The first race of the 2019 F1 season is still 65 days away.
And all this effort isn’t just in the name of setting the fastest possible pit stop time but an equally vital target: consistency.
A poor pit stop can be costly for a team’s entire championship. In Australia last year both Haas drivers were forced to retire after the team failed to tighten their wheels properly in the pits.
Team principal Guenther Steiner said the error ultimately cost them fourth place in the constructors’ championship. The difference between fourth and fifth is potentially worth millions of pounds.
With each driver usually only making one pit stop per race last year, the pressure on their teams to make the most of that sole opportunity to was especially high. The pressure told on occasions: a dozen punishments were handed out for ‘unsafe releases’ during 2018.
The worst occurred in Bahrain, where Ferrari mechanic Francesco Cigarini suffered a broken leg when Kimi Raikkonen’s car was sent out of the pits too quickly. The driver was also forced to retire from the race.
As mechanics are increasingly capable of turning an F1 car around in two seconds, the law of diminishing returns has begun to apply. Chasing another few hundredths of a second is not as valuable as ensuring every pit stop is performed as quickly as it can be.
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It’s no good being able to crack a sub-two-second pit stop if the crew fumble every fifth pit stop and cost the driver a couple of seconds. On the pit wall, the team’s strategists need to be able to rely on the pit crew performing as quickly as expected.
Last year Mercedes were consistently among the quickest in the pits. That included in China, where a superb piece of strategy and a rapid tyre change got Valtteri Bottas into the lead. Had it not been for a Safety Car period which went against him later on, that pit stop might have won him the race.
How to change an F1 car’s tyres in two seconds
Old #F1 cars never die…we just dust them off for pit stop practice!
— Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) January 9, 2019
An awful lot happens between an F1 car stopping and going:
- The car stops at the stop board, held by a crew member
- The front and rear jack operators raise the car
- The three tyres changers at each corner of the car go to work. The first removes the wheel nut (this happens around 0.5s after the car stops), the second removes the old tyre, the third fits the new one, and the first screws it in place and presses a button on their gun to indicate the change is complete
- Meanwhile, front wing levels adjustments are made using electrically-operated equipment, and any parts requiring cleaning are attended to, such as the driver’s visor, mirrors and the car’s radiators
- Finally, a mechanic indicates whether the fast lane is clear for the car to emerge into, and the car is released back into the race
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