Will we ever see a sub 2s stop?
Back in the ’50s when men were men and Damon was just a glint in Graham Hill’s moustache, pit stops were a somewhat leisurely affair. In those days the likes of Fangio and Ascari would even nip out of their cars at stops for a quick smoke (most likely next to some dodgy looking fuel pump) whilst a big bloke whacked a spoked wheel with a hammer. Over a minute later the driver would jump (well climb) back into his seat most likely into a puddle of petrol and drive off.
Fast forward to 1991 and by todays standards things were still rather relaxed… Sometimes too relaxed. At the Portuguese Grand Prix that year good old Nigel Mansell kept up (his then) tradition of spooning title shots at the last minute when he nipped in for new wheels and left, ‘less than 8 seconds later’ with only 3 of the them attached too the car. No mind however, the Williams crew (bedecked in their fire-proof shorts and t-shirts) pegged it down the pit lane with a new wheel, lifted the car up by hand and sent him on his way only for an unsurprising black flag to spoil the party 16 laps later. Whether Williams ever retrieved the original right rear which skittlled a load of other mechanics down the pit lane is still a mystery.
As the 90’s progressed stationary times continued to tumble with records dropping to under 4 seconds. Then in 1994 the FIA reintroduced mid race refuelling in order to pep up the racing and the times abruptly shot right back up. Of course the principle drawback of trying to cram gallons of highly flammable liquid into a red hot race car in as little time as possible is that sooner or later an inconsiderate spark is going to ignite some equally inconsiderate fuel and the whole thing is going to go up in flames. Here is Michael ‘Old Germany’ Schumacher looking pretty chilled out about his car being on fire back in 2003.
Things have moved on somewhat since then and it could certainly be argued that we are currently in a golden age for pit stops. Pit crews have all the same equipment as the drivers these days, complete with their own personal trainers and sinister helmets. Refuelling has gone also, partly due to safety concerns but also as we don’t need it to artificially create uncertainty any more (we have Pirelli, big front wings and DRS for that). This is a good thing, refuelling pit stops are dull, the fuel always takes longer than everything else so the excitement is neutered.
With refuelling gone teams are now once again trying to shave tenths, hundredths, even thousandths of their tyre-change only stops, using weird and wonderful technology that we will never fully understand and this is surely what F1 is all about. Even better, the effect of pushing something to the bleeding edge of technology is that It doesn’t always work (see McLaren’s early season problems this year) which gives you that lovely uncertainty that we’re always looking for.
Not to mention that when it all goes right it’s breathtaking to watch. This season has seen the first sub 2.5 second pit stops including an incredible 2.4 from McLaren at Hockenheim this year. Compare and contrast with Vettel’s positively pedestrian 3.4…
How do they do it? Ask the Lotus lads, In double sexy HD no less
So are we living in a golden age for pit-stops? – It certainly seems we are, they are as vital as ever and, for now at least, the rule makers seem to have found a way to keep it exciting without spraying flammable liquid everywhere. Here’s to the first sub 2 seconder…