Veil lifted on secrets of lightning-fast F1 pit stops

Formula 1 is a sport defined by tenths, hundredths, and thousandths of a second.

Every adjustable element from the driver to the car is finely tuned to perfection in search of saving time.

However, it’s not just the drivers who do the heavy lifting.

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Since 2009, Formula 1 has been without in-race refueling. It means tires are often the only element of the car that’s changed in a pit stop.

Until refueling was abandoned, pit stops were either side of 10 seconds. Now, a pit stop lasts a little more than two seconds.

The fastest pit stop ever recorded was 1.82 seconds long by Red Bull at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Pit stops take engineers and mechanics and quickly turn them into athletes.

Ex-Formula 1 engineer Chris Papadopoulos knows too well how seriously teams take pit stops.

The Australian was part of the Renault team through its various guises from 2006 to the end of 2013.

An engineer by trade, Papadopoulos often found himself on the tools mid-race.

“We used to run try-outs because the pit stops became critical when refueling was banned,” he told Wide World of Sports.

“We were trying to get down to a two-second pitstop. They would take everyone who could hold a tool and say ‘you try and put the wheel on, you try taking the wheel off, you try the gun. Alright, swap around ‘.

“Because of that, I got drafted into doing the rattle gun on wheel changes from Spa onwards in 2012 when one of the other guys got injured.

“They call ‘pit stop’ and you close your laptop, run outside with helmet and gloves to jump on some pretty powerful rattle guns.

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“You’ve got a car coming at you at 80 km/h coming down the pit lane. You’re on the ground and can hardly see it. It comes in so quick.

“If you want to have half a chance of doing a good job, you’ve got to have the socket on the wheel nut before the car is stationary. You’ve got to trail it in and be pulling the trigger as the car is pulling up.The wheel nut should be loose as the car stops.

“You pull the gun out, the guy who is taking the wheel off pulls that off. The guy who is putting the new wheel on moves into position and you put the gun back down, pick up the nut – it’s a retained nut like a GT3 car – and you start pushing the wheel on from the hub as the guy is feeding up the top body of the tire and you’re squeezing the trigger to do the nut up. It’s all minutely choreographed and rehearsed.”

A bungled pit stop can be the difference between finishing inside the points or on the podium.

Australian ace Daniel Ricciardo looked set to take victory in the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix only for a horror, 15-second pit stop to cost him the win.

Such is the importance of pit stops that teams practice over and over again until it becomes second nature.

“We used to run 50 to 100 practice pit stops every day at the track, minimum 20 on a race morning, to make sure that everything was good.

“Thursday, Friday, Saturday you’d run more depending on how you could. Whether the car was ready, whether the weather was inclement or not. You’d do a lot of pit stop practice.

“We used to practice, not until you get it right, we used to practice until you can’t get it wrong.

“It just becomes such a natural sequence of events for you to do. That’s probably like everything in sport to be good at it.”

The 2022 season comes to a close on November 20 with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

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