There is something to be said about reaching a limit or hitting a wall of what is achievable in reducing the time it takes to pit a Formula 1 car, change all four wheels and send it on its way. Today, the time it takes can hover in the sub two second range for teams that have drilled relentlessly to perfect their pit stops.
Time, and races for that matter, can be won or lost in the pits and that’s nothing unique to F1. It happens across all forms of motorsport at varying degrees including endurance racing. What is unique to F1 is the amount of time and people it takes to make the pit stop as fast as it can be and to gain, hold or beat a position on track.
To those ends, technology has been deployed removing the lollipop person, automating the car release via a light gantry and automating the signaling of the car release system through wheel guns that send signals when their tire change cycle is achieved via rotational cycles. This was to reduce the pit stops as much as possible and remove the latency humans bring to the process as well as reduce human error.
What we may be seeing now (after the fifth unsafe release in three races according to Autosport) is that F1 has hit a barrier of human and tech-infused efficiency and to push it any further is to push the system beyond its safe application.
There have been calls for an in-depth review of the pit stop procedures and social media is ripe with all of the typical outrage and placation one would imagine. For the teams, some believe it is a case of reaching the limit while others believe there should be some sort of review by the FIA. Force India’s Andrew Green told Autosport that the FIA “needs to look at it” and:
“Teams need to look at how you end up releasing a car in a practice session without a nut done up. For me, that needs some serious thought.”
Renault’s Bob Bell suggests that reaching the limit though training and technology is what is prompting some teams to fall short of a safe release:
“We’re all constantly working on our hardware to reduce pitstop times so you just keep nibbling away at margins,” he said.
“You reach a point where sometimes you just fall over the edge occasionally.”
Green suggested that in practice sessions there isn’t any reason to rush a pit stop but Bell disagreed suggesting that if there is little reason in practicing if you aren’t doing it at race pace and occasionally the speed will bite some teams.
Occasionally being bitten is one thing, breaking legs is another. In the past, unsafe releases were met with financial damages and while there was the occasional issue or incident, it seemed that the punishment tightened the teams approach but not in all cases and it didn’t eliminate pit stop errors entirely.
Perhaps reaching a limit does require the limit to be examined.
Hat Tip: Autosport