McLaren’s pit stops have been wobbly at best this season and, inspired by the team’s fine example, this week’s Badgerometer looks at the Top 5 things that can (and have) gone wrong when attempting to get an F1 car in (and out) of the pits super quicksharp.
Let’s spare a thought for the teams that actually do get a pit-stop right, as sometimes it’s the drivers who mess it all up.
Just look at how both David Coulthard and Roberto Moreno even failed to get into the pit box in Oz in ’95.
And then, once your driver does get into the pit lane, there’s no guarantee that they’ll manage to get the car into the right box. We saw it twice last year, when Jenson Button thought he was a Red Bull driver for a split-second in China, and Jerome D’Ambrosio seemed to have pulled an imaginary handbrake in Hungary.
Then there’s a case of the driver overshooting the mark entirely. For example, Nigel Mansell’s brain fade in 1989, which earned the Ferrari man a black flag.
The final example of a driver undoing a team’s hard work is Gerhard Berger, who forgot that tyres are cold when you leave the pits and duly planted his Ferrari into an Estoril guardrail.
Who knew pit stops could be so hard?
Loose wheel nuts
OK, forget the driver. A pitstop can fail for any number of small reasons, including the smallest thing of all: the thing that keeps the wheel attached to the car.
Many wheelnuts have failed at inopportune moments, but our favourite (if that’s the right word) cost Nick Heidfeld a certain 4th place in Spain 5 years ago. Watch as the Toyota mechanic picks up the errant wheelnut and informs the BMW team what’s happened, and flap a bit when the German squad send Nick out anyway. Madness.
Another nightmare. Imagine getting your driver into the pit box, fitting a set of new tyres, and sending them out in good time – the possibility of a good result is there…and then another car drives into you. Like we said, what a nightmare.
A lacklustre pit crew
Here’s the deal – if you’re not up to the task of being an F1 mechanic, you shouldn’t really be there. You need to be sharp, efficient and be prepared for all eventualities. Just don’t be like the Super Aguri mechanics from a few years ago, who thought the action on the TV was so enticing, they missed the fact that Anthony Davidson had come in to stop.
And when you are a team at the back of the grid, you’re going to struggle. Here’s Esteban Tuero at his home race in Argentina in 1998, suffering a near 40s stop because;
- The fuel rig wasn’t working correctly (there’s a comedy moment when the mechanic looks straight down the hose while another holds it)
- The right front wheel can’t be found. When it is located, it’s taken to the front right position, then passed over the car.
- Two of the crew have to push it out the box as the anti-stall had kicked in. Salt in the wound personified.
All joking aside, the worst thing that could happen in a routine stop hasn’t happened in a while thanks to the ban on refuelling. Between the years of 1994 and 2009, a flash fire caused by spilled fuel was a major concern that happened far too often, starting with Jos Verstappen’s now infamous incident at Hockenheim.
There have been a few sudden fires in the pits, usually from a faulty rig, but one of the really scary ones happened in Brazil 2009, in the last race for F1 refuelling, when Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren tried to beat Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari out of the pits. Dragging the fuel hose with him, the errant fuel spilt into Kimi’s path.
Luckily, the FIA had already seen sense, and ruled that it would be tyre-only stops from 2010 onwards. While fuel is still a danger in Formula One, the risk of anything happening during a race has been reduced dramatically.