German GP: Behind the mind-bending pit stop speed record
Until 2019, the previous record was 1.92sec, jointly held by Red Bull at the 2013 US Grand Prix on Mark Webber’s car, and Williams at the European Grand Prix in 2016 in Azerbaijan with Felipe Massa on the seat.Updated: Aug 03, 2019, 23:40 IST
Pit stop. It takes just over a second to say the words. It takes about the same time to perform the act.
In the chaotic rain-hit race at Hockenheim last weekend, when Max Verstappen was on his way to a morale-boosting win at the German GP for Red Bull, something incredible happened at his team’s pit. The expert bunch of mechanics at Red Bull got the Dutch youngster’s car reset in a new world record time—a mind-boggling 1.88 seconds. That’s all four tyres taken off and replaced with new ones.
At the British Grand Prix in mid-July, Red Bull had managed a 1.91sec on Pierre Gasly’s car, a record at that time.
Until 2019, the previous record was 1.92sec, jointly held by Red Bull at the 2013 US Grand Prix on Mark Webber’s car, and Williams at the European Grand Prix in 2016 in Azerbaijan with Felipe Massa on the seat. The average in Formula One is closer to three seconds. “It’s so fast that you do not even have time to see the guys change the wheels,” said Gasly.
“You are focussed on the light (which tells the driver that he can start off again) you are already pressing on the accelerator. It is an incredible job on the part of the mechanics.”
“Going under two seconds is difficult because we are touching the limits of human performance,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
Seconds matter in F1. It is often the difference between the winner and the laggards. An effective pit stop strategy that’s executed at mind-bending speed is a huge edge. The pit stop happens in the pit lane, located parallel to the start/finish line and connected to the main track. Each team has a separate garage where a team of mechanics (ranging from 20 to 25) waits to do their job.
A car makes at least one pit stop per race. In that one stop, all four tyres are changed and the driver’s helmet visor is cleaned. Adjustments are made to the wings. If there are any other mechanical problems, those are fixed too. The team of mechanics work in tandem.
“Every stop involves about 25 people and everyone has to work in a perfectly synchronised way,” Horner said. “The driver has to stop in exactly the right place, the equipment has to run smoothly and the mechanics need to be in complete harmony.”
Two mechanics tends to the rear and front jack to raise the car. Three mechanics are assigned to each tyre. The first one (gunner), loosens the nuts of the wheel with the help of a pneumatic power gun, the second one (first tyre carrier) removes the wheel, and the third (second tyre carrier) puts the new tyre on.
This happens with breathtaking precision and coordination, like a sleight of hand. If the driver can halt at exactly the demarcated area, the gunner is already kneeling in position and the first tyre carrier has already got his hands on the tyre before the car has stopped fully. In the next fraction of a second, the gunner attacks the wheel nut with perfect aim—he’s in and out before you can blink—and the first carrier yanks the tyre off almost at the same moment; in another fraction of a second, the second carrier has the new tyre in the slot, and the gunner has hit the wheel nut again and raised his hand to signal he’s done.
Meanwhile, if you can call it that, two other mechanics adjust the wings, and two more clean the driver’s visor and also stabilise the car at each side. Overseeing all of it is the ‘lollipop man’ or the chief mechanic. It is he who signals the driver to proceed.
“The equipment plays a key role, of course, but the human factor is much more important,” said Horner. “It’s training, training and more training. It’s hard to quantify, but the mechanics train almost every day at the factory and of course on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during a Grand Prix weekend.”
The lightning fast pit stop is a phenomenon that the teams have achieved over the years with change in planning and strategy.
In the 1950s, the pit stop used to take more than a minute. By the 1980s it came down to just over 10 seconds. At the time, besides changing the tyres, cars were also refuelled. Mid-race refuelling was banned in F1 between 1984 and 1994 (for safety reasons) and again since 2010 (for financial reasons). By 2010, the pit stops took just over four seconds. It was slashed by two seconds by 2016.
Now, even two second can seem like an eternity for the pit stop guys.