Unleashing the Speed: A Closer Look at F1 Pit Stops


Pit stops are one of the coolest parts of a Formula 1 race. A race can be won with a great pit strategy but can also be lost in a flash with a slow stop. Teams put a lot of thought into when to pit based on stuff like weather, tire pressure, and car damage. Even though pit stops take up less than 1% of race time, the difference between a fast and a slow stop can impact the race.


Defining Pit Stops

An F1 pit stop is when a super-skilled crew of up to 20 mechanics jumps on the car the second it pulls into the pit box, doing many tasks in no time. The quick and smooth pit stop can make or break the race since wins are often decided by tiny fractions of a second. To nail these pit stops, the crew trains like crazy, doing many practice sessions to perfect their timing and teamwork. One slip-up or delay can cost the team the race, making pit stops one of the most intense and thrilling moments for everyone watching.


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Elements of a Pit Stop


Anatomy of A Pit Stop

Image Source: Indy Car Series

When a car pulls into the pit, a highly trained crew of up to 20 mechanics swarms it, performing various tasks in the blink of an eye. The precision and speed of the pit stop can be the deciding factor for a team's victory, as races are often won or lost by mere fractions of a second. To ensure these pit stops are quick and accurate, the crew undergoes extensive training and countless practice sessions, focusing on communication and coordination to minimize time in the pit lane. Even a tiny mistake or delay can cost the team the race, making pit stops some of the most nerve-wracking and exciting moments for both teams and fans.


Pit Stop Crew Rules


Lollipop Man - 1 (For Signals)

This person signals when the car can go. They used to hold a stick with a circular sign (like a lollipop) to release the car, but now it's done electronically. The lollipop man still makes sure the car isnt released into pit lane traffic, standing in front of the car with a green light when the crew is done.


Front Wing Adjuster - 2 (For Steer)

Two crew members adjust the front wing flaps to help with under or oversteering by tightening or loosening screws. They also help with front-wing changes.


Steadier/Side Jack - 2 (For Stability)

Steadier keeps the car stable while jacks lift it so the tires can be changed efficiently. They use a side jack if a new front wing is needed because the front jack can't be used.


Rear Jack - 2 (Car Rear Lifter)

It's the same as the front jack but lifts the rear of the car. There's also a backup, just in case.


Front Jack - 2 (Car Front Lifter)

This person lifts the front wing so the front tires can be changed. There's a backup in case the driver doesn't stop in the right spot or cars are double stacking.


Tire On - 4 (Fits Wheels)

This person prepares the new tires and puts them on once the old ones are off. It can get tricky during double stacking when cars come in one after the other.

Tire Off - 4 (Removes Wheels)

This crew member removes the tire after the tire gunner loosens it. Each tire has its crew member. Front tires and rear tires weigh around 9.5 kg and 11.5 kg, about the weight of two bowling balls.


Tire Gunner - 4 (Screws Nuts of Wheels)

The tire gunner uses a wheel gun to unscrew the nuts of the old tires and screw in the new ones. Each tire has its gunner. This job is crucial because a mistake can cause the car not to finish the race, like what happened to Haas in the 2019 Australian GP when both cars didnt finish. After all, the crew didn't secure the new tires properly.


The Roles of Pit Crew Members

As you can see, many people need to change their tires quickly. Team pit crews usually have over 20 specialists for different parts of the process. Pit stops are more than just swapping tires or fixing cars; they're key strategies teams use to get ahead. During a race, commentators often talk about the "undercut" and "overcut." These are common tactics teams use to outmaneuver their rivals. The 'undercut' is when a driver pits earlier than expected to get fresh tires and try to pass a rival who has yet to pit. The 'overcut' is the opposite to pit so the driver can take advantage of a clear track and set faster lap times, hoping to come out ahead after the rival pits. Pit stops are also where drivers might serve penalties, like "stop-go" penalties. This means the driver has to stop in the pit lane for ten seconds without any work being done on the car before rejoining the race.


Double stacking is when both team cars pit one after the other. Doing this ideally is crucial so the second car isn't delayed. Each driver has a set number of tires for the weekend, so the crew needs to be careful to avoid mixing them up. Remember when Mercedes did this at the 2019 Chinese GP?


Pit Stop Rules

Teams must use at least two different tire compounds during the race. If drivers don't follow this rule, they get disqualified unless the race is suspended. But in wet races, this rule doesn't apply. For example, at the 2021 Turkish GP, Esteban Ocon finished without a single pit stop. Pit stops have rules. Mechanics must take at least 0.15 seconds to change tires properly, and the driver must wait another 0.2 seconds before leaving.

 Speeding in the pit lane or impeding another car will get you a penalty. The pit crew must wear safety gear, including eye protection and helmets, and all pit equipment actions must be human-controlled, not automated. Refueling has been banned since 2010 to make cars run the whole race on their starting fuel. Before that, teams would refuel during pit stops, which was a strategic move but had safety risks. For example 1994, Jos Verstappen's car caught fire during a pit stop.


Longest Pit Stop

So, back at the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas got called in by Mercedes for a tire change, and it turned into a total mess. The mechanic couldn't remove the front right tire because of a stubborn wheel nut. It was so bad that Mercedes had to retire the car. Bottas, who was gunning for a podium finish, was out. They finally got the wheel nut off at the factory after 43 hours! Another interesting pit stop happened with Sergio Perez at the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix. After damaging his Red Bull and retiring from the race, Perez returned to the grid 41 minutes later just to serve a 5-second penalty for crashing into Kevin Magnussen's Haas. This move got a lot of attention because Red Bull found a loophole in the rules that allowed Perez to serve the penalty and rejoin the race.


Fastest Pit Stop

At the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, McLaren pitted Lando Norris in just 1.80 seconds, setting a new record for the fastest pit stop ever. This beat the previous record held by Red Bull Racing, which pitted Max Verstappen in 1.82 seconds at the 2019 Sao Paulo Grand Prix.


DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award


DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award

Image Source: Sky Sports

Since 2015, the DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award has been given to recognize the fantastic teamwork and performance of the pit crews who play a crucial role in the drivers' success. The award goes to the team with the fastest pit stop based on a point system. The team with the quickest pit stop in each race gets 25 points, the second-fastest receives 18 points, and the third-fastest earns 15 points. The points increase over the season, and the team with the most points wins the award. In 2023, Red Bull Racing snagged the DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award for the sixth year in a row with 543 points.


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A Formula 1 pit stop is a high-speed, precision operation that can make or break a race. These stops typically last only a few seconds and involve a team of skilled mechanics performing a well-choreographed sequence of tasks, including tire changes, front wing adjustments, and refueling (in some racing series). The seamless execution of a pit stop requires not only the mechanical prowess and agility of the pit crew but also strategic planning and split-second decision-making by the team's engineers and strategists.