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F1 Explained: What is a pit stop and how does it work?

F1 Explained: What is a pit stop and how does it work?

F1 News

F1 Explained: What is a pit stop and how does it work?

F1 Explained: What is a pit stop and how does it work?

Pit stops play a crucial role in F1 and can make or break a driver's race.

F1 is a sport that demands a great deal from everyone involved. It's not just about racing; it's a high-stakes game of strategy, precision, and teamwork.

And since it's a sport where every single second counts, one of the most crucial aspects of an F1 race is the pit stop, as a swift stop can give a driver a massive advantage over rivals, while a slow one can throw a race into chaos.

In this article, we will take a closer look at how pit stops work in F1 and the role of each member of the pit crew.

What are pit stops?

An F1 pit stop is an incredibly fast process in which a highly trained crew of up to 20 mechanics swarms the car once the driver pulls into their designated pit boxes, performing a series of tasks in the blink of an eye.

The efficiency of the pit stop can be the deciding factor for a team's victory, as race outcomes are often decided by mere fractions of a second.

To make sure that these pit stops are executed quickly and with accuracy, the crew undergoes rigorous training and thousands of practice sessions, working on their communication and coordination skills to minimise the time spent in the pit lane.

A single mistake or delay could cost a team the race, making the pit stop one of the most tense and exciting moments for both teams and fans alike.

How do pit stops work?

Before a driver enters the pit stop, the team must carefully plan their strategy while taking factors like tyre wear and track position into consideration.

Once they have decided on a strategy, the driver will hear the famous 'box, box' radio message, indicating that he has to enter the pit box, which is directly in front of the team's garage.

Garage positions in the pit lane are assigned based on the team finish order in the constructors' championship from the previous season. Normally, the team with the most points gets the garage closest to pit entry, while the second-place team is next, and so on.

When the driver arrives at the pit box, he has to put the car in the exact yellow and white spot marked on the ground to avoid slowing down the whole process.

During the pit stop, the mechanics perform a set of tasks to ensure the car is in optimal condition. They put on fresh tyres, repair damaged parts, and adjust the car's aerodynamics if needed to maximise performance.

Once the mechanics pull the wheel guns off the wheels, the gantry light above the driver's head turns green, signalling that the driver is good to go.

While drivers can pit as often as they want, they try to keep their visits to a minimum because each stop costs valuable racing time.

There is also no maximum time limit on how long a pit stop can last, but the pit crew will surely make every effort to complete the tasks as fast as possible to get the driver back on track - typically in 2.5 seconds or less.

Roles of pit stop crew

McLaren pit stop

During a pit stop, there are 12 crew members entirely involved in the tyre change process, with three members working on each tyre.

One person is responsible for removing the old tyre; the other puts on the new one; and the third loosens and tightens the wheel nut.

And because this process requires the car to be raised up on both the front and rear jacks, two pit crew members operate each jack, and there are two other people off to the side with spare front and rear jacks in case of a double stack or any issue.

In addition, there are two people positioned at the middle of the car to keep it steady and two others to adjust the front wing.

And finally, one person to make sure that the pit lane is clear so that the driver can drive away safely.

Pit stops are more than changing tyres

Pit stops are more than just changing tyres or repairing cars; they are a crucial strategic tool that teams use to gain a competitive edge over other teams.

Throughout the course of a race, you will often hear commentators use the terms "undercut" and "overcut." These are two of the most common strategies that teams employ to gain an advantage over their rivals.

The 'undercut' is a strategy where a driver pits unexpectedly early and uses fresh tyres to try to get ahead of a rival who will have to pit later.

The 'overcut', on the other hand, happens when a driver delays pitting in order to gain position while a direct competitor pits. This way, the driver will take advantage of the clean air available for him and try to set faster lap times so that when he eventually pits, he will come out in front.

Pit boxes can also be a place for drivers to serve penalties, known as "stop-go" penalties. As a form of punishment for rule violations, a driver can be required to enter the pit lane, stop for ten seconds in his pit box without any work being done to the car, and then rejoin the race.

Pit lane and pit stop rules

Pit stops must be performed with caution. Mechanics must take at least 0.15 seconds while changing tyres to make sure that they are properly tightened, and the driver must wait another 0.2 seconds before leaving.

Speeding in the pit lane (above 80 km/h) will result in a penalty, as well as impeding a competitor while exiting. Drivers will also be penalised if they are found leaving their pit box in an unsafe manner.

For the pit crew, each member is required to wear safety equipment, including "appropriate eye protection" and a helmet that complies with FIA requirements.

All the actions of the pit equipment and crew must be human-controlled and not automated.

Are pit stops mandatory in F1?

Pit stops are mandatory in F1 as teams must use at least two different tyre compounds during the race.

According to the FIA, "Each driver must use at least two different specifications of dry-weather tyres during the race, at least one of which must be a mandatory dry-weather race tyre specification as defined in Article 30.2c)ii)."

If a driver violates this rule and completes a dry race without pitting, he will be disqualified, unless the race is suspended and cannot be restarted. In this case, 30 seconds will be added to his elapsed race time.

But this rule does not apply to races where drivers use intermediate or wet-weather tyres - effectively wet races. Drivers can complete the entire race without making their mandatory pit stop.

At the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix, Esteban Ocon finished the race without making a single pit stop. He was the first driver to do so since Mika Salo at the rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix in 1997.

Why don't cars refuel during F1 pitstops?

Refuelling has been banned in Formula 1 since the 2010 season when rules were introduced to make cars run until the end of the race on their starting fuel load.

Prior to this teams would typically refuel at pitstops while also changing tyres, and were a useful strategy tool. For instance running lighter fuel at the start of a race could give teams a few extra tenths in performance but it was offset by having to make a pit-stop sooner before running out of fuel.

There were safety concerns behind the practice though too. After being reintroduced in 1994, a Benetton pit-stop involving Jos Verstappen in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim saw the car accidently soaked in petrol before a huge burst of flames erupted. Thankfully no team member involved saw long lasting injuries, with the fire put out seconds later.

What is the fastest pit stop in F1 history?

At the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, McLaren executed a pit stop for Lando Norris in a mere 1.80 seconds, making it the fastest pit stop ever recorded in the sport.

This incredible feat broke the previous record set by Red Bull Racing at the 2019 Sao Paulo Grand Prix, where they managed to perform a pit stop for Max Verstappen in just 1.82 seconds.

What is the longest pit stop in F1 history?

At the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas was called in by Mercedes for a tyre change in a pit stop that ended up being disastrous.

During the pit stop, the mechanic couldn't remove the front right tyre because of a stubborn wheel nut. This issue forced Mercedes to retire the car, and it was a game-over for Finn, who was fighting for a podium finish. The team was only able to remove the wheel nut at the factory after 43 hours!

Another controversial pit stop took place during the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix, this time with Sergio Perez.

After sustaining damage to his Red Bull car and retiring from the race, Perez returned to the grid after 41 minutes to serve a 5-second time penalty for crashing into Kevin Magnussen's Haas.

This move raised eyebrows, as Red Bull exploited a loophole in the rules that allowed the Mexican to serve the penalty and rejoin the race.

What is the DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award?

Since 2015, the DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award has been given out "to recognise outstanding teamwork and performance from the unsung heroes who make a vital contribution to the drivers' success on the track," according to DHL's website.

The award is given annually to the team that demonstrates the fastest pit stop, based on a point system.

The team with the quickest pit stop in each race is awarded 25 points, while the second-fastest team receives 18 points, and the third-fastest team earns 15 points.

The points are accumulated throughout the season, and the team with the most points at the end of the season wins the award.

In 2023, Red Bull Racing won the DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award for the sixth consecutive year, with a total of 543 points.

READ MORE: F1 Safety Car explained: Full or virtual, and how it all works

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