The spectacle of a Formula 1 pitstop is still a sight to behold. Witnessing four tyres being changed on a car in just a few seconds is a feat or organisation and teamwork, but what does it actually bring to the show as a whole? It’s needed so one team can gain those precious tenths of a second over their rivals in terms of race strategy, but if you don’t see the pitstop you still see the benefit – or loss, as Haas and Ferrari have shown in recent races – but with 20+ people crowded around a car for that brief moment, you don’t see the intricacies until the replays.
In Australia, both Haas cars retired as a result of botched stops, with wheels not being attached properly despite the frantic waving of the teams allocated that role. Kimi Raikkonen’s Bahrain retirement was the result of being sent away from his crucial stop during the latter part of the race, a decision that should not have been made while the rear left was still being worked on. It cost the team a possible podium position, $50,000 and Francesco Cigorini a night in a hospital bed.
Warning – the following video contains distressing scenes.
— Tom Ruzyllo (@truzyllo) April 8, 2018
With all the advancements in technology when it comes to safety, it’s easy to forget that we need to protect everyone involved in motorsport, not just those entrusted with driving the cars very, very fast. They need to be as brave as possible, but what about the people who have to face that car entering the pits for a stop that could cost them everything in a race? If the FIA are conscious enough to add more protection to drivers in the shape of the Halo, will the need to protect pit crews from their own cars be next on the agenda?
Raikkonen and Ferrari were not the only ones to suffer a pit incident in motorsport that weekend. At IndyCar’s first race in Phoenix on the Saturday night, leader Sebastian Bourdais misjudged his entry and caught one of his crew entering his box. It was minor compared to Cignorini’s injuries, mainly due to Bourdais entry speed, but due to team member restrictions involved in a stop only one person was caught up in it all.
IndyCar is one of motorsport’s top disciplines, especially in the US, and the crew number allowed to make contact with the car during a pitstop is restricted to six. This is the same number as F1 feeder series Formula 2, where the pit stop is implemented in the feature as mandatory to help improve strategy and, therefore, increase the excitement of a slower car being caught by a faster one. Both IndyCar and F2 have honed these smaller teams to a fine art, resulting in the same emphasis on speed but with improved safety levels.
The flip side of having a smaller crew around the car come a pit stop would be the emergence of personalities within a team. Imagine these names becoming synonymous as the likes of Raikkonen, Vettel or Hamilton when it comes to race strategy. Imagine the bidding wars that would occur for pit crews as they solidify reputations, bringing themselves alongside the like of technical directors, team principles and heads of aerodynamics. More characters would become prominent in F1 which, like the on-track entertainment recently, has been in limited supply.
Haas already have an idea like this in having names on their firesuits, which after Australia had the detrimental effect of pinning the blame on one or two poor souls.
Pit stops have evolved from shorts and polo shirts to high tech race suits over the last few decades. This mentality now needs to extend from what’s worn to the number of personnel around the car at these critical moments – they can make or break a race and a season in a heartbeat, and with that pressure comes the risk of mistakes, injuries or worse.