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Pit stop guide - So much action is crammed into a sub-ten second stop

Published by Christine

This article was originally written for BellaOnline, but is republished here for posterity.

A Formula 1 race is littered with pit stops, because the high tech cars need a lot of maintenance to survive through 50 or so laps. Generally, the cars need filling up with fuel, a change of tyres and maybe some small setup adjustments before they are sent off for the next stint.

But what actually happens in a pit stop?

Firstly, the cars are signalled to the pits via radio from the mechanics in the garage to the driver on the track. The next time the driver approaches the pit entrance, he will aim for the white line that signals a reduction in speed. A speed limit is imposed in the pit lane for safety as there are hundreds of people milling about there.

Each team has a specific space in the garage, with the closest to the entrance being the previous year’s championship leader and so on to the end of the pit lane. The driver pulls up to a stop in the white marked box, where his mechanics are all waiting.

Two guys at the front and back lift up the car on jacks so that the tyres can be changed. This all happens in only a couple of seconds. A few more people are on the fuel pump, and the length of the pit stop is determined by how much fuel the team want to put in.

When each mechanic has finished his specific task, he raises his arm so that it’s clear he’s done. With everybody finished, the car is lowered back onto the ground and the lollipop man at the front signals for the driver to get ready to go. It’s the lollipop guy’s responsibility to release the car when the pit lane is clear to avoid any collisions, and when he raises the lollipop, the driver is off racing back to the track.

That’s what happens when a pit stop goes well. Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan. In the past we have seen mechanics have problem with fuel hoses getting stuck in the car, or things catching fire. Sometimes the lollipop man gets it wrong, or the driver just ignores him, and there’s almost a collision between two cars in the pit lane. Sometimes it can almost be like a mini race just to get out in front! Sometimes, when a car goes too early it can even be dangerous for the pit crew, and it’s not unheard of for a mechanic to be run over.

But those events are few and far between and pit stops these days are slick operations that are usually over within 10 seconds. Blink and you’ll miss them!