A pit stop can be the vital key to winning or losing, gaining a position on track or falling back a few spaces. Over the years, pit stops have evolved from lengthy affairs spent knocking spinners off wheels with a mallet to today’s 1.9s miracles.
During the refueling era, the possibility of flash-frying everyone around the car was a possibility and it happened a few times in Formula 1. If the fuel didn’t ignite and catch everything on fire in the pit box, you had Felipe Massa leaving too early, ripping the refueling hose off the pump and dragging it down the pit lane.
Improperly secured wheels also became a major issue regarding safety as Mark Webber’s loose wheel flew down the pit lane clouting an unsuspecting cameraman with serious injuries resulting. The over-shot of a pit box has seen its share of injured mechanics who have tangled with the nose of an F1 car on many occasions.
Sunday’s leg-breaking performance at Ferrari during the Bahrain Grand Prix was another reminder of how critical and dangerous a pit stop can be and unlike the past, the social media mobocracy in full swing have gotten their teeth into Sunday’s gross injustice and started offering a myriad of solutions all intent on erasing the possibility of ever seeing an injured mechanic again.
The most frequent solutions the F1 press and couch pilots have been suggesting and parroting has been a mandatory time for each pit stop. An established time ambiguously derived that would always ensure that no mechanic would ever be injured again due to a rush or hasty error. I’ve seen anywhere from 5s to 15s suggested…don’t ask me who did the calculations and arrived at these times but I suspect they were pulled from deep within a colon somewhere.
In the past, the lollipop man would lift the sign when it was safe for the driver to exit the pit box and even then there were errors. Lightning fast stops led to human anticipation and timing your sign-lift to the fraction of a second a wheelman’s arm goes up can lead to miscues and errors. There became a rhythm and internal clock that the manual process gained. Almost a muscle memory rhythm and if any wheel wasn’t secured, the rhythm would happen and the car was released improperly. This prompted the light gantry found lumbering over the heads of drivers and an automated system tied to the wheel guns for split-second accuracy. This failed on Sunday and Ferrari have launched an investigation as to why.
Up until this point, there was a throng of F1 fans calling for more complex pit stops and re-introducing refueling to spice up the show. The human injury is now a blunt object in which to suggest that any notion of more complex, random pit stop possibilities should bring shame to anyone even contemplating it.
The mobocracy is now engaged in mind vomit with solutions from banning pit stops completely to making them 15s long for everyone—this has a real issue as any team who has drilled perfection in their pit stops will never gain a second on the track due to their hard work.
It is times like these that the FIA can sometimes overreact and while no one wanted Francesco injured on Sunday, it would behoove the FIA to be measured in its approach to pit stops. There is an elegance, brilliance and tactical elevation to the sport that pit stops provide. Pirelli’s new tires for 2018 are supposed to promote even more pit stops and now the mobocracy is castigating the pit stop as something that has got to go!
The lowest hanging fruit, to me, is the number of people servicing an F1 car. Reduce that number to one mechanic per wheel and as one of our readers suggested, a manual confirm button on their wheel gun and that may be enough to solve the concern the outrage mob has.
That’s easier said than done, however, and it could have a knock-on effect too. If you don’t need three people per wheel, would it have any impact on the number of people employed by an F1 team? Could this change cost people their livelihoods?
Cause and effect has to be considered instead of the FIA’s penchant for pragmatism over prudence. Pit stops are an element that is one of the last remaining random tactical impacts to a race so they have to be very careful not to overreact or usher in some half-baked solution to appease the outrage mob. Let’s calm down, let Ferrari determine the reason for the error and see what can be learned from it before we throw away one of the last tactical elements of the sport.