The Most Boring Yet Efficient Way F1 Teams Win Races!
The pitstop has gone unnoticed for way too long even though it helps teams win races and even championships and its future is in jeopardy.
Throughout the years, Formula 1 has been the leading force in new technologies applied to all aspects of motorsport with the sole purpose of shaving seconds off their lap times. In reality, a second in this sport is an eternity meaning that usually, the difference between a win and a second-place is a few tenths over the course of a race. You might think that the only person capable of shaving valuable seconds off lap times is the driver -and perhaps the race engineer but what if I told you that a group of around 20 people actively reduce the lap times of the likes of Verstappen and Hamilton by a second or two every single race?
That group of people is the pit crew and their mind-numbingly quick pit stops which can make a huge difference, especially in a season like the current one which looks to come down to the wire. As I said, a driver can only find a couple of tenths -maybe half a second- in a lap and that runs the risk of pushing the tyres and the engine to the limit, not to mention the risk of going wide in a turn or crashing out altogether. A well-trained pit crew like that of Red Bull and Williams, can reduce the lap time by 1 or even 2 seconds much more easily and risk-free. Let me explain...
Red Bull's Record Breaking Pit Stop
Since the 80s, the pit stop times have decreased from ~10 seconds to an average of 3.27 seconds in 2019. Of course, we all know that teams like Williams and Red Bull are consistently producing sub-2-second stops which is a huge advantage for them, even if it goes unnoticed because it’s not exciting as overtaking. However, don’t think for a second that teams don’t appreciate the advantage of a quick pit stop and it’s obvious why. If you are following the Spanish GP, you’ll have seen that some teams are experimenting with angled pit box entries so that drivers can brake even later when pitting and accelerate even earlier when exiting. It might sound unnecessary and over-the-top but last time out, Bottas lost out on a 2nd place finish because his pit stop was almost a second slower than Verstappen’s.
Makes you wonder what could happen if pit stops were safe from human error, very consistent and even quicker, sub 1 second perhaps.
The only way for a team to achieve such a pit stop though is to automate the process of tyre changing with a robot of some sorts. Of course, such a move by a team or the FIA would have only 2 benefits but a lot of negatives. Starting with the obvious benefits, there is the fast, reliable and safe pit stop which gives the team an edge in the race and there is the financial aspect which long-term will prove to be more cost-effective than employing 20-30 people for just 10 seconds worth of work every other weekend.
The negatives though are way more, both in quantity and value. A tyre changing robot means that 20-30 people from each team times 10 teams will leave 200-300 people without work. Not because they weren’t good enough in their jobs but because they weren't as good as potentially a robot, which brings me to my next concern. How many years and resources will be used up before a robot is actually consistent, safe and reliable? Is there a guarantee that such a robot will exist or simply the potential of such a change is overshadowing the actual chances of a robot being all those things? And finally, is it truly worth it? I don’t see why humans can’t become even faster than now, even safer than now and even more reliable than now. Do you? Let me know.