How F1 can make pit stops safer

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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”

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    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.

    1. 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.

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

        1. Frank from Oz
          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).

  2. 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.

    1. Charles Carroll
      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.

      1. @ 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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”..

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

    1. 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.

  6. In order to avoid another Kubica/Sutil accident the use of the automatic jacks and some sensors could greatly help. each box could have a simple proximity sensor that lowers the car a certain time after another vehicle has approached such sensor. the sensor can be infra-red type or a simple pressure sensor like a wire marking the beginning of the pit box. that way the driver would not be able to touch ground if a car is close enough and could cause a collision.

    concerning the Safety car, in order to avoid cars running out of fuel, etc maybe they could put a limit on the number of cars allowed in the pits and maybe allow teams to only call one driver at a time as well (although this could be a bit controversial. to be honest having both cars line-up is dangerous, rosberg’s tire could have fallen on a driver as well. Maybe if 6 or 8 cars were allowed in the pit lane at a time this could reduce the number of mechanics out at the same time. that way we still get to observe blazing fast stops. the pit-lane would be open for cars to exit and only open for new cars to come in after another has left its spot.

    maybe all teams should use the light system as well, and the guns should have a sensor the only activates once the wheel nut is released. the light system could be upgraded to having four lights signaling the change of tyres. that way four lights would be on- or off once four wheel nuts have been released. if the wheel nut is stuck or a new gun is required, then the light would not have been set off. in combination with my first proximity sensor, the driver would not be able to leave the box either cause the car would still be up in the air.

    1. Why not have a system whereby the car can only be released when all the mechanics have returned to the interior of the garage.

      That would clear the mechanics out of the way of other cars and make it quite obvious when one mechanic had a problem changing a wheel.

  7. What if the number of mechanics allowed to work on each car was reduced to 6 (4 on tires, 1 lollipop man and 1 to plug in the hose for the air jack) but then have 2 pit bays for each team, one per car. If you closed the pitlane until the snake forms behind the safety car then i’m sure it would be a spectacular sight which would improve “the show”. My only reservation is that most pitlanes wouldn’t have room for 24 individual pit stalls.

    Oh yh while we on the topic, why do they have mecahnics hold the air line out the way when a team near thems about pit? They could have them retract up into those gantry things they have over the car. Its just a matter of time till a driver gets caught up in neibouring teams airlines, i think it happened in GP2 last year although i may be wrong.

  8. In Hungary’s case closing the pit lane would have given advantage to Button and Liuzzi who were only drivers who had pitted before the safety car. Ironically, Liuzzi was the one whose debris caused the whole safety car.

    Limiting pit crew is better option. GP2 has five or six in their stops, although they change only two wheels in the stop. Would actually limiting pit crew per car help in getting both cars worked at the same time? Let’s say seven people per car, which would mean 14 per team, which is still less than we have working around the car now.

  9. Supersoft tyres only during a race and ban pit stops :)

  10. I just didn’t get why they weren’t returning to the 2007/08 Safety car rules. It was only necessary for cars to come into the pit lane back then because they needed fuel. It really should have been a no-brainer…

  11. Does anyone else think it ironic that probably the most dangerous time and place in an F1 race is in the pits during a safety car period!

    1. well said (comment too short)

  12. Florida Mike
    4th August 2010, 1:39

    I would love to see the elimination of the requirement to use both sets of tires and the mandatory pit stop. I would allow a team to decide if it wants to go the whole race on one set of hard or two (or three)sets of the soft, or whatever combination the team sees fit. Maybe allow the teams to combine compinds in one set; hard on the right and soft on the left

    Maybe the best way to make pit stops safer is to reduce the number of pit stops.

  13. I know we are talking about pit stops here but in my opinion we need to be talking about the way single seater cars are launching off the back of another, there was another horrible crash in Superleague at Brands Hatch, just like the Webber and GP2 crash at Valencia, only he launched straight into an advertising board!

    these are 3 lucky escapes in just past few weeks, the back of the cars are too low its too easy to mount a slowing car in front and be launched off the back of it surely there is some safety improvements to made here. Pit stops are part of the sport i dont see any need change them at the risk of fire is less now than in the past only and human error is part of the sport.

  14. As I said before that the Formula 1 pit lane is the third most dangerous place to work in the world next to the ‘deck of an oil rig’ & the ‘deck of a aircraft carrier which flies planes in the middle of the sea.

    I think that reducing the number people serviced a car from 19 to 10-12 won’t be a bad idea as it will make it some safe & the car will be stationary for 6-7 seconds other than 4-5 seconds.

  15. I feel for the Renault lolipop guy, because I saw that same wall of people that Keith must have seen and you would have to give even money that flying tyre was in the corner of his eye too.

    Three things strike me.

    The theatre of the NASCAR pitstop is better and they restrict numbers by doing one side at a time.

    The wheel guns and various hubs seem hopeless and NASCAR multiple wheel nuts are part of the theatre that seems to work by keeping the wheels on the car too.

    Lastly the Ferrari auto light system was a dog and whenever it is a human it will fail sometime and need to be given a second chance.

    nb: I’m not sure if the autojacks would be better and need to think that through more

    1. You’re right about the Sprint Cup pit stop (although they’re cutting the assistant fueler with new self-venting fuel cans next season). The six-man stops (fueler, two tyre changers, two tyre carriers, one jackman) have become extremely competitive in the past 25 years where a 23-second 4-tyre stop of the 1986 “Flying Aces” of Richard Childress Racing would be a slow poke today, when stops are in the 13-second bracket. Teams hire tyre changers based on athletic ability. Today’s jack men are usually in the 195cm 110kg range and are extremely muscular where they can pull the car up in one pump.

      The athletic ability of the tyre changers is crucial. In one pit foul in Fontana (California) in February, a Ganassi Bass Pro tyre carrier tried to retrieve an errant tyre (errant tyres are penalised) that ran into the Childress Shell pit box. The Childress car was leaving when that took place and the Ganassi mechanic hurdled over the bonnet to do his job.
      But you’re right. Even with six the changes would be watching their back and their ability to jump over cars to avoid incidents would be there.

  16. The Indy solution is the best i believe. 6 mechanics at most, with built in jacks. but i guess the B.I.Js pneumatic or hydraulic system would add a weight oenalty on the cars.

    i never understood why the teams don’t install plate jacks in the pits. the car drives over them, the team pit boss hits a button to activate the jack the whole car goes up, tires changed, the jack goes down and off they go… would be easier than 2 separate jacks…

  17. I don’t think that closing the Pit Lane during a SC period would make much difference to safety in the Pit Lane itself, since if all the teams need to Box at the same time, that could happen at any point during a race, such as having to change to wets for a sudden rain storm.
    Having seen all the Pit Crews out at once, there did seem to be a huge number of people standing around waiting to be run over or hit by something. I am amazed the drivers could even see where their Box was, and to be able to leave again safely.
    I don’t think the teams would like the idea of cutting the Pit Crew now they have a competition on for the fastest stop times, I think they would be more likely to be looking at using available technology both in the Pit Lane and on the cars, but it would have to be something agreed by all of them, or imposed by the FIA.
    So, my solution is:
    1. clutch release connected to the wheel nuts (to stop a ‘Rosberg’ scenario)
    2. lollipop man working stop/go lights from the Pit Wall (so he can see all the Pit Lane)
    3. stop/go lights connected to the sensors in the Pit Lane (in case he misses something)
    4. stop/go lights in the car (so the driver doesn’t get a vague message)
    5. organise a separate wheel changing competition between the Pit Crews over the Race Weekend (so they can still have fun without the electronic aids).
    Unfortunately this still won’t make the Pit Lane safer from speeding cars or loose items, but that I think is down to the training everyone in the teams are given.

  18. I like the former idea but think 13 is a more realistic number, 2 per wheel, the jack men (don’t particularly like this being automated (kinda screws you completely if you miss your mark at all), lollipop guy (the electronic system could replace him though I like the human element to this). Then two to check for damage, change wings, clean the air ducts, start the car when it stalls.

    Although not as big a change this would still cut it down by a fair old number.

  19. perhaps it would be possible to position some sort of sensor on each wheel or suspension arm that physically won’t let the car start if a wheel isn’t properly secured? possibly the same sort of thing for refuelling if ever it is re-introduced. That wheel in the pitlane was just scary. i certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near that!

  20. Why do we need pit stops any way? I propose a ban on tyre changes, except for damaged or punctured tyres.

    1. I think thats even more dangerous becuase you have teams running on near ended tyres and tyre failure is even more dangerous.

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