Pit Crew and Pit Stop

Written by Rishabh Kaushik.

( 3 Votes )

THE MEN BEHIND THE MAN

'Pit Crew'

Whether its great Senna or disney’s McQueen, they all know that motorsport is not a one man show. The men’s changing the wheels is as important as the man burning them. In F1, where a fraction of millisecond can make you on and off the podium, pit stops are of great concern. F1 racing remains a team sport even during the race itself. The precisely timed, millimetre perfect choreography of a modern pit stop is vital to help teams to turn their race strategy into success- changing a car's tyres, replacing damaged parts and adjusting front wings in a matter of seconds.

History too justify the above statement. Whether it's Aryton Senna’s terrific under 4sec stop under McLaren in 1993 or Schumacher’s four stops strategy in 2004 French Grand Prix. In the past few years, the pit stop has been transformed from a necessary evil into one of the most intense and important aspects of the grand prix weekend. With overtaking at a premium, a clever strategy complemented by a well executed pit stop can make the difference between winning and losing a race.

The pressure on the team during a race should not be underestimated.  A decision to stop can be taken as little as 10 seconds before the entry to the pit lane so the concentration of the crew has to be absolute. Staying alert during a race of up to two hours is not easy, especially when you’re sweltering inside a fire proof racesuit and helmet.

But it was not always so. Pit stops tended to be disorganised, long and often chaotic as late as the 1970s- especially when (in the absence of car-to-pit communication) a driver came in to make an unscheduled stop. The age of the modern pit stop arrived when changes were made to the sporting regulations for the 1994 season to allow fuelling during the race. By the time refuelling was banned again at the end of 2009, a driver's visit to the pits had become breathtaking in its speed and efficiency.

Williams have stated a 3.5s stop will be "decent", but rumours from Red Bull claims pitstops of under 3 seconds. To optimise this process, most of the experienced teams have designed special wheel nuts that can unlock the wheel safety fastener and the wheel at one time. Ferrari did it by adding two clips on each side of the nut.

Since overtaking moves are rarer than ever, pit stops have become the prime opportunities to gain places. A pit stop, though, is never as easy as it looks. For seven seconds, if all goes well, the drivers' changes in the race are in the hands of his pit crew. We can generally categorize the steps in a pit stop as follows:

Step 1
The driver enters the pit lane at full speed but brings the speed down to the pit lane speed limit of 80km/h (60km/h in a very tight pit lane, like in Monaco). As he crosses the pit lane line, he engages a pit lane speed limiter that electronically prevents the car from accelerating above the speed limit. Selecting the limiter, the fuel filler flap automatically pops open. The driver has to stop exactly on the marks painted on the pit lane so the mechanics lose no time repositioning themselves. When the car stands still, the driver sets it in neutral and keeps his foot on the brake so that the wheels don't turn as the wheel nuts are spun loose.

Step 2

The car is lifted up onto its jacks as the mechanics remove the wheels and the fuel hose is attached (done earlier).

Step 3
As the fuel is going in (done earlier), new wheels are attached and the mechanics raise their arms in the air to show they have finished.

Step 4
As all the four wheels have been changed, the car is lowered to the ground and the last fuel is pumped in (done earlier). The driver is shown a board (the lollipop) telling him to engage first gear.

Step 5

The fuel hose is detached (done earlier) and the car is ready to go.

Step 6

The driver is waved away by the lollipop man. As the car is leaving the pits, the fuel flap automatically closes if the driver again pushes the 0speed limiter button.

Interestingly, unlike almost all other forms of racing that feature routine pit stops, Formula One rules limit teams to a single pit crew for the mandatory two cars entered. Therefore, teams must stagger their pit schedules so that only one of their two cars is in the pits at any given time. Most other racing series that feature routine pit stops permit each car its own pit stall and crew.

The "Lollipop Man" holds the team's pit sign, helping the driver identify his pit stall on a possibly crowded pit road. The four tyre changers, one at each corner of the car, have the sole responsibility of using a pneumatic wrench to remove the car's single locking lug nut from each tyre, then reinstall it on the new tyre. Eight tyre carriers are used, two at each corner of the car, one assigned the task of removing the old tyre from the car, and one to install the new tyre on it. The front and rear jack men use simple lever-type jacks to lift the car and permit the changing of tyres.

Choosing the optimum pit strategy of how many stops to make and when to make them is crucial in having a successful race. It is also important for teams to take competitors' strategies into account when planning pit stops, to avoid being "held up" behind other cars. An unscheduled or extended stop, such as for a repair, can be very costly for a driver's chance of success, because while the car is stopped for service, cars remaining on the track can rapidly gain distance on the stopped car.

Because of this, race teams plan a pit strategy prior to the start of every race. This is a schedule for each car's planned pit stops during the race, and takes into account factors such as rate of fuel consumption, weight of fuel, cornering speed with each available tire compound, rate of tire wear, the effect of tire wear on cornering speed, the length of pit road and the track's pit road speed limit, and even expected changes in weather and lighting conditions. However, a team's pit strategy is not a fixed, immutable thing; it is subject to change during the race to take into account the unpredictable events that happen in every race.

The fire extinguisher man does not actually work on the car; instead, he stands ready with a hand-held fire extinguisher to try and stop any accidental fires that may occur. The starter man job is to stand ready with a starter tool to restart the car if the driver stall his engine during the stop. On tracks with debris or rubbish you often see mechanics removing this from the car's air intakes during a stop, ensuring radiator efficiency is not compromised. And there is always a mechanic on stand-by at the back of the car with a power-operated engine starter, ready for instant use if the car stalls. In fact, although the team has a pit crew for each car, in reality they work together and the strong team spirit means if one crew needs help, there is no shortage of willing hands.

All this ensures that a good and efficient pit crew can change the race scenario completely. The men out there are as tensed as the driver himself and for few seconds more than him. The mechanics get no danger money and it’s almost impossible for them to find life insurance. Yet few would swap their job in the pit lane for anything else.

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F1 Statistics

Brazil GRAND PRIX
23-25 November, 2012

Practice 1 : Result

Practice 2 : Result

Practice 3 : Result

Qualifying : Result

Race : Result

1 Sebastian Vettel 281
2 Fernando Alonso 278
3 Kimi Räikkönen 207
4 Lewis Hamilton 190
5 Jenson Button 188
6 Mark Webber 179
7 Felipe Massa 122
8 Romain Grosjean 96
9 Nico Rosberg 93
10 Sergio Perez 66
Full Table

1 Red Bull Racing - Renault 460
2 Ferrari 400
3 Mclaren - Mercedes 378
4 Lotus - Renault 303
5 Mercedes 142
6 Sauber - Ferrari 126
7 Force India - Mercedes 109
8 Williams - Renault 76
9 STR - Ferrari 26
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
Full Table