How F1 can make pit stops safer

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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. Dr. Mouse said on 3rd August 2010, 16:57

    Hmm, I can see your point, but I’m not so sure.

    Statistically, of course, cutting the number of people working on a car would reduce the likelihood of injuries, but in the same vane reducing the number of cars on track would reduce the possibility of accidents. I do not think this is a great idea. Very fast pit stops are great to watch, and I would not want to see that changed.

    However, integrated jacks seems a good plan. This could increase the speed of the stop and reduce the likelihood of injuries (no more front jack man standing right in front of a car doing 60mph trying to stop exactly right in the least amount of time). I see nothing wrong with that idea, and it could even be extended to the point where they replace the ‘lolipop’.

    I can’t see much trouble with closing the pit lane for safety cars but I think there is another, better way to deal with that: A complete rethink of the safety car rules.

    The safety car is an outdated concept, which effectively kills the race. I would prefer to see a couple of different options:
    1) For a relatively minor incident causing a safety car type situation, speed limiters which cause all cars to keep to a reasonable speed.

    2) Where there is something which needs more time with marshals on track, do as I have seen in motorcycle events: Stop the race, have the cars line up on the grid (with an optional pit beforehand) in the order they last crossed the line, then restart when the incident is dealt with.

    Some people have said this is not a good idea, that it kills the race, but you are only watching a procession anyway under an SC, and it means the marshals can get the job done quicker as they are not wondering when the pack will get back round.

    • Accidental Mick said on 3rd August 2010, 17:25

      I agree with you about the Safety Car being unneccessary – I have mooted the same suggestions on other threads.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd August 2010, 17:40

      Where there is something which needs more time with marshals on track, do as I have seen in motorcycle events: Stop the race, have the cars line up on the grid (with an optional pit beforehand) in the order they last crossed the line, then restart when the incident is dealt with.

      I would be very happy with that situation but, realistically, I don’t think it will happen because TV directors don’t like it. That’s why we had the idiocy of 20-odd laps behind the safety car at Fuji three years ago.

  2. HewisLamilton said on 3rd August 2010, 17:05

    Very interesting article and responses.

    I think it would be interesting to see the stats of accidents in the pit lane in Indycar vs F1 vs NASCAR and see just how they compare. I wonder which series actually has the most incidents in the pit lane.

  3. I wouldn’t mind seeing some catchfence seperating each team’s pit box.
    Doesn’t have to be bombproof, but just enough to stop stray wheels turning packed pitlanes into bowling alleys

    What would be the problem with putting a series of short walls in the painted space between pitlane and pitboxes, Bernie could still sell advertising on them, and they would protect the backs of the currently horribly exposed mechanics busy working a car while mayhem happens in the pitlane behind them.

    I’d also suggest to disallow stacking, only one car allowed, the pit boxes are hard enough to cleanly exit and much much too crowded, without another team’s car blocking your way out; some of the steering angles and spun rear tyres drivers are applying just to get out of their box is asking for trouble.

  4. Rhys said on 3rd August 2010, 17:13

    I would leave it as it is, but close the pit lane when the Safety Car comes out. I believe the reason it happened was because it was a bit chaotic in the pit lane.

  5. Bernard (@bernard) said on 3rd August 2010, 17:14

    This is a ‘Team Sport’ isn’t it? ;)

    Whatever is deemed to be the most efficient number by any given team should be their decision and theirs alone.

    Instead of limiting the pit crew why not reduce the pit lane speed limit further still?

  6. Daffid said on 3rd August 2010, 17:37

    I don’t want slower stops, the quicker the stops the more dramatic and the more likely teams will choose an alternate strategy with an extra stop, something that I’d like to see more of not less. Don’t mind internal jacks, so long as they don’t trigger accidentally… one more thing to go wrong, but not opposed to it.

    It’s an interesting proposal, but no thanks. Although if we got rid of the crowds they’d be safer too…

  7. rampante (@rampante) said on 3rd August 2010, 17:38

    Why not have the driver come into the pit area, switch the engine of, get out of the car and then ring a bell on a concrete enclosure where the pit crew are. They come out change the tyres and then return to the bunker and the driver after having a coffee gets back in the car and he is escorted out of the pits with someone walking in front of him waving a red flag and sounding a horn until he crosses the line at the exit.
    I don’t want to see anyone injured in F1 but can we please leave it alone. If most of these suggestions were to happen we would end up with the fans 10 km from the track and forced to were fire suits and safety goggles. F1 pit crews have also had an important input out with the sport, hospital theatres and A&E units have improved because of how F1 crews work. They are all big boys, let them get on with it and the rivalry they have between the teams.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd August 2010, 17:44

      If most of these suggestions were to happen we would end up with the fans 10 km from the track

      I haven’t suggested anything even remotely as extreme as that. I’ve proposed one thing that’s already used in another major open-wheel racing series, and one idea that’s already been used in F1 before. Hardly radical thinking.

      The reason you see so few people injured is because of incremental improvements in safety based on learning from experience. There’s no reason why the same shouldn’t apply here.

      • rampante (@rampante) said on 3rd August 2010, 18:06

        Keith, this was not aimed at you. I understand and fully appreciate that you raise a topic and it is then discussed. Personally I think not allowing stops during safety cars would solve most issues and reduce the chance of accidents in the pit lane. The pit stop is an integral part of the sport and can be responsible for a large part of on track action. I made a flippant comment in response to some of the comments posted.

  8. sumedh said on 3rd August 2010, 17:50

    Closing the pitlane is an excellent idea I feel. Now that there is no danger of someone running out of fuel on the road, cars can continue following the safety car for the entire safety car period.

    But as you rightly point out, their could be controversies with this, as some cars with wing damage (which brought out the safety car in the first place) won’t be able to pit. But I guess a modification to the rules can be brought about. For eg: Any change of tyres made during a pit-stop which falls in a safety car period does not count as the mandatory pit-stop for the particular driver. Thus, the driver who does pit and take on newer tyres will have to pit again after safety car to do his mandatory pit stop.

    • newnhamlea1 (@newnhamlea1) said on 3rd August 2010, 18:02

      you can quiter easily drive around with no front wing, if any part of the car is damaged they should just pull over and retire.

    • Cacarella said on 3rd August 2010, 20:27

      What if rather than wing damage, a car has suffered a puncture due to debris from the accident which triggered the safety car.

      This driver/team gets punished by having to do an additional stop? Or has to drive around behind the safety car spreading rubber and body parts across the track as the tire comes apart?

      • sumedh said on 3rd August 2010, 20:37

        No, in that case by all means pit.

        But this pit stop won’t count towards your mandatory pit-stop.

        Actually, they should keep the pit-stop open only. But only refuse to count the pit stops made during this period as counting towards the mandatory pit stop.

  9. James said on 3rd August 2010, 17:59

    For me the issue isnt the number of people working on the cars in the pitlane, it’s just the lack of safety mechanisms. I’ve just watched the BBC F1 Fan Forum, and there are number of interesting points raised. David Coulthard mentions that in DTM the car is unable to leave the jacks until the wheels pass a certain torque on the guns, to ensure all the wheels on. Eddie Jordan also suggests that mechanisms which stop a car leaving its box if another is coming into it’s “danger zone”, which I think could be a great idea. Assuming a peace of software is developed and made fool proof, this could work. All the cars have the same ECU now, so it shouldnt cause any conflicts in the car.

    The above takes away the margin of error in which a human can make a mistake. Generally with robotics, margin for error is much smaller. However, that said, having a human there as an extra safeguard would do no harm. For example, it is possible for aircraft to take off, fly and land without a pilot nowadays, but you would still want a pilot on board in case things did go pear shaped.

    I’m more inclined for the re-introduction of the rule where the pit lane is closed. The main reason it was removed was because cars were running out of fuel on track – this is not an issue now. However, on the flip side, the re-introduction of the rule may only perlong the rush of cars coming back to the pits. Once the safety car pits, it is possible that all the cars will pit at once – so it could in theory only be perlonging an accident.

    It’s tough, but F1 doesnt need to react just yet. This is just one weekend in which two incidents occured, it may not happen again for a long time.

  10. KlBD said on 3rd August 2010, 18:36

    You know, if you want to preserve the “spectacle” of F1 as the top of motor racing (of which pit stops is and rightly so, only a small part), why not make pit stops more challenging by reducing the number of mechanics allowed to work on the car? Not only does this reduce the number of bodies to reduce likelihood of accidents as Keith suggests, but I think it would not detract from, and indeed could add to the overall show.

    It’s been a long standing belief of mine that one of the very best things about NASCAR over almost any other racing series is the pitstops – despite all the limitations the mechanics have to deal with (limited number of people over the wall, let alone working on the car, 6-lug nuts per wheel, side jacks only, fuelling cans instead of rigs, etc) they are probably the best pit crews in the world for what they do – the level of coordination and refinement in a NASCAR pit stop is truly impressive, and shows off the professionalism and skill of the team as a whole I think, much more than an efficient but slightly dull F1 stop involving a ton of guys all performing what amounts to one action each.

    And also, by having the crew out of the way of the cars until they arrive, you reduce incidents where drivers do not stop in time and hit crew members accidentally, i.e. Schumacher and Nakajima

  11. f1yankee said on 3rd August 2010, 18:59

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUBvt98uTTQ

    i would close the pits the moment SC is declared, allowing for cars already entering the pits at that exact time and cars with punctured tires. pits would re-open after the snake forms and any necessary running order adjustments. if a puncture isn’t of the obviously shredded variety, they should be confiscated and tested by the fia – easy as a tub full of water.

    i never understood why the fia (LOL, fill in the blank) prohibits pneumatic jacks built into the car. they have been used in le mans successfully for many years now.

    another thing is self-starting cars. anti-stall is good, increasing safety and keeping cars in the race, but starter motors would take both a step further. also it would make for a more legitimate automobile and add to the technical challenge.

    • Eric said on 3rd August 2010, 19:49

      if they close the pit and re-open after the snake forms, you would have 2 cars in every box trying to change tires, how crazy is that.

      think about it, it wont work.

      let them dive in then only the ones that are one two have a problem.

      since they now pick up the first car its worked fine, so leave it as is.

      your right about the air jacks they work great, they should incorporate these.

      • f1yankee said on 3rd August 2010, 20:09

        i think removing the compulsory tire change would go a long way towards relieving pit lane traffic jams, too

        • Frank from Oz said on 4th August 2010, 7:07

          I second that!
          It would also force drivers to overtake on track (and make designers build cars that can do that).

  12. judo chop said on 3rd August 2010, 19:00

    Less mechanics will mean more wheels flying off. Drive-throughs, grid drops and points penalties will help concentrate their minds more than a fine. What is the actual cost of a lost track position – a win or a finish in the points – compared to an occasional fine? Safety aside most would say super fast pit stops are worth the risk.

    • Charles Carroll said on 3rd August 2010, 20:08

      I have to disagree with your first point, judo chop. There are plenty of other series, with faster and heavier cars, that use far less crew members and do not have wheels flying off. In addition, its not as if their pit stops are dreadfully slow either, and most of those series have refueling as well.

      In a way, it is quite embarrassing to have 19 crew members in the pit and STILL seeing wheels flying off. If more crew members meant less mistakes and more safety, most would do it.

      • judo chop said on 3rd August 2010, 21:35

        @ Charles Carroll. Pit stops in those series are nowhere near as fast as in F1. It’s the pressure to do things as fast as possible that causes errors. One mechanic changing a wheel as fast as possible will make more than mistakes than three doing the same task. Less mechanics in the pit lane to get but more wheels flying around. The FIA could also introduce a minimum time period for stops – 8 secs maybe – so teams can be more patient.

  13. Cube said on 3rd August 2010, 19:16

    I remember one of the Brabhams [I think it was the one with the radiators directly in front of its wheels] that had built in hydraulic jacks. So Formula 1 has done it before, it can do it again, it could introduce that, that gets rid of two mechanics on its own.

  14. luigismen (@luigismen) said on 3rd August 2010, 19:40

    I like the idea of cut to 6 mechanics per pitstop, that would make things a little bit more interesting and can “improve the show”..

  15. Nullius said on 3rd August 2010, 20:04

    Another possibility would be to have a *minimum* pitstop time – say 10 seconds – reducing the chance of hurried mistakes.

    • John H said on 3rd August 2010, 20:22

      I like that one, but it’s not very F1… I guess you still want a bit of competitiveness between the teams at pit stops.

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