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
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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