This week, ahead of the Steiermark Grand Prix, Formula One announced that it would be changing some rules in an effort to slow down pit stops before someone gets hurt. The rules will be enforced from the Hungarian Grand Prix at the start of August, and will effectively outlaw the use of automated release systems. The continued push for quicker pit stops will surely not stop, but the FIA expects this simple rule change to add around three and a half tenths of a second to stops, allowing a slight margin for error.
As Red Bull continually works to deliver sub-two pit stops, it has introduced a number of technological advancements to help remove the disadvantage of human reaction times from the equation. Instead of the jacker waiting for each wheel gunner to raise their hands to acknowledge the wheels are tight, there are sensors and automated systems in place to drop the jack and tell the driver to hammer down. While this used to be the kind of thing a ‘lollipop’ sign was used for, the teams have now implemented systems to cut idle time during a stop.
There sure seem to be more errors happening in the pit lane this year, but they have not necessarily been related to quickening stop times. Red Bull itself has continued to knock out ever faster stops, two of which helped elevate Max Verstappen to the win in France last weekend, without error. That doesn’t mean, however, that an unforced error is not possible in the future. Which is exactly what the FIA is hoping to beat to the punch.
Some of the less well funded teams, like McLaren for example, have made complaints that these automated systems in use by rivals are pushing the boundaries of safe pit stops, failing to leave any leeway for human error. McLaren boss Andreas Seidl gave some side eye to Red Bull and other teams in his comments on Friday, “It’s such a very competitive battlefield in F1, and therefore I think it is good to clarify even further of what the FIA is expecting in order to be within the rules. I don’t think it would change a lot for us because we always took, I would say, a more conservative approach here to make sure that we don’t put anyone in the pit crew at risk.”
Meanwhile, Red Bull boss Christian Horner felt the total opposite, claiming that the banning of these automated systems will actually make pit stops more dangerous somehow. Horner had this to say: “I think that to have to hold the car for two tenths of a second, you could almost argue it’s dangerous because you’re judging your gaps,” said Horner. “The guy that’s releasing the car is having to make that judgement, and I think that it’s not been well thought through.” Pit release is pretty much always based on judgement of a human, though, because the driver can’t really see what is coming up behind them.
Personally, I don’t think the FIA are doing enough to make pit stops as safe as they could be with this move. It’s a step in the right direction, but I would say having longer stops with fewer people over the wall would be an even safer maneuver. Allow each team four tire changers instead of eight, and make each of them responsible for one corner of the car instead of one task. It would be a bit slower in the lane, for sure, but would really put the onus on the individual to do the best job possible. It would also allow a little room for error, as each step in the process is a little variable, and would potentially allow for a check and re-check of other systems on the car, or even adjustments of hard settings, like aero.
In a totally unrelated aspect of the sport, Valtteri Bottas had a spin exiting his pit box (top shot) on Friday, proving once again that he is hopeless.