for the team to work with absolute precision and enhance their chances in the race.
After the stop is done, the driver needs to carefully guide the car onto the end of the pit lane safely without obstructing other drivers and once he crosses the line to rejoin the race, he can switch off the speed limit imposed on his car.
Fastest pit stop ever recorded
Like any other aspect of the sport, teams are in search of milliseconds to get them ahead of the others, and in the pit lane, the competition ramps up, especially in tight races. One of the teams that continue to surpass expectations race after race is Red Bull, with their fastest pit stop.
During the 2019 Formula 1 season, Red Bull managed to service their cars in world record time three times, each time registering a better time than the last. Let’s run through these epic moments:
This was the ‘slower’ stop compared to the others, coming in at 1.91 seconds less than Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly. The switch from medium compound tyres to hard was effortless, as the jacks lifted the car off the ground so the wheel gunners could snatch off the old tyre in a blink of an eye.
A slight improvement from that in Silverstone, in changeable conditions, saw Max Verstappen register a 1.88-second stop as he went on slicks en route to an exciting performance. It’s even more impressive as the pits were still damp, since water stood on various parts of the track, posing a challenge to position the car in the correct position.
An even bigger improvement occurred in Interlagos, as once again, Red Bull set Max Verstappen going again on a brand new set of soft in 1.82 seconds. This is still the fastest pit stop recorded in F1. The pit stop was key in the race as the team won on the day as the driver set some blistering pace in the closing laps.
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