What happens in a Formula One pit stop?
As of 2019, an F1 pit stop typically involves a tire change and a front wing adjustment. Up to 20 team members perform a perfectly choreographed set of actions to get the car back onto the track as quickly as possible, often completing their work in two seconds or less. Currently, Red Bull Racing holds the record for the fastest pit stop at 1.88 seconds.
For pit crews, consistency is more important than breaking records—but those record-breaking pit stops are incredible to watch. Here’s the current world record pit stop, set at the German Grand Prix:
Here’s a breakdown of everything that happens in a routine pit stop:
The driver communicates with the crew via radio.
The race strategy—and thus, when the stop occurs—was determined before the race. The driver confirms this with his crew one lap out.
The car enters the pit lane and approaches the garage.
Here, a front jack man is waiting to get the car off the ground; there’s also a rear jack man, who is the only member of the crew out of position when the car comes in.
The front jack man stands directly in the car’s path, and his job is the most dangerous, since the vehicle could potentially overshoot its stopping point. Jack men are occasionally injured, although serious injuries are rare.
Typical crews also have an additional mechanic watching for incoming traffic, along with a fire extinguisher mechanic. While F1 has banned in-race refueling (for now), fires can still occur, and at least once, a mechanic has used a fire extinguisher to cool off hot brakes.
The wheel gun crew goes to work as the jack men lift the vehicle.
They use air guns to loosen the wheel nuts, then lean back as the car lifts. These pneumatic guns spin at around 10,000 rotations per minute, and they typically use compressed air or nitrogen to reach those speeds.
The wheel-off crew takes the wheels off (which always made sense to us), and the wheel-on crew places the new wheels. Two stabilizers hold the car in place during the wheel change.
The front wing is adjusted, if necessary.
The front wing men adjust the angle of the front wing to change the amount of downforce. If the front wing is damaged, they may change it out.
The wheel gun crew leans forward and tightens the nuts.
They signal to the jack men, who put the car back on the ground. The driver takes his foot off the break, takes the car out of neutral, and rejoins the race.
Vehicle damage and other factors can certainly affect pit stop times, as can poor preparation—a single wrong move could add seconds to a stop, costing the driver (and the crew) the race.
On average, pit stops take about 2.4 seconds, but that number is trending down.
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