The FIA has issued a new Technical Directive set to slow down pit stops, which will come into effect at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix
By Olivia Kairu
F1 is slowing down its pit stops on purpose to make them safer.
The decision follows speculation that teams’ fast pit stops, which sometimes last less than two seconds, are a result of automation, which infringes the FIA’s rulebook. Article 12.8.4 says “devices which are used to fit or remove wheel fasteners may only be powered by compressed air or nitrogen. Any sensor systems may only act passively.”
Some of the equipment teams use are suspected of automatically triggering the next steps of pit stops, which would go against the rules of the sensor systems acting “passively.” For instance, rules do not allow the wheel gun to send signals to the traffic light system, which would go on to then signal the drivers to make their exit from the pit box.
The FIA new directive states that “for safety reasons, we would furthermore expect the minimum time offset between the initiation of the jack release procedure and the OK signal to the driver by the green light to be at least 0.2 seconds.”
The automated pit stops have created a faster process, which allows teams to reduce their time in the pit lane by up to several tenths of a second. This causes a safety issue in the eyes of the FIA, with the anticipation of the next step posing safety concerns that triggered the rule change.
By slowing down the time before the transition to the next step by introducing a minimum reaction time, the pit stops should be slowed down drastically. It’s expected that 0.15 seconds will need to elapse after the jack is lowered following tire replacement, and 0.2 seconds must elapse from the time the car is lowered before the driver can exit the pit box.
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Mercedes CEO and Team Principal Toto Wolff spoke about how his team is already in compliance with the new rules.
“You will always put everything into your pit stops so you avoid the wheel just detaching or coming off because the penalty is enormous,” the Austrian said. “We in the past had a policy of making sure that wouldn’t happen and that also meant to have some circuit breakers in the system in a way that that could never happen. And that slows you down in terms of pit stops.”
Red Bull’s Team Principal Christian Horner denied the speculation that the automation within their pit stop procedure gives them an advantage and, instead, stood in defence of his team’s mechanics.
“It’s not due to an automated system, it’s down to our guys. They practice, practice, practice,” he said. “With this new rule, we have to hold the car for a certain amount of time, but how can you determine that? We’re really unhappy with it. It feels a little like typical Formula 1. Really frustrating.”
What does it means to the championship?
Red Bull has reason to believe they’ll be the most affected by the pit stop rule changes.
The championship-leading team holds the current record for the fastest pit stop, which was set during the 2019 Brazilian GP for Max Verstappen’s car #33 at just 1.82 seconds. They also have held onto the DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award since 2018.
The FIA has passed other rule changes this month which have directly affected the Milton Keynes-based team. The introduction of new load tests that reduced rear wing flexibility forced Red Bull to reconstruct their rear wing design. Now Red Bull is faced with altering their pit stop procedure to comply with the new guidelines.
“I think you can see there’s an awful lot of pointed activity in our direction at the moment, but that comes with the territory of being competitive,” said Horner. “An awful lot of energy is going in to try and slow the car down, which is obviously what happens in a competitive business. It’s something that we are used to but not losing too much sleep about.”
Further listening: FIA introduces rule change to slow pit stops down “for safety reasons”
Red Bull’s Chief Advisor Helmut Marko seemed outraged by the news and was quick to place blame on championship rivals Mercedes.
“Mercedes pushed it because they wanted to steal our advantage during pit stops,” Marko said. “We lose up to four-tenths. Seven years of work and training have gone into consistency and speed of our pit stops.”
Contrary to the FIA’s view, Horner believes that slowing pit stops down poses the risk of causing more harm than good.
“I think to have to hold the car for 0.2 s, you can almost argue it’s dangerous because you are judging the gaps and the guy releasing the car is having to make the judgement,” Horner said. “I think it’s not been well thought through. F1 is about innovation and seeing pit stops at sub-two seconds is a remarkable feat and we should be encouraging it, not trying to control it.”
“Otherwise, where does it stop? We are going to be told which way to walk into the garage, where we should sit on the pit wall and which buttons we should press I guess.”
Wolff continued to speak in agreement with the new directive, stating that fast pit stops hold greater risks, such as that of Valtteri Bottas’ disaster pit stop in Monaco which caused the wheel nut to be machined into the socket, ending the Finn’s race early.
“But that was our own decision, it had nothing to do with anybody else. A fast pit stop is nice to have and they look cool but I’m not 100% sure there’s such a huge performance differentiator because we are talking about a tenth or two on average, we are not talking about the slowest or the fastest pit stops.”
Similar to the incident revolving around the flexible rear wings, Mercedes may or may not have been involved in the instigation of the new pit stop procedure from the FIA.
“We enquired with the FIA on a safety mechanism which related to a system that we were using and whether that could be optimized,” said Wolff. “That happened, I would say, three or four weeks ago and it was a technology question. Did that trigger anything else? Maybe, I don’t know but this is the question we’ve asked.”
Red Bull have stated their intent to dispute the directive. “Of course we’ll question it,” Horner said. “The safety of pit stops is important to us, but it’s a manual system that the mechanics are in control of. So all you’d be doing is artificially stopping them for two-tenths of a second for some reason.”