How The Modern Day Formula 1 Pit Stop Came To Be
Gordon Murray using his advanced thinking once again...
Pit stops have existed since the beginning of motorsport racing, whether it was at the Monza 1000 KM, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, NASCAR, or Formula 1 almost every race car would come in to the pit box, change their set of tires for a fresh set, and to re-fuel. However, from the 60s onwards, pit stops meant that something had gone wrong with your car, the drivers themselves, or the strategy. In present-day motorsport, pit stops are a need, in Formula 1 pit stops are all based on the strategies, track, weather, and tire compound. If it's raining the cars starts on wet tires, if it stops raining the cars come into pit and change to their tire compound of choice. Some tracks or some races require only one pit stop to change for fresh tires, and sometimes drivers need two or three pit stops to execute the strategy well.
Motorsport is evidently more complicated these days, pit stops are mainly for getting a new fresh set of tires to be able to catch the other cars and overtake them, it is all about strategy. During the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was running second behind Max Verstappen, Lewis already pitted, but he caught the Red Bull's out when he pitted a second time for a new fresh set of tires, new tires means more lenience. Hamilton could push on the tires more, and go quicker because they weren't old, degraded, and worn out like Verstappen's tires, giving Lewis the upper hand to go faster and pass the Dutchman later on.
Photo Credit: Autoevolution
However, in the analog days of motorsport, pit stops were only for emergency's and if something went wrong. Until world renowned revolutionary car designer, and then Formula 1 racing car designer, Gordon Murray, used his advanced and out of the box thinking to come up with an idea to revolutionize the pit stop. The Mclaren F1 designer was a massive part of the Formula 1 sport. Murray changed Forumla 1 for the better working for numerous teams such as Lotus, Mclaren, and Brabham.
At the time, Murray was the technical director for the Brabham F1 team, then owned and run by Bernie Ecclestone. Murray has always looked at the bigger picture, the designer would always scrutinize every aspect of racing, not just the design of the car, but the whole sport itself. His game-changing idea had to do with the racing cars' performance over the course and distance of a race. Gordon knew that the weight of the fuel and the decrease in tire performance and pressure over the race distance were two main key factors to figuring out this solution.
Image Credit: Classic & Sports Cars (Gordon Murray on the left, Carlos Reutemann on the right)
Gordon came up with an idea that it would be a massive pro and advantage to start the race on a light fuel load, then at some point during the race to re-fuel, load more fuel, and change into fresh tries. Fuel is heavy when you keep adding on to it, meaning the car would be a second slower. Although, once you fit and wear fresh tires on the race car it increases the speed and grip. Fresher, gripper, and faster rubber leads to an improved lap time and overall faster car. This gives an advantage to the drivers when wanting to overtake or catching up to their fellow rivals.
The founder of Gordon Murray Automotive understood that using less fuel would not only make the car lighter, nimble, and more agile, it would also lower the center of gravity, lowering the center of gravity helps the car have more downforce, speed, stability, and agility throughout corners. Gordon Murray estimated that the time entering the pits should be at least be 26 seconds long, this will lead the car into its team's pit box, re-fuel, change the tires, and then have a higher chance of winning and executing a better performance.
Berine Ecclestone and Gordon Murray
Now you have to remember back then during pit stops, the pit crew didnt have refueling rigs, nor the wheel guns, and they definitely did not have 1.9 second pit stops like we have today. The cars were integrated with lightweight titanium air jacks, so that when the car stopped to pit, a mechanic connected an airline that lifted the car, making it easier to change the tires. Gordon Murray also came up with a rather interesting idea to ensure that the new tires fitted at the pit box would be at the right temperature, and so they won't lose grip and warmth when the car would rejoin and return to the track. Murray insisted on using a plywood chimney that had a gas blower heater at the bottom, on the top of the chimney there were small “windows” for checking the tire temperature. Thinking ahead of his time.
Formula 1 cars also refueled back then, yet, that has now been banned since 2010 as it was labeled as too dangerous to have fuel around the cars and in a crowded pit lane, spilled fuel even set some drivers on fire... Jos Verstappen for example. Even though the pit stop was a bit slow and dangerous, it was still effective and changed the sport forever in many ways.
The 1982 Austrian Grand Prix marked a historical day in Formula 1 as it pronounced the debut of the tactical pit stop, which has changed the sport of Formula 1 in numerous revolutionary ways. It all started with one brilliant idea from a brilliant person who understood racing and cars like no other.