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F1 Advent Calendar 2012 (Day 20) - Pit stop problems // McLaren face up to the highs and lows of life in the pit lane

Published by Christine Blachford

F1 Advent Calendar 2012 (Day 20) - Pit stop problems audio waveform
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Hello there, welcome to the F1 Advent Calendar 2012, how have you been? We’re drawing towards the end of our mini series season review, but there’s still time for some more highs and lows of the 2012 F1 year. This time we are on to Day Twenty - Pit stop problems.

At the Indian Grand Prix, the racing action was underwhelming by 2012 standards, and so we were forced to focus on other things of interest instead. One of them was the superb and supremely quick steering wheel swap completed by McLaren on the car of Lewis Hamilton in a mid-race pitstop.

Lewis had qualified in the top ten but found himself with a poor start that meant he was chasing to get back into the fight. Before the first stop, he found there was a downshift issue with the actual paddles, and so the team called him in for his stop and decided to change the steering wheel as he came in. This is something they’d practiced pre-season, but Hamilton was surprised at how slickly the process went.

Afterwards, he said: “I’ve never had to change a steering wheel during a race before. We’ve done it in Barcelona testing before, but never in a race. Even so, the guys did it fantastically quickly, under immense pressure, so I want to say well done to them all. I took the wheel off before I’d even stopped the car, and threw it out of the car. The team then fitted a new one, I clicked it into first gear, and I was away - all in just a bit over three seconds flat.”

In and of itself, a steering wheel change isn’t really worthy of an entire advent episode to itself, but the crucial thing is that this supreme show of pitstop excellence came from a team who had previously been... well... laughable for their efforts in the pitlane.

In the first half of the season, barely a race went by that McLaren didn’t suffer some kind of pit stop issue - usually on Lewis Hamilton’s car, and usually a wheel nut getting stuck or a rear gun playing up.

At the European Grand Prix in Valencia, McLaren managed to complete the fastest pitstop in Formula One’s history, sending Hamilton on his way in just 2.6 seconds. That was overshadowed by a pitstop on the same car a few laps later, in which the front jack failed and delayed another Lewis stop.

Sam Michael began to be in the firing line for the problems, in his new capacity as Sporting Director of the team. The general consensus was that Sam Michael had been at Williams and they weren’t doing too well. He left at the end of 2011, and they got a lot better. He joined McLaren for 2012 and the pitstops got a lot worse. However, Michael and the team knuckled down and improved, and by the time they had the Valencia high and low in one race, Michael was defending the mechanics, saying: “The job they are doing at the moment is spot on... we’ve done a lot of work internally on the procedures and equipment, and we’ve been pushing them on a lot. And now we’re in a world where we are dealing with milliseconds, rather than tenths. It’s as competitive as the aero game now.”

Towards the end of the season, McLaren’s pit stop problems did seem to clear up and the heat on Sam Michael and the mechanics eased. It’s also worth pointing out that it wasn’t just McLaren struggling in the pitlane. Another thing that Sam noticed: “Working in a pit-stop is like being a goalkeeper in a football match. Nobody really cares about it until it really matters, and you have to deliver. You don’t have the ability to win a race but you do have the ability to lose one.”

The beauty of the problems McLaren had this season was watching them put the hard graft in to practice and improve, so that by the end of the year they were back on winning form.

That’s all for this episode of the F1 Advent Calendar 2012, thank you for joining me. We’ve got just a few more bite size season reviews to come, with five more episodes in the pipeline, so I hope you’ll be back next time and I’ll see you for more!

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