I recently talked about pit stops in karting. While these are pretty similar compared to other motorsports, they’re no match for F1 pit stops.
Every driver has to pit at least once in an F1 race. During an F1 pit stop, the mechanics will change the tires and adjust the car’s front and rear wing. Also, they might clean up the air ducts of the chassis and the brakes if they have any debris.
That being said, F1 pit stops are very complex, and they have changed significantly throughout F1’s history. So, I thought it’d be good to check out how the F1 pit stop has evolved and all the details about it nowadays.
Do F1 Cars Have to Pit?
If you’ve watched a recent F1 race, you’ll notice that every driver pits at least once. That’s because it’s mandatory to use at least two tire compounds during an F1 race. This might have raised more questions, though.
Pirelli, F1’s tire supplier, has simplified its tire compounds in the past few years. The teams will have five types of tires available: Softs, Mediums, Hards, Intermediates, and Wets. But, depending on the track, Pirelli provides the teams with a different compound (C1 to C5).
The C1 tires are the hardest, while the C5 are the softest. In high-degradation tracks, Pirelli provides the teams with the C2-C4 compounds. So, the Soft is the C4, the Medium is the C3, and the Hard is the C2.
The two-tire rule is altered when it comes to a wet race. The drivers don’t have to pit to change tires in wet conditions. Generally, Intermediates and Wets could last for the whole race if the track stays wet.
So, F1 cars have to make a mandatory pit stop to change their tire compounds. But, a driver doesn’t need to change compounds on their first pit stop. They might want to have two stints on the Mediums and one on the Softs.
This is why the commentators sometimes say that a driver has “committed to a two-stop”. It just means that they didn’t change to a different compound on their first pit stop.
Why Does the Pit Crew Wear Helmets
Once I uploaded the F1 drivers’ salary article, some of you asked me about F1 pit crews and why they wear helmets. The reason why F1 pit crews wear helmets is purely for safety. Now, you might be wondering what they need to be safe from.
Several potential accidents can happen in the pitlane, which could prove fatal. A great example is a tire not locking correctly and flying off the car. In this case, a 10kg (22 lbs) tire will be flying down the pitlane, and it could hit a mechanic.
Apart from that, while there’s a speed limit of 50 mph (80 km/h) in the pitlane, accidents can happen. After all, 50 mph isn’t slow; most go-karts reach these speeds, and they feel speedy.
So, if an accident happens in the pitlane, the mechanics need to have their heads protected. Otherwise, they’re risking a fatal head injury.
Are F1 Pit Stops Dangerous?
While the FIA takes many steps to ensure the safety of everyone on the track, pit stops are still pretty dangerous. One small mistake, like a brake lock-up or not turning correctly, could end with the driver hitting one of the mechanics.
A great example is an accident that happened during a pit stop in 2020 involving Lance Stroll and a jackman. You can see the video below.
Also, as I’ll cover later on, the mechanics and the drivers were at risk when refueling was still legal. There were countless instances when some fuel would spill from the tank, and there would be a huge fire. As you’ll see below, Jos Verstappen, the father of 2021 World Champion Max Verstappen, got into a massive fireball in 1994.
So, these two examples show how dangerous an F1 pit stop can be. But, as I said above, pit stops in F1 have changed over the years.
History of F1 Pit Stops
During the first years of F1 (1950s-1982), drivers would rarely pit. Most pit stops would take around one minute, with the shortest ones lasting for 30-40 seconds. This is also how long a go-kart pit stop lasts.
In those years, there would only be two mechanics that used hammers and wrenches to remove the wheels and add new ones. They’d also have to roll the car to get it started if it’d stalled (similar to a direct-drive go-kart). So, drivers couldn’t build any pit stop strategies since pitting lost them much time.
In 1982, F1 saw tons of innovations, and every time tried to one-up the other teams. The first team to utilize a pit stop strategy was Brabham.
Their car wasn’t fuel-efficient, so they thought it’d be good to fill the fuel tank halfway at the start of the race and pit in the middle to refuel. The rest of the teams started doing the same until refueling was banned in 1984.
But, teams were already creating new pit stop strategies for every race, and Benetton would hold the shortest pit stop for years, sitting at 3.2 seconds. By today’s standards, this pit stop would be slow.
The most significant change in F1 pit stops came in 1994 when refueling was reintroduced. It lasted until 2009 when the FIA deemed that refueling was too dangerous for everyone involved.
And this takes us to nowadays. From 2010 to 2021, the pit stops would get shorter each year, and the pit crew would become a 20-team machine. Then the FIA decided to slow down pit stops for the 2022 season. The new rule has stopped teams from getting an under 2-second pit stop.
How Long Do F1 Pit Stops Take
F1 pit stops nowadays last between 2-3 seconds. Anything below 2.5 seconds is considered a fast pit stop, while anything over 2.6 seconds is regarded as slow. But, the shortest and longest F1 pit spots aren’t within this range.
Longest F1 Pit Stop
Technically, the longest pit stop was Bottas’ in the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix. If we consider that a pit stop means a 4-wheel change, then the pit stop lasted for 43 hours and 15 minutes!
Shortest F1 Pit Stop
Red Bull holds the shortest F1 pit stop. The pit stop was done on Max Verstappen’s car in the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, and it only lasted 1.82 seconds.
What Are Some Common Pit Strategies
The buzzwords concerning pit strategies are overcuts and undercuts.
When a driver commits to the undercut, they pit before their opponent in the hopes that they gain time on a clean track. This, in turn, will allow them to overtake their opponent when they’re pitting and give them an advantage of a few seconds.
But, the driver needs to manage the tire wear amazingly during an undercut; otherwise, they’ll have no rubber for the end of the race.
Overcuts are the opposite of undercuts. By extending a stint, the driver will have fresher tires for the last-lap battles. But, this comes at the risk of meeting a lot of traffic once out of the pits.
There’s really no best strategy to follow since it all comes down to the track and the driver’s position.
F1 pit stops are an essential part of F1 racing. It’s always fun to watch a team’s pit strategy work out, while it’s also entertaining to see a driver try to recover the seconds lost on a slow pit stop.
Stay tuned for more articles just like this one!
FAQs for F1 Pit Stops
How Many Pit Stops Are Allowed in F1?
A driver can make as many pit stops as he wants. But, unless the weather conditions change, a driver will make 1-3 pit stops during a race.
Which F1 Team Has the Best Pit Stops?
Until 2021, Red Bull had the best pit stops. In the 2022 season, Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren have the best pit stops.