McLaren clocked the world’s fastest pitstop at the German Grand Prix with a stationary time clocked at 2.31s, an age away from the 7 seconds we would normally see during the refuelling days.
Does Formula 1 need such fast pitstops though? Surely the search for these ever faster times are putting more and more strain on each of the teams pit crews to ever achieve that faster time.
When the rules were changed to stop refuelling, the talk was of 3 second pitstops and whether anyone would be able to achieve a sub 3 seconds, now that is a regular occurrence for all the top teams, and with McLaren now achieving a sub 2.5s (and record time with 2.31s) it just goes to show the relentless need for any performance gain at any point during a Grand Prix.
The teams are constantly practicing pitstops over the course of a race weekend and are always trying to bring new technology in order to help them achieve faster times. Recently this has included the ‘nut in gun’ system where the wheel gun has the nut placed in it already to speed up the fitting of the new wheel. We also see the traffic lights systems as opposed to a man with lollipop for some of the teams in order to release the car quicker, and this year has seen many of the top teams introduce new swivel front jacks, elegantly designed from carbon fibre, allowing the front jack man to be stood out of the way of the front of the car while the car is stationary, and then pull the jack clear when the wheels have been changed.
With these faster pitstop times, surely this brings added risks for all involved, as we saw during the British Grand Prix when Kamui Kobayashi in his Sauber drove into his mechanics causing a small number of them to suffer minor injuries. We are also seeing more unsafe releases as teams battle others in the pit lane, and cars leaving the pits without wheels being properly fitted (Michael Schumacher in the Chinese Grand Prix earlier this year springs to mind)
Some tracks have quite small and narrow pit lanes, making it much harder for a driver to stop on his marks correctly, especially during instances where a safety car may be involved and many of the cars pit simultaneously, so surely an overhaul of the pit stop procedures needs to be looked at?
Do most average fans really care that a car has been stationary in the pits for only 2.5s? Are most fans really concerned about the carbon fibre swivel front jacks used by the likes of McLaren & Ferrari, when this is just added cost for developing such a device for a minor improvement in the pit lane?
With safety on track being paramount, it is surprising that the FIA has not looked at safety in the pit lane. There have been many pit lane incidents over the years with mechanics being injured, yet we still see up to 20 mechanics surrounding the pit box where a car should arrive on its marks.
Other forms of motorsport limit the numbers of mechanics that can work on the cars, watching the likes of IndyCar, NASCAR, or the WEC, even GP2, there are only a handful of mechanics that operate on the car, and this includes refuelling in most of those cases. Should Formula 1 also lead in this by limiting the number of mechanics in the pit lane working on any one car? Yes this would be added time in the pit lane, but surely it would be beneficial to have safe pit stops than these fast pitstops? This is not something that will always guarantee safety in the pit lane, as there have also been pit lane incidents in these sports as well, but limiting the number of people working on a car would be safer than the currrent number of mechanics that surround a Formula 1 car arriving at 100kph.
Another area that could be looked at is the technology the teams employ in a pitstop. At a time when F1 needs to look at it’s costs, teams like McLaren will have put a lot of money in designing, building and developing their carbon fibre front jack system, money which does not directly influence the car design, all to find a few extra tenths in the pit lane. Teams like HRT cannot afford to do such a thing (there has been a joke that the McLaren front jack cost more than the HRT car!). One idea would be to use standard pit equipment between all 12 teams (something which has been done in the past as all teams refuelling rigs were provided by a single external supplier), this would eliminate the extra wasted cost of developing exotic pit equipment, and would have the benefit of allowing all teams to use the same wheel guns, nuts & jacking systems without any one team having a technological advantage.
If pit stops continue the way they are, teams will continue to push boundaries for ever faster times, could we see a sub 2 second pit stop? The teams will continue to push ever harder to achieve this, putting greater risk on the mechanics involved.
Using standard pit equipment, combined with limiting the numbers of mechanics in the pit lane would obviously have the effect of slowing pit stop times considerably, but the benefits of this would be having a safer pit lane, with reduced costs involved for developing pit equipment, two areas that the sport is keen to address.