Pit stops in Formula 1

Wolfgang Wilhelm
Pit stops in Formula 1
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E do you remember the good old refueling stops? It wasn't that long ago. In 2009, refueling was part of the repertoire of a Grand Prix for the last time. Back then, the tire changers had it easy - the refueling process determined the time lost in the pits. The crew on the bikes was done long before that. What if a wheel got stuck? For free. 'Back then, the mechanics had twice as much time for the bikes,' remembers Mercedes team manager Ron Meadows. Usually five to eight seconds were left to react to breakdowns.

Today the stopwatch is ticking on mercilessly. The amount of time between stopping and driving can be used to win or lose a race. With an average of more than five pit stops per team in a Grand Prix, the crew is under more pressure than ever before. Overhead cameras film every stop. After the weekend there is maneuver criticism in the factory. The pit stops are analyzed just as meticulously as the flood of data that the car produces.

'Consistency is more important than the individual stop', warns Meadows. As good as it is on television when the driver races off again after less than three seconds, record stops are not worthwhile if two others go wrong for it. Mercedes' record is 2.64 seconds. 'In the factory we already made stops under two seconds, but the timing is different,' reveals Meadows. 'The car is already there, we don't have to move any devices out of the way so that it can drive off, and the wheel nuts are not slammed on with such great force. That makes eight tenths.'

19 mechanics change four Wheels

The choreography of a pit stop in Formula 1 will not tear anyone off their feet. Too many people are handling the service. Short distances in principle. The tool is already ready. There is only a hectic pace when the wheel nut jams or the tire of your team mate has smuggled into the set. This source of error, which used to be a source of amusement, is practically eliminated by the different colored banderoles on the electric blankets.

At Mercedes, 19 men are on duty when Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg approach the parking lot at 100 km /h. Three for each wheel. Two on the jacks. Two on the side pods to clean the cooling inlets if necessary or to clean the driver's visor. Two if the front wing needs to be adjusted. And one who is on the traffic in theAttention pit lane. If there is a risk of a collision with a competitor, the automatic traffic light sequence is stopped and switched to manual mode. The Fastlane always has right of way.

Adjusting the front wing flap is almost a luxury with the compact process. 'If you make it a hole or a hole and a half steeper, it usually costs two to three tenths,' says Meadows. If the driver brings a demolished nose, it takes an average of ten seconds until a new one is fastened with the quick release. Since that happened to Schumacher a couple of times this year, the Mercedes box has plenty of practice: 'Our best value is 7.5 seconds, the worst is twelve.'

Parking with laser precision

Even a flat tire costs extra time. 'About a second, depending on the degree of destruction.' Precise parking is very important. A centimeter grid in front of the pit dictates the position of the drivers and screwdrivers. 20 centimeters too far or too short cost 0.5 seconds. Many teams use lasers to show the driver where to stop.

Tire changes are not only practiced in the factory. Before the race starts, the mechanics know the individual steps in their sleep. Meadows: 'We train on Thursday evening and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. We handle 30 to 40 tire changes per session.' Mercedes not only exercises the ideal case. Damaged tires, changing the steering wheel, refilling the fluid for the valve pneumatics or the engine stalling are also simulated. Or when both cars head into the pits every five seconds.

Today's mechanics are as fit as the drivers. In winter they are regular guests in the weight room. Mercedes takes 15 bicycles on its travels and puts the fitters in hotels that have a gym.

Traffic light display with potential for errors

However, the fastest mechanics are of no use if the tool fails. Along with Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Renault, Mercedes is one of the teams that rely on traffic light control. Cost: 50,000 euros. The four impact wrenches and two jacks are equipped with sensors. If all six information providers report completion, the traffic light automatically switches to green.

'The classic lollipop man had to check out each bike individually,' Meadows calculates. 'That took an average of four tenths.' The use of the traffic light is controversial. Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder interjects: 'It has advantages when everything goes well. If a problem arises, however, you lose a lot of time.'

See Kimi Raikkonen in Valencia in 2008, Felipe Massa in Singapore in the same year or Nico Rosberg in Budapest last season. The right rear wheel came loose when starting off and strayed through the pits without a master. And how does the director know that something has gone wrong and that the traffic light has to be overridden? Answer Meadows: 'Then the impact wrenches point into onecertain direction. '

Expensive tool for changing tires

The tool for the pit stop is developed in-house and in some cases also manufactured in-house. For example, the front jack on the axle can be swiveled so that the man on the device can dive to the side more quickly when the car drives off. Or the rear ones, which lower the car at the push of a button. Titanium in front, steel in the back. 'These things cost between 10,000 and 15,000 euros,' reveals Meadows.

The teams haul 30 mobile racks, in which the tires are preheated to 80 degrees, around the world. Cost: 500,000 euros. You could buy a Dacia Logan for an impact wrench. 4,000 euros material value plus 4,000 euros in-house development . The 320 gram lightweight wheel nuts made of aluminum or steel are a little cheaper. 500 euros each.

Impact wrenches hammer with five tons of torque

When every tenth of a second counts, it has to when loosening and fitting the wheel nut Z can be saved. Mercedes has reduced the threads on the hubs from three to two. 'The impact wrenches develop twice as much torque as they did two years ago.' Up to five tons. The hammering of the mother takes half a second. It goes faster, on average three tenths. Big brother notices everything. 'Red Bull is quicker to loosen the wheel nuts,' said Meadows. 'We'll get it back on it faster.'

You shouldn't overdo it, like with Schumacher before the final training for the Belgian GP. The rear right wheel nut had been hammered onto the thread with too much pressure. Under the brute force, the windings broke and the wheel came loose.

Before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Mercedes GP published its own pit stop statistics, which we would not like to withhold from you:

How many There were pit visits in a total of 17 races?
998 pit stops - 21 drive-through penalties - 4 stop-and-go penalties

Race with the most pit stops?
GP Hungary (85), GP Turkey (80) and GP Spain (70)

Race with the least pit stops?
GP Italy (35), GP Monaco (41) and Australian GP (44)

Who has the most fastest pit stops?
Red Bull (8), Mercedes (7), McLaren (1), Ferrari (1)

You can find the exact order of all twelve teams with the average time of the pit stops this season in the picture gallery.


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