‘No evidence’ banning traffic lights would make pit stops safer

2018 Chinese Grand Prix

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F1 should not react to the recent spate of ‘unsafe release’ incidents by banning teams from using traffic lights to control pit stops, according to race director Charlie Whiting.

Asked whether safety would be improved by bringing back the lollipops teams previously used to signal when a driver should leave the pits, Whiting said “I don’t think so.”

“I can’t think there’s any evidence for that,” he added.

McLaren lost a wheel from one of its cars during pre-season testing and was fined for an unsafe release during practice in China. Both Haas drivers retired from the Australian Grand Prix due to unsafe releases. Whiting explained how these errors were connected.

“If you just have a torque sensor [on the wheel gun] you can gun the nut on and it can be cross-threaded and it’ll show the required torque but it won’t be tight, which is what happened to the Haas cars for example and to McLaren.

“Some teams have got that as well as a position sensor so if it gets the required torque and it hasn’t moved the right amount then it says it’s not done. If you’ve got a stroke sensor and a torque sensor – two inputs – the operator gets a green light on his gun, then he says it’s done. So you’re using two sensors to tell the operator it’s actually done up, he presses a button, both jacks drop and the car goes.”

Whiting intends to have further discussions with teams on how to make their systems safer, but is against requiring them to use the same equipment.

“I don’t think there’s any need to standardise it,” he said. “We need to make sure the operator can’t press the button before they’re done because effectively they could just go in there with a thumb on it and just do it and come off. We need to ensure that, among other things, there is no possibility for the guy to give the OK until those two conditions have been met.”

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Heikki Kovalainen, Renault, Indianapolis, 2007
Teams previously used lollipops to control pit stops

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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21 comments on “‘No evidence’ banning traffic lights would make pit stops safer”

  1. Humans make errors, systems make errors. Although I do disagree with Charlie Whiting on the standardisation topic. There is no tangible benefit to having different systems, so they should have a sole supplier for the wheel gun to increase safety. Could also help reducing costs by the slimmest of margins as well.

    1. There is a benefit to different systems in the innovation area, if it’s standardised you can’t innovate in that area and that’s part of what F1 is about. They didn’t all have traffic lights and they didn’t all that torque guns first.

      I remember when they started doing sub 3 second pit stops, it took changes to equipment and new ideas, if you standardise it then we won’t see that kind of competition any more.

      1. Do we really care if they innovated the wheel nut gun? It seems a bit unrelated to the racing to me. I don’t even care if they do 4secs or 2secs pit stops.

        1. @afonic
          Maybe you are not bothered about innovation aspects not directly related to the cars (or at all?), but for a lot of us Fanatics (@keithcollantine is it wrong I still miss the old name? I will admit unlike the halo I haven’t got used to the name change!!) the holistic technologies and ancillary functions are massive parts of the sport as a whole.

          1. I like to follow innovation, but having a some teams spend a couple of million dollars in order to improve the pit stop time by 0.5s does not excite me at all. Sure a better system could be used in assembly lines or robotics, but does really F1 need to be a test bed for such technologies?

            Battery improvements, engine efficiency, active suspension, even read safety, count me in, but do wheel guns need to be innovative? That’s why the costs are out of control and half the field struggles to survive.

        2. @afonic At least I care. In 2000’s I think 4 seconds is the lowest F1 pit stop ever that involving only changing the tires, but now 2s is the norm and 3 seconds is considered very slow. This is what the DNA of F1 is. Trying to achieve the best in all areas, even the one often overlooked at, by all members of the team. F1 DNA not about open cockpit nor open wheel nor about the driver works alone in the car.

      2. There is a benefit to different systems in the innovation area, if it’s standardised you can’t innovate in that area and that’s part of what F1 is about.

        I completely agree with this sentence, ant surely that should be the base where the new rules for 2021 are written. But we have to be objective here and see if that innovation is useful for something or not. Besides F1 where would we need that sort of equipment? I for once don’t expect to service my tyres in under 2s, so for this particular subject I don’t think it is very relevant.

        1. @johnmilk The one come into my head instantly is in construction work or building something. When the system is mature it’ll speed up some of the process while lowering the worker qualification to do the job to achieve the same standard. I mean we don’t even think about advanced ECU, car aerodynamics, or even composite carbon in 80’s but look how ubiquitous they are now.

  2. Good that he’s shared this information, and intends to discuss this further with the teams.

    he presses a button, both jacks drop

    Ah, so releasing the car off the jacks is automated? I didn’t know that, I thought it was manually triggered (albeit via a trigger for the front jack).

    I don’t think there’s any need to standardise it

    I too slightly disagree with this, like @klon above. By standardising it, it would ensure that safety features are built in commonly and consistently across all teams. That was the argument made for the halo, wasn’t it?

    It would also ensure that the richer teams don’t have to invest in R&D trying to optimize this aspect, knowing they can’t. They can instead focus on the car itself. The poorer teams can also rest easy knowing they aren’t giving a tenth away in something they don’t have the financial resources or manpower to focus on.

    @georgetuk makes a good counter-argument about innovation, and that is why my disagreement is “slight”. There have been a few nice innovations, traffic lights being one, the other being the front jack man standing off to the side and using a trigger release.

    That said, it’s not something I feel very strongly about, so either way is fine.

  3. You don’t have to ban things. Banning is usually the first knee-jerk reaction to things, but it rarely solves what it set out to accomplish. Also, with the relatively slow turnaround in implementing F1 procedural changes in general, any short-term solution would need to be simple. And there is one. Make lollipop man mandatory. There is a very high chance that another (dedicated) set of human eyeballs would have spotted the issue with Raikkonen’s left rear.

    If you make it that all 4 cornermen must raise their arm when done, and the lollipop man waits for 4 raised arms, then that seems pretty failsafe to me.

  4. Why not mandate a hybrid system with a lollipop man at the side ? Take Bahrain for example. He sees the problem with the rear tire not being removed, drops the lollipop, Kimi doesn’t hit the gas, a broken leg and months of hardship is saved.

    1. Or the automatic system green-lights and when Raikkonen hit the gas and the lollipop man drops the lollipop, Raikkonen crashes into it and the guy’s arm is broken along with all other potential incidents that can happen as a result of this.

    2. @shrieker, we could also have the situation that we have seen several times in the past where the person with the lollipop board mistakenly pre-empts the mechanics and lifts the board too soon, with mechanics being run over when the driver instinctively reacted to that and released the clutch.

      A lot of people seem to be automatically assuming that it was the automated systems that failed, but has that actually been confirmed anywhere? Or is it just being presumed that a human observer must be better?

  5. Why some people think lollipop going to solve or prevents all these problems? I mean unsafe release already existed since long time ago in the era when all teams still using lollipop man.

    1. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that a lollipop man is going to “solve or prevent all” the problems 100%. But I believe that a set of eyes specifically tasked with looking out for pitstop issues and with the ability to stop a premature getaway has to make the pitstop safer. At the moment, quite remarkably, there isn’t anyone in the pits who can do that, which as we found out in Bahrain is very dangerous when the automation makes a mess of it.

      1. @bealzbob If a human eye that important to oversee the pitstop then we already have chief mechanic who the job description is exactly that. The one that already said have the ability to override the lights. Even at Bahrain, the error happened mainly because series of cascading human errors, the automation works exactly as they programmed to do.

        1. The automation requires 4 green lights. The left rear should never have been green because the wheel never came off. It looks like shoddy programming. It assumed that 4 wheels must mean green without asking if they are 4 different wheels. The default should have been red, and only changed to green once a wheel was removed and replaced. It seems it only changes to red once a wheel is removed, which in this case it never was. I imagine Ferrari changed some code later that week.

  6. I really enjoy the very fast pit stops we have nowadays. It adds to the excitement imo.

    I think every system has risk of mistakes and am not attracted by the idea of 5 seconds standard stops or something like that

  7. I think that’s a really misleading headline. I expected the story to contain a quote from whiting saying that they’ve looked at the evidence and found that there are fewer errors with the lighting systems (vs. lollipop mechanic). however, it’s just his intuition. it may well be correct but it’s not the same as someone having looked at the numbers. I think he’s probably right, but again it’s just my gut feeling.

    it seems like a feature of F1 that people go by what they think must be the case, without having looked into it properly. it’s very unscientific, which I find odd in a sport filled with engineers.

  8. Maybe if we just have a minimum stop time of 5 seconds we lose the problem. I prefer my racing on the track in any case. The ‘wow’ factor for wheel changing time has long gone unless its the only thing worth commentating on.

  9. The traffic light system is working. I thought there weren’t any unsafe releases at the Chinese GP, although I read somewhere there was actually one. Computers are mostly safer than people in this “speed is essential” environment, and if it’s found there’s a flaw in the computer logic then you reprogram the computer and the problem is solved. People, on the other hand, even when they’re told that something is dangerous may still ignore the dangers.
    As I see it, if people are unhappy with computers and traffic lights, then one option is to mandate a minimum stop top, but this won’t stop people being people.

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