Fuel delivery was once the determining factor used to dictate the length of pit stops in Formula 1 racing. But since 2010 when the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body of motorsports worldwide, banned in-race refueling, car engines and fuel tanks were redesigned to carry enough fuel for the duration of the race. With this new design, timing factors changed completely. Time in the pits is now determined by how quickly a 14 or more man crew can swap four wheels and tires. 3 seconds happens to be that magic number.
Three second stops are routine these days. It’s astonishing to see the choreography that is required to remain competitive on the slow side of the pit wall is nearly as impressive as the actual driving itself.
Let’s take a look at all that’s happening simultaneously at each wheels station.
- The “lollipop man”, typically the chief mechanic, holds the sign that signals the driver to stay on the brakes and select first gear.
- The designated best gunmen of each team locks their air wrenches onto the magnesium wheel’s center-lock nut before the car even stops moving.
- Once the car screeches to a halt, two men elevate it using simple lever-type jacks and hold the car in the air.
- The wheel-removal man takes off the used wheel and tire almost instantaneously.
- A fresh preheated tire/ wheel assembly is installed.
- As the wheels are being swapped, crews may sometimes make small adjustments to the front wing, clear debris from air intakes, and even replace the steering wheel. Doing such operations can lengthen stops tremendously by precious tenths of a second. Because of this reason, they are performed only if necessary. More major replacements such as the wings and cascade element can be replaced in as little as 10 seconds, however.
- The gunman then tightens the center-lock nut. When he raises his hand, he gives the signal that all is clear.
- When the men holding the car up see the signal indicating that it’s all-clear, the car is then dropped back to the ground.
- The “lollipop man” then releases the car by raising his sign. It is also worth noting that some pit crews have replaced the lollipop man with a traffic-light.
It’s truly remarkable to even think that all these significant details and actions take place almost concurrently. And even more mind blowing knowing that it can be done, realistically in just 3 seconds.