How F1 can make pit stops safer


Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Hockenheimring, 2010

Formula 1 got a wake-up call at the Hungaroring when two potentially dangerous accidents happened within seconds of each other in the pit lane.

Fortunately the only lasting damage to come from the incidents was financial – Renault and Mercedes were each handed $50,000 fines.

But the accidents serve as a reminder that safety can never be taken for granted in Formula 1. What can be done to improve safety in the pit lane?

The two incidents were very different but they shared a common cause. Robert Kubica was released from his pit box too soon – causing a collision with Adrian Sutil – and Nico Rosberg was allowed to depart without all four wheels properly attached.

These mistakes happened because their teams were striving to waste as little time as possible in the pits. Although the fines will have concentrated the teams’ minds on not cutting corners when it comes to safety, it’s impossible to completely eliminate such mistakes from pit stops.

Instead, F1 should ask how to better protect the mechanics who are most at risk. The logical thing to do would be to reduce the number of them that are in the firing line.

Limiting the number of mechanics

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Hungaroring, 2010

Lewis Hamilton's car serviced by 19 McLaren mechanics at the Hungaroring

At present there is no upper limit on the number of people who may work on a car in the pits. The only restriction prevents mechanics from standing in the pit lane when their car is not coming in for a pit stop:

Team personnel are only allowed in the pit lane immediately before they are required to work on a car and must withdraw as soon as the work is complete.
Sporting Regulations article 23.1 (b)

Teams use as many mechanics as they can lay their hands on to get the car turned around as quickly as possible: as the picture above shows, McLaren had 19 men on hand for their pit stops in Hungary.

In other series the number of mechanics allowed to work on a car are limited to minimise their exposure to danger. In IndyCar a maximum of six are allowed, and that includes two to refuel the car, which are not needed in Formula 1 at present.

Built-in jacks remove the need for mechanics to raise and lower the car. Have a look at IndyCar pit crews in action in this pit stop race from this year’s Indy 500:

F1 could easily impose a limit of six mechanics per pit stop, which would allow two for front wing changes in addition to the four changing tyres.

It wouldn’t negatively affect the racing. Yes, it would slightly slow down the speed of pit stops for all teams but that could increase the potential for variety which is surely no bad thing.

During the safety car period in Hungary all 12 teams pitted their cars at once. Assuming all were using 19 (different teams may have been using more or fewer mechanics) there were potentially as many as 228 mechanics in the pits at once. Cutting the number working on each car to six would mean 156 fewer bodies in the pit lane for something to hit.

Closing the pit lane

Another solution could be to bring back the rule preventing drivers from pitting while the safety car is out. This would make it far less likely that we would see 16 cars (or more) pitting at once as happened at the Hungaroring, with obvious implications for safety.

It would have the added benefit of allowing the sport to do away with the complicated rules which restrict how quickly a car can go after the safety car has been deployed, which nine drivers received penalties for after the European Grand Prix.

This solution is slightly more controversial than the former, as it could disadvantage drivers who need to make a pit stop for tyres at the time the safety car is deployed.

But despite that, I would consider either of these changes an improvement. They would reduce the chance of a mechanic getting hit by a wheel or a car, something we never want to see in F1.


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167 comments on How F1 can make pit stops safer

  1. BasCB (@bascb) said on 3rd August 2010, 15:34

    I’m more for the reduction of pit stop crew solution, as is solves not just the situation under SC but generally makes for smaller teams and less risk (4 x tyres, 1 x lollipop, 1 with the starter set, maybe another guy allowed to help with front wings and cleaning etc.)
    With those built in jacks there’s also less danger of being run over by the car.
    And make the jacks part of the standard floor/plank and you have a nice standard single source reference plane as well.

    Closing the pitlane under SC would probably need exceptions for damaged cars (but that would be possible with teams having to prove the need in a standard investigation) and would be effective only with the SC out. It would make for simpler rules, so that’s a big plus.

    • The rule would just need to say something like:

      “The pitlane is closed from the moment the safety car is out. A drive through penalty will be applied to any car entering the pits. No penalty will be carried forward to the next race.”

      That should cover it.

      • There would have to be some kind of allowance for cars returning to the pits with damage/mechanical issues.

        • CeeVee said on 3rd August 2010, 20:21

          How about:

          If a car enters the pitlane while the safety car is out then it is subject to a minimum time in the pits, say three quarters of the lap time or some other large number.

  2. Pablo2008jedi said on 3rd August 2010, 15:49

    Those sound reasonable, infact I wouldn’t both of those “rules” to come in to play next year.

  3. lance said on 3rd August 2010, 15:56

    Hi Keith. Closing the pit lane is the best thing to do I think. It’s the least unfair thing to do. For sure if you look at what happened in Valencia.

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 3rd August 2010, 20:22

      Yep. Most of the issues in Valencia would have been non-issues if the pitlane had been closed.

      • Eric said on 4th August 2010, 5:05

        Valencia, was a totally different kettle of fish, it involved a Medical Car which had to be escorted to the scene of and accident.

        it will happen again sometime and will catch others out, cant be helped, Safety comes First regardless.

        if your going to close the Pits, then you need to have all cars line up in the same formation they came in back on the track after pitting,
        because the cars from each team that are one behind the other have to wait for there team mate to be finish and that would mean loosing places, otherwise it would be totally unfair.

  4. Make tires last the whole distant, no need for pits… full tank & same rubber all the way…

    reduce aero performance by 50%, and let tires be a little more wider giving more mechanical grip.

  5. Joey-Poey said on 3rd August 2010, 15:58

    Having grown up on Indy cars, I have to admit seeing F1 stops was fascinating. Most American series do limit the number of people allowed over the pit wall (another thing different here: we don’t have garages right there, but pit walls they have to hop over). So I admit I’d be a little sad to see the numbers cut down as it’s something special to see a swarm of mechanics lay on to a car during stops. BUT, I can see your argument and for the sake of safety, I can agree it would probably be positive to cut down the numbers.

  6. slicecom said on 3rd August 2010, 15:59

    I love F1 stops. I love their speed and how the car is just engulfed by people. I hate Indycar stops. They seem so inefficient. 3 second stops are incredible to watch and taking them away would take away from the spectacle that is F1 pitstops.

  7. mateuss said on 3rd August 2010, 16:01

    I agree with the opinion that pit stops could be banned during SC period.

    But not with the fewer mechanics thing. If something arrives out of control in the pit lane its going to hit something either way, and if one mechanic has more than one task to concentrate on, and has to use his spatial awareness to remember where the car is relation to one wheel and another one and the wheel gun and so on…chances are he is not going to notice a wheel blasting in his direction like that Sauber(i think.) mechanic did last Sunday, also if the pitlane is more dense, then if one mechanic reacts to something others are more likely to notice his reaction and become alert and react themselves, you get a bit of pack animal stuff going on, which is more easier for humans to register quickly, rather than reading some physical situation quickly which is not naturally familiar to animals :D.

    Also if I were a mechanic working in pitlane I would appose on limiting the number of allowed mechanics, because I would feel safer and less likely to get hit by something, because there are more people to get hit, therefore the statistical chances of any particular mechanic getting hit are lower. Maybe a false sense of security, but thats how the majority of people always feels, and maybe therefore minimizing some of the stress the mechanics are subjected to anyway, therefore making the job easier and preventing another potential situation, like loose wheel for example.

    Anyway its clear that this is very complicated and there are pros and cons on both limiting and not limiting the number of allowed mechanics in the pitlane, but in the meantime I think this technically most advanced sport should solve some issues with clever stuff, like torque sensors that detect if a wheel nut is tightened properly to allow clutch to be disengaged and so on…

  8. andy said on 3rd August 2010, 16:05

    If you close the pitlane at least the drivers maintain their position, nowadays is much easier to pull a gap than to pass several drivers after a safety car situation.

  9. Its easy, ban the use of semi automatic traffic light systems, all the problems were caused because Nico’s car was released before the rear wheel had been fitted and there was no way of stopping the car once the traffic lights were out of the drivers sight.

    • bosyber said on 3rd August 2010, 17:33

      Kubica was released too early by a lollipop man missing Sutil.

      And Rosberg would not have been prevented by a lollipop man, someone pressed the “ready” button because the air-gun guy stepped back to get a new wheelnut, misinterpreting that move – so the traffic light had little or nothing to do with it.

  10. Yodadda said on 3rd August 2010, 16:33

    Looked at a link above of Indy pits on Y*u tube, and there are lots of links to other Indy pit incidents – they are not perfect. Counter that with looking at old F1 races from Aunties website and I was shocked at the amount of people in the pit lane with cars going past on the edge without speed limits.
    F1 does not seem that bad – any changes in the rules should be for the ‘spectacle’ more than for safety or cost cutting. IMO there are other things of a higher priority than this – good to thread to read tho!

    • Joey-Poey said on 3rd August 2010, 17:03

      Spectacle is higher priority than safety?

      • Snobeck said on 3rd August 2010, 18:17

        Apparently to some people…

        • Yodadda said on 4th August 2010, 15:18

          J-P and Snobeck
          I have thought about this and yes – spectacle is a higher priority than safety.
          Read my post – Things are lots safer than they were a few years ago, watching cars in the pits with no speed limits and all pit crews in the pits whilst not working on cars reminded my how much safety has improved.
          Keep reducing the ‘spectacle’ and we might as well watch remote control cars – would that be safe enough for you?

  11. David B said on 3rd August 2010, 16:33

    I agree with both Keith proposals.
    As we said many times, avoid mandatory pit stops would help also.

  12. Calum said on 3rd August 2010, 16:40

    The sad thing is if this rule was implemented for 2011 156 people lose their jobs

  13. silencer said on 3rd August 2010, 16:45

    build in jack was a great idea for F1 but closing pit lane during safety car period to me it’s not “fun”. But all the dramas during pit stop will surely make the race even better

    • Pan151 said on 3rd August 2010, 17:13

      “But all the dramas during pit stop will surely make the race even better”

      I can agree on that, but they are also responsible for some completely unfair results we’ve been seeing lately as well.
      The object of racing is to reward the fastest/cleverest/most reliable. Having people gain or lose positions out of pure luck is just wrong…

  14. It’s crazy this when the wheels came off the toro Rosso car at 180 mph I forget where but they went straight up the tyre wall and over the fence and landed slap bang in the middle of a group of spectators nothing was said when alonso cut massa up going into the pits nothing got said if they had cashed it would have blocked the pits and any driver pitting after wouldn’t have seen them until he came around the corner an it’s to late the point I’m trying to make is driving cars at these speeds and at 62 in the pits is dangerous things can and will go wrong from time to time the people in the pits understand this and accept the risks one of most dangerous jobs in Britain is motorway maintenance lots die each year coz they only close the lane they’re repairing but there they are doing there job. I know safety is importatant but I don’t think the pit crews would rather be out a job would they. And a lot of it is caused by poor pit layouts look at Abu dhabi that tunnels an accident waiting to happen and that’s just one of many bad exit or entrance it’s good to keep improving saftey but let’s keep it real.

  15. RandomChimp (@randomchimp) said on 3rd August 2010, 16:56

    If it worries people this much, how about no pitstops?
    No refueling and full race-length tires?

    • goodbye overtaking, i’ll see you later when they change the regulations back!

      but seriously, that could promote more development of “passing friendly aero” so perhaps not such a bad idea. and then button would dominate…

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