Posted on April 3, 2014
By James Allen
One of the noticeable strategy trends in Formula 1 racing this season is that many of the leading teams have decided not to risk going for the ultra-quick pit stops which were prevalent in the last two years. It almost became like an arms race in the pit lane as crews battled to outdo each other.
In 2013 we saw tyre stops carried out in under two seconds, a blur of bodies, jacks and wheels, the driver barely able to catch his breath before being sent out on his way again.
But this year the target has changed, with pit crews briefed to take a little more time and above all to avoid mistakes. Now the target is somewhere around 2.5 to 2.8 seconds for each stop.
There are several reasons for this. First it has been shown that on occasions a stop will go wrong and the resulting loss of time and track positions is more damaging to a team than the possible extra half a second.
The leading teams carried out a risk analysis and discovered that it was reasonable to expect a net loss of 20 points in a season from botched pit stops. This was enough to encourage the change of policy in itself.
But then there was also a rule change to improve safety in the pit lane after a cameraman was hit with a wheel. Now if a wheel is not properly attached after a stop and a car is unsafely released from its pit box, the team and driver get a double penalty: a 10 second stop and Go penalty and a drop of 10 grid positions at the next race. This is precisely what befell Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo at the recent Malaysian Grand Prix, where his front left wheel was not properly attached at one of his stops.
So now consistency and error free stops are the name of the game. That said, the Williams team has noticeably improved its pit stops as part of an overall improvement of performance. The team has invested in new technology for the front and rear jacks which has brought it in line with the leading F1 teams. This means that they are now capable of stops in the 2.5- 2.8 second range, putting them on a par with their leading competitors.