Pit crew, unsung heroes of Formula 1

Efficiency of backroom staff is key to any F1 team

Pit crew, unsung heroes of Formula 1

The next time you have a flat tyre, run the stop-clock to see how long it takes to fix the problem.
 

On an average, you would take ten minutes to run the change. In Formula One, where races and titles are decided in fractions of seconds, things work very differently.

For instance, at this year’s German Grand Prix, McLaren choreographed a pit stop which primarily involved changing four tyres in 2.31 seconds – 0.3 seconds faster than the previous best. That was the fastest pit stop in the history of Formula One and certainly in the quickest tyre change since the first ever car was rolled out.

In sitting behind the steering wheel, flashing a broad smile for the cameras and attending press conferences, drivers take up all the limelight and leave little for the rest of the team. But drivers, more than anyone else, know the impact and importance of a well-oiled pit crew.

In short, championships are not won with a poorly organised pit crew. But for people outside the track, it is hard to see how they work given that they go through their exercise in a matter of mere seconds. Pit stops are planned days in advance of the race. The team’s strategists come up with what is best for the car, going by the wear and tear inflicted by the track, and everyone is kept in the loop.

During the race, the race engineer tells the driver when to come in, usually on the preceding lap, and at the same time, the team manager gets the pit team ready. The crew gathers all the required equipment and move into specified spots on the pit lane.

Lollipop Man

The ‘Lollipop Man’, who is at the head of the pit stop with his carbon fibre sign board which looks like a lollipop, gets himself in line at the edge of the pit and holds the ‘lollipop’ directly in the car’s path so the driver knows exactly where to stop.

He has also been on the receiving end of some dangerous collisions in the past and as a result most of the teams have diverted to using a traffic light system wherein a red light signals the driver to keep his brakes on, an amber light to put the car in first gear and the green light to leave the pit stall.

Back to the pit stop, the driver enters the pit lane at racing speeds but engages the pit-lane speed limiter on the steering wheel after he crosses the white line which denotes the beginning of the speed-limit area. The speed limit in the pit lane is 80 kmph.

The car then stops at the designated spot and the ‘lollipop’ reads ‘brakes’ so the wheels don’t turn when the wheel nuts are spun loose in order to change tyres. As the driver steps on the brake pedal and holds on, the crew quickly gets to work.

The front-jack man pulls up the hydraulic jack and then the rear-jack man lifts the back. Once the car is in perfect position, three-member crews begin work on each tyre. The man in front, operating a compressed air gun, removes the single, central retaining nut and makes way while the tyre is removed and passed on. A fresh tyre is then brought in and the gun man re-attaches the nut. The wheel nut and the socket of the gun are both magnetised to prevent the nut falling to the ground.

If satisfied with the entire operation, the lollipop is lifted and the driver is off and on his way. All that and more in four seconds or less. That is what pit crews are all about.
Easy to see why every driver swears by the slogan: ‘Races are not just won on the track. They are won in pit lanes too’.

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