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

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  1. AndyInIndy said on 4th August 2010, 13:49

    Your number is off by one – if you wanted 4 tire changers and 2 for a front wing, you’d need 7 – the built-in jack requires an external source of compressed air (there’s obviously not a tank or room for a compressor *on* the car). The second guy that comes running in next to the fuel hose has an air hose; he controls the raising/lowering of the car.

  2. Icthyes said on 4th August 2010, 14:12

    I don’t think your idea would work Keith, because as soon as the pit lane is open at least 10 cars would dash in to make their stops.

  3. kramkroc said on 4th August 2010, 15:43

    Heres what I think should be done,
    The very second that the saftey car is deployed the computer should note every drivers position and feed this info to the teams.
    Every team pits 1 of their cars first time around and their second car next time round.
    All cars then bunch up behind the safty car and they are given time to sort out their positions that were noted as the safty car was deployed.

    This would stop drivers trying to make up time coming into and out of the pits.

    As there is no time to be gained under this new system if would be alot less stressful for the teams and the drivers.

    The only thing we lose is the possibility of one or two drivers overtaking another throught that pit stop phase. but the safty aspect would be addressed.

  4. kokamomi (@kokamomi) said on 4th August 2010, 17:18

    Both ideas are great! I think they should be considered for making the sport more interesting, not just safer.

    With no refueling really makes you wonder why they didn’t revert to the no-pitting-during-safety-car rule. The likelyhood of a critical need to change tires during safetycar is small, as are the implications of not being able to.

    Even then it could be possible to enter the closed pits by assuming a suspended penalty while proof of a critical tyre problem (such as a slow puncture) be submitted to the marshalls. It’s infinitely more intuitive to fans than current regulations – safety car equals no pitting. A car breaching the no pitting rule would indicate sporting weakness, which is in itself interesting to follow.

    Having just a handful of mechanics would make the team less anonymous and further the spectator understanding of what goes on. More cameras, fixed or attached to the mechanics would allow remote inspection of car status, at no cost to spectator experience. If the team really suspects something is wrong then it’s logical to take a time hit for necessary manual inspecting by the mechanics after routine duties. Team footage from pit stops could be edited into an in-show technical analysis.

    The built in jacks would increase driver incentive and promote skill to stop with precisely, thus increasing both safety and sporting challenge. Having just four wheel mechanics to keep track of maybe it could even be handed to the driver to do the job of the lollypop man as well as to operate the jacks electronically, thus offsetting some challenge from the rather busy team to the otherwise idle driver, increasing driver-team timing and collaboration.

    I’d think that F1 would quickly find a way to utilize it’s resources better than having hundreds of mechanics trying to look cool on their chairs for the better part of 2 hours each race.

    Of course, less people puts more pressure on the guys that remain, but on the other hand more people increases complexity risk.

  5. Nitpicker said on 4th August 2010, 18:15

    Maybe they could bring back the pit lane closure. In these days of no refuelling, there is no real need for a driver to make a pit stop. At safety car speeds, surely the tyres would last a few laps longer if needed?

  6. A Singh said on 4th August 2010, 18:41

    I can’t believe we’re even suggesting the idea to close the pitlane during the safety car again, after everyone was begging it be got rid of. It was no doubt the worst rule to grace F1 – if there was a SC in a race it would have been more worthwhile just to abort the race and pick the winner out of a hat.

    • Kris said on 4th August 2010, 21:01

      The rule didn’t work due to the need to refuel, and so the main arguement has been removed now.

    • Dipak T said on 9th August 2010, 17:06

      Only because cars could ave ran out of fuel during a safety car period. That was the one and only issue with closing the pitlane, and because of no refuelling now, I thing closing the pitlane during the safety car is the most logical thing to do.

      Reverting to a previous rule that in effect closed the pitlane to all traffic with the exception of cars needing maintenance for reliabilty issues, ie broken front wings, retirements, would be all that is needed.

      Capping the number of mechanics in the pit lane could be something to explore in the future, but I do believe it is uneccesary – rarely are most mechanics in the pitlane simultaneosly outside of a safety car period, like Australia this year. And in IndyCar, teams do not have one pit crew, each car does.

  7. Kris said on 4th August 2010, 21:00

    I don’t have a huge problem with the number of pit stop crew but do dislike the lottery that is the pit stop during the saftey car.

    Closing it is an option, but there needs to be guidelines for damaged cars etc.

    Perhaps leave the pit lane open, but tyre compound changes done under safey car don’t count – this way everyone would still have to pit under race conditions to use the other type. It would disuade most people from pitting as they’d lose track position.

  8. Baz said on 5th August 2010, 8:26

    I think pit safety in F1 is pretty good and we shouldn’t overreact to every incident that happens in the sport.

    I think reducing the number of mechanics is a good way forward. However, I would like to give a resounding NO to closing the pits during a safety car period. It doesn’t solve the problem. Although we don’t have re-fueling, if we do have a safety car deployed during a major pit stop window for tyres, for the majority of teams, then aren’t those cars that are affected all going to stream into the pits once the safety car comes in? Personally, I think that the safety car and any subsequent pit stops en masse add to the drama.

    Although we should strive to improve safety, mistakes happen as these are human beings working under pressure situations, and sadly people can get hurt as a consequence.

    • kokamomi (@kokamomi) said on 5th August 2010, 17:41

      @Baz, the likelyhood of all cars really needing to go during SC deployment is is slim. Even then the problem is really the current situation when both cars in every team is pulled in immediately upon SC deployment for the only reason of not loosing out massively. In the closed pitlane scenario there’s no such dramatic need and the potential disaster of going to a crowded pitlane can be weighed against staying out another lap or two.

      • kokamomi (@kokamomi) said on 5th August 2010, 17:45

        In other words, currently an SC always throws strategies in the air. With closed pitlanes that would only happen rarely. While this would arguably make it more difficult for some average team to grab a podium from sheer luck every now and then, it is also more fair.

  9. superblah said on 9th August 2010, 7:20

    In my opinion its safe enough. If F1 becomes too safe and nothing exciting ever happens then it will become dull. Like why was group B rally so popular? because it was very dangerous

  10. baldgye (@baldgye) said on 7th July 2013, 15:23

    Having the pit stops so quick and having so many mechanics around the car is (IMO) part of what makes F1 so special, it’s about being the fastest. Limiting the size of the crew would make stops look slow and cumbersome, at the moment watching a Red Bull stop is jaw dropping, the car barely stops…

    Limiting the number of people in the pit’s is something I’d back, aslong as that allowed teams to keep the same number of mechanics working on the car.
    The guy who was hit by the tyre never saw it coming becasue he had his back to it, a pit crew who is out in the pit lane would be looking in the right direction.

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