A brief history of pit stops in F1 (video)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Pit stops have evolved from slapdash chaos to precisely-timed perfection
Pit stops have evolved from slapdash chaos to precisely-timed perfection

Steve suggested I write an article about how pit stops have changed in F1 and, following the controversy over Ferrari’s pit stop at Valencia, I thought now would be a good time to take a look at it.

When the world championship began in 1950 pit stops were fairly disorganised affairs. But as the sport became more professional and cars more advanced, the importance of a well-drilled pit stop became ever more crucial.

The return of refuelling in 1994 added a whole new dimension to F1 racing, though whether it’s a welcome one or not is a point of debate. Here’s a look at six famous pit stops that show how the practice has changed – including the fastest F1 pit stop ever.

1957 – Juan Manuel Fangio, German Grand Prix

In a modern F1 race a slow pit stop might cost you a second or two. But in 1957 when Juan Manuel Fangio pitted his Maserati 250F from the lead of the German Grand Prix he spent one minute and 16 seconds stationary. He fell 48 seconds behind the new leaders, the Ferraris of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins.

Fangio didn’t panic and spent his ‘out lap’, as we call it today, bedding in his tyres as he toured the 14 miles of the mighty Nordschleife. This cost him another three seconds.

After that he launched into a devastating series of fastest laps, achieved by willing himself to take each bend one gear higher than he had been doing before.

He burst past Collins and Hawthorn to win – his final victory, and his final championship title. Fangio later said the mental strain of the race meant he went without sleep for two nights afterwards.

Pit stops in the 1950s were more likely to lose you the race than win it.

Read more about the 1957 German Grand Prix

1982 – Riccardo Patrese, Austrian Grand Prix

Refuelling had been legal for a long time but its value as a strategic device had not been exploited. In 1982 Brabham, while getting used to life with their thirsty BMW turbo engine, realised that time could be saved by doing the entire race distance on half a tank of fuel, and stopping halfway through to top up.

For several races Brabham prepared for their plan but it wasn’t until the Austrian round that they actually got to try it out. On several previous occasions the car retired before its scheduled stop, and on one memorable occasion leader Nelson Piquet was punted out of the German Grand Prix by the lapped Eliseo Salazar.

When Brabham finally got to try their new tactic it was Piquet’s team mate Patrese who had the honours. Team boss Bernie Ecclestone supervised the fuel stop, and Patrese blasted out onto the Osterreiching… before spinning out of the race.

Despite having shown the rest of the F1 teams the way of the future, Brabham’s Gordon Murray was the only designer to create a car with a half-capacity fuel tank for 1983. It played a major role in the team’s title success but after that refuelling was banned from 1984.

1989 – Nigel Mansell, Portuguese Grand Prix

Pit lane safety remained an importance even when refuelling was banned. In the 1980s although there was no pit lane speed limit, but were not allowed to reverse in the pit lane of their own accord.

Nigel Mansell apparently was not aware of this rule, and when he overshot his pit box at Estoril in 1989 he stuck his Ferrari into reverse and backed into his slot.

He was given the black flag but, battling with Ayrton Senna at the time, claimed not to have seen it. The pair eventually collided, and Mansell was barred from the following race by the FIA.

1993 – Riccardo Patrese, Belgian Grand Prix

In the days when refuelling was banned drivers would still make pit stops during the race to change tyres. Today the speed of a pit stop is almost always dictated by how much fuel is being put in, but then the quicker the team was at changing all four wheels, the less time a driver lost.

In the final year before refuelling was reintroduced – 1993 – Benetton recorded the fastest ever pit stop in a Formula 1 race. The time? An incredible 3.2 seconds.

There’s an excellent account of the pit stop, which was performed on Riccardo Patrese’s car on lap 17, in former Benetton mechanic Steve Matchett’s book “The Mechanics Tale” which I thoroughly recommend.

Sadly I couldn’t find any footage of the record stop but the video above shows one of Schumacher’s stops in that race and gives a good impression of how quickly pit stops were conducted at the time.

1994 – Jos Verstappen, German Grand Prix

Perhaps Benetton were trying a little too hard to turn around a super-quick pit stop in 1994.

That year refuelling had been reintroduced, and though it seems scarcely believable now, there wasn’t even a pit lane speed limit to begin with. That changed after the horrors of the San Marino Grand Prix, which included several mechanics being hit by a wheel from Michele Alboreto’s Minardi.

At the Hockenheimring Jos Verstappen came in for a regular pit stop and all hell broke loose. Fuel suddenly gushed from the hose onto the car – for a brief moment, nothing happened – and then the B194, Verstappen and his mechanics were coated in fire.

The horrifying scene (an image of which is on the cover of Matchett’s book, above) lasted only a few seconds and the injuries to the driver and mechanics were light.

An investigation into the fire discovered a filter was missing from Benetton’s fuel rig. There were accusations that this allowed them to refuel their cars more quickly and had given them an advantage in previous races.

However Benetton went unpunished. It was later claimed that FIA president Max Mosley spoke to the team’s lawyer and advised him not to seek to avoid any FIA personnel, and instead enter a guilty plea.

Refuelling fires still happen in Formula 1. At Hungary this year there were several small fires and more occurred at Valencia last weekend.

2004 – Michael Schumacher, French Grand Prix

In modern F1 overtaking has become all-but impossible in normal racing conditions. Refuelling stops are therefore the most viable way of gaining a position on the race track and become the focal point of a race.

At Magny-Cours in 2004 Michael Schumacher surprised his rivals by making four planned pit stops. Races had been won with more stops before, but usually only in changing weather conditions which forced extra stops for wet weather tyres.

Schumacher took advantage of the short Magny-Cours pit lane to make his strategy work and get ahead of Fernando Alonso to win without having to pass his rival on the track. He also used a special fuel created by Shell specifically for this purpose.

It’s an interesting statistical footnote and a technical curiosity, but is it a substitute for proper racing? No.

Sadly, it looks like refuelling is here to stay. Apart from anything else, I enjoyed the frenzied drama of those early ’90s tyres-only stops where it was all down to how quickly the mechanics could get the wheels off and on the cars.

This article was suggested by Steve using Skribit. Suggest an article for F1 Fanatic using the Skribit box in the right-hand column.