Helmets? Refueling? Or just ban pitstops?

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There was a time when Formula One teams ran strategic fuel levels to keep the weight of their cars as low as possible. Cars would scream through the forest of Spa or the city streets of Monaco with just enough fuel to make it to a pit stop for a top off and change of tires. This element added to the strategy of F1 and was promptly deemed too costly and even worse…dangerous.

Refueling was banned in Formula One due to the danger it represented and the cost of the equipment. The governing body of F1, known as the FIA, considered the case closed and many teams rejoiced at the thought of no refueling as memories of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa dragging the entire refueling rig down the Singapore pitlane in 2008 still lingered.

Last Sunday’s German Grand Prix had no refueling but it did have broken ribs, a broken collar bone and a concussion for Formula One Management cameraman Paul Allen. After an unsafe release by Red Bull, Mark Webber’s car exited the pit box when his unsecured right-rear tire launched off his car and bounced through pit lane striking an unsuspecting Allen in the back at full tilt.

As Formula One considers the situation and Red Bull were fined 30,000 Euros for their part in the unfortunate situation, the FIA are being urged to look at tighter safety rules for pitlane personnel. Series such as Le Mans require full fire gear and a helmet and F1 is being urged to look at something similar to help protect pitlane personnel. Like many things in F1, pragmatism seems to be the rule of the day and actions are rarely preventative in favor of being reactionary.

Always two steps behind fate, Formula 1 is a reactionary body of epic proportions and it often seems that only after disaster does it tend to commit grey matter to an issue. Perhaps banning refueling was a visionary decision but F1 could have predicted the outcome of having a high degradation tire in the series with no refueling and the impact that would have on the pitlane.

The frequency of pitstops has increased substantially with some races nearing 80 pitstops. The desire to change tires as fast as you can has become the prevailing notion and many teams are shooting for stops under 3 seconds. There is a pride in being the fastest team in pitlane and with no refueling, the entire process has sped up to a measure of fractions of seconds and when life is measured in fractions, Humans usually make mistakes…or at least the likelihood of mistakes is increased. Too many pitstops, too many people in pitlane and too many team members in the pitbox all contribute to the equation.

Using the infamous pragmatism that F1 seems a slave to, refueling should be brought back to slow the pitstops down to 13-18 second affairs. Or, perhaps helmets and fire suits should be required for all personnel in the pitlane for the allusion of safety for a throng of people wandering around in the dangerous territory where humans interface with raw, dangerous energy.

Or…we could simply reduce aerodynamic dependency and get rid of the HD tires that would reduce the amount of pitstops as well as reduce the amount of people in pitlane which would drastically reduce the chances of a mishap in pitlane. When you increase the amount of time teams spend engaging the cars in tight quarters, you are asking for increased chances of serious injury. An unsafe release has not yet injured or claimed a life in pitlane but it can and will happen if we continue to make 60-80 pitstops per race.

Formula One is a dangerous sport and increasing the most dangerous elements of it is simply nonsensical. The driver should be the main protagonist at the touchpoint of human-to-car interaction and while pitstops happen, the less you stop the better your chances are of preventing a mishap. If pitstops are a desirable element of F1, then perhaps NASCAR’s rules could be learned from regarding the number of people over-the-wall and the safety measures they’ve taken to help reduce pitlane incidents.

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