Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2018

How F1 pit crews are chasing consistency as well as speed

2019 F1 season

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The first race of the 2019 F1 season is still 65 days away.

But in the teams’ factories the air guns aren’t being left silent. Some teams continue to perform as many as 60 practice pit stops per week.

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

An awful lot happens between an F1 car stopping and going:

  1. The car stops at the stop board, held by a crew member
  2. The front and rear jack operators raise the car
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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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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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12 comments on “How F1 pit crews are chasing consistency as well as speed”

  1. Hopefully, next season would be back to the more normal standards concerning unsafe releases. It still puzzles how there were so many similar types of incidents in the first half of last season alone.

  2. Meh, there should be half as many people allowed. One person per tyre.

    1. I don’t know, it might be a case of different strokes for different folks. For me, I like the F1 pitstop – for its sheer synchronicity amongst ~20 personnel. I’ve seen some US racing series where there’s a guy with fuel in a jerrycan, and one (or few?) responsible for all 4 tyres, they all jump over a wall and get to work when a car arrives, and that just felt so… “meh” in my eyes.

      1. @phylyp, as you say, just randomly throwing out the idea of having fewer people without trying to explain why just begs the question “what are you trying to achieve”?

        After all, in the WEC, the purpose of restricting the number of personnel who could change a tyre wasn’t for the benefit of the mechanics – quite the opposite, if anything. The intention was to deliberately made the job physically harder for the mechanics to discourage tyre changes, seemingly as an indirect attempt to slow down the cars (by encouraging the tyre manufacturers to make harder, and therefore slower, tyre compounds).

        Sam Hignett, the head of Jota Sport, indicated last year that those rule changes have caused an increase in the injury rate for mechanics in the WEC, particularly with skeletal muscle injuries, because of the increased physical effort. It shows that there are drawbacks to such a system, and in some ways it could make things worse for the mechanics rather than better.

        1. Hi ‘anon’ – I’m in agreement with ‘ted’.
          “what are you trying to achieve?”
          Something to watch during pit-stops… like, for example, an actual ‘pit-STOP’, rather than a ‘Pit-Pause’ with a flurry of colour for 2-3 seconds. With IndyCar, although it might appear to be a bit ‘cheap-charlie’ at least there is actual pit-stop action that is a pleasure/exciting to watch.
          I’d go with a compromise of two guys on each wheel and two on jacks – and get the jacks to hold the car securely instead of having the two jokers holding it up – Is that a real job…? ;-)

          1. BlackJackFan, those two individuals operating the jacks do it as a side role to their main job, which is working as a mechanic on the car – the mechanics double up as the pit crew during the race.

            It does seem like a slightly counterintuitive answer, as usually most people are complaining about the idea of having to watch the pit crews in the pit lane rather than what is going on back on the circuit – lengthening the pit stop phase for that reason alone does seem to go against what most would normally want to see.

          2. Hi ‘anon’ – I think this is the first time I’ve had a response from you – thanks…
            Of course I realise those two guys have other jobs – I was being a tad ironic, because I feel they ought to be redundant in the pitstop.
            I don’t object to being “counter-intuitive” – live and let live. At least these other people aren’t inconvenienced more than a couple of seconds at a time – plus the entries & exits, of course, which are boring… ;-)

    2. I would be all for reducing the number of people involved, especially those guys whose job is just to “stabilise” the car, as I like to actually see what they’re doing, but in the current formula, it would be bad to increase the total pit loss time further.

      I do feel that they should start using air jacks (like Indycar and BTTC). They could also rig the software so the car isn’t dropped until all four corners have been confirmed by the nut guy.

      1. @eurobrun The pneaumatic jacks are unnecessary extra weight. Cars are already pretty heavy.

  3. Surprising that the call hasn’t gone out to reduce the numbers in the Pit-Lane as a cost cutting measure.
    It may not impact the total number of team members going to an event, but unless you do limit the pit crew size, then it never will.
    The safety aspect is also curiously not being flagged. With the elimination of refueling, it is certainly much safer than in the past, but the day after a car goes out of control and plows into a crew doing a tyre change, the call for reduced numbers will be loud and clear. Hope it doesn’t happen, but the law of averages can be pretty brutal.

    1. @rekibsn, the reason for that is it probably wouldn’t actually make much difference to the costs, as they would need to be there anyway for a normal race weekend.

      When you talk about the pit crew, I think most people don’t realise that most of those people normally work on the cars as mechanics – the work in the pit lane is something that they do as part of their job as a mechanic (for example, the person operating the lollipop is usually one of the chief mechanics). It means that you’re not cutting staff costs as you’re going to have exactly the same number of people travelling to each race, so there is no real saving to be made.

      1. ANON, I respect your knowledge but find it hard to believe all 16 of the pit crew are essential for fettling the 2 cars, particularly in this era of sealed unit power plants delivered and maintained by the factory. 8 mechanics changing a gearbox or whatever sounds like a recipe for failure to me.

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