Art of The Formula One Pit Stop

So, a friend of mine sent me an email asking the following: “Hey TB, can you send me a link to a video of a Formula One pit stop, and what the actual average time is for those pit stops?”

Here was my brief answer:

These days, your average pit stop takes between 2.0 to 2.5 second (the amount of time the car is at a dead stop). There is no refueling allowed in F1, so it’s tires only. They do not, however, limit the number of guys you can have over the wall to work on the car.

In the video below (from 2 seasons ago) you can see there are 23 guys working on the car, or standing by, just in case something goes wrong.

12 of the guys, more than half the pit crew, are dealing directly with the tires. There’s three guys on each wheel (or corner, as it’s called). The most important guy is the one right in the middle of that group of three: The Gun Man. He’s the fellow that runs the pneumatic impact wrench (or “gun” because it looks like an enormous pistol). The wheels are held on by a single large central nut, and the gun is what spins it on and spins it off.

Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer makes a pit stop for new tyres during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the 33 (Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer) makes a pit stop for new tyres during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28th, 2016 in Spa, Belgium. Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images.

Lollypop Man & Guide Guy

At the front of each wheel is the the guy that puts the tire on. As the car comes to a stop, he is standing there, within an easy arms reach of the soon-to-be-stopped wheel of the car. He will be holding the fresh tire to be put on. At the rear of each wheel is the guy that takes the tire off. When the car comes in, he is holding nothing, but when the car leaves, he will be holding a wheel/tire combination, fresh from the track that is literally steaming hot.

At the very front of the car is the front jack man. He has a counterpart at the back of the car, creatively named the rear jack man. They are, of course, responsible for working the jacks that lift the car from the ground.

Also at the front, you can see two guys cleaning the front wing slots (these guys are optional) and at the very top of the frame, at the front of the car, you can see The Lollypop Man and The Guide Guy. The Lollypop Man holds out a round sign on the end of a long stick.

On one side, painted red, it says “BRAKES;” the other side is green and reads “GO.” The Lollypop Man holds the round sign about a foot in front of the driver’s face.

The Guide Guy (my phrase) stands in pit lane as the car approaches, usually waving and gesticulating like an inmate having a seizure to tell the driver which pit stall is his. Drivers are extremely amped at this point, with heart rates recorded between 180 – 190 beats per minute, and with quarts of adrenaline flowing through their blood.

They have a tendency to lose focus on things like where to stop and need reminders.

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The Red Bull Racing pit crew in the garage during the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 18th, 2016 in Singapore. Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images.

Holders & The Jack Man

The two people at the center of the car are Holders (I call them) and serve two purposes. One is to stabilize the car while up on the jacks. And the second is to physically yank the car around if the driver comes in crooked, or the front jack falls off or fails, etc.

Things of that nature.

At the very back of the car there are three guys. One is the aforementioned rear jack man. Directly behind him and furthest back is a guy holding the spare rear jack.

If the primary jack fails, breaks, gets snagged by the incoming car and pitched down pit lane in an erratic tumble at more than freeway speed, the guy holding the spare rear jack is standing by. In some cases, his sole job is to hand the spare rear jack to the primary rear jack man, and on some teams, it’s to dive in and complete the job himself.

The last guy is the man who holds the spare starter.

Funny thing about F1 cars, they do not carry on-board starters.

Another funny thing about F1 cars, they are very easy to stall.

If you do stall it (and for a driver that makes around $25 million a season, you damn well better not) the man who holds the spare starter is there to dive in, plug the prop shaft coming off the starter, hit a button, and spin the engine back to life. So, the complete sequence hopefully works like this:

  • 1.      Car comes in
  • 2.      As the car comes to a halt, The Gun Man is already putting the gun onto the wheel nut
  • 3.      Wheel nuts start to spin off, jacks (front and rear) are engaged and lift the car
  • 4.      The wheel taker-off guy (one at each corner) takes the wheel off
  • 5.      The wheel putter-on guy puts the fresh one on with The Gun Man behind him
  • 6.      The Gun Man tightens on the single wheel nut
  • 7.      The jacks (front and rear) drop the car
  • 8.      The driver rolls on the throttle, and when the spinning rears hit the concrete,
  • 9.      EVERYBODY ANDIAMO VOLANTE!!!!

These cars can go from a complete stop to 60 miles per hour in around 2 seconds flat. If you are slow to get out of the way, trip, drop something, and reflexively try to pick it up, there’ll be a horrid thumping/cracking concussive sound as you feel your shins snap like pencil lead.

But most of the time it turns out okay.

Mostly.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life around racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.

Cover Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images.

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About The Author

Tony Borroz grew up in a sportscar oriented family, but sadly, it was British cars. His knuckles still show the marks of slipped Whitworth sockets, strains to reach upper rear shock bushings on Triumphs, and slight burn marks from dealing with Lucas Electric “systems.” He has written for a variety of car magazines and websites, Automoblog chief among them. Tony has worked on popular driving games as a content expert, in addition to working for aerospace companies, software giants, and as a movie stuntman. He currently lives in a secure, undisclosed location in the American southwestern desert.

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