Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Pit Crew

Up to 20 pit crew are allowed to service the car during a pit stop. Typically these include the following:
  • Two men at each wheel who work in concert to change the tyres
  • A front jack man who raises the front end of the car
  • A rear jack man who raises the rear of the car and restarts the motor if it stalls
  • A lollipop man, who drops the lollipop in front of the car to signal where it should stop
  • Three refuellers (including one on stand-by) who add the necessary fuel
  • Two fire extinguisher men who stand by in case of a fire
  • Maybe a visor cleaner (some drivers prefer not to have one) who wipes the visor of the driver’s helmet In addition, a team manager usually oversees the whole operation.
That leaves a couple of spare pit crew to do any changes to the car such as wing settings. With the exception of the team manager, the pit crew usually double up as mechanics. No formal qualifications exist that specify who can or can’t be a member of the pit crew, but crew members are invariably fully trained as mechanics. The lollipop man is often the chief mechanic. During a pit stop these folks move in high gear. Each has a job to do and must do it quickly and well.
Between pit stops the pit crew gets to sit down in the pit garage and watch the race on the monitors. They swear when their driver messes up or make rude signs at the screen when he’s not assertive enough in dealing with another driver. They make friendly banter with each other. This is one of the few chances they get over the whole weekend to relax.

Pit Stop Basics

Pit stops are an intrinsic part of modern Formula One. They aren’t compulsory, but dividing the race into stints punctuated by pit stops and thereby having a relatively small amount of fuel on board at any given time is by far the fastest way to get a car through a Grand Prix race distance. This advantage is amplified by the fitting of new tyres during a refuelling stop. There is never any question of whether to have a pit stop or not. The only question is how many.
The pits is the name of the area between the race track and the garages where the team are based for the duration of the race. This area is called the pits because originally, in the dim and dusty past, there was a pit dug out of the track surface where the team personnel would sit and signal their drivers. Originally only this actual pit delineated the working area from the race track. In more modern times, the areas have been separated by a pit wall, and it is now in this area that the selected team members – usually the team principal and two or three race strategists – base themselves during the race. Across the other side of the pit lane the rest of the team – engineers, data loggers, and pit crew – sit in the team garages.

F1 Safety Car

The Safety Car – nowadays a supercharged Mercedes SL piloted by an experienced race driver – neutralises the race in situations where an incident or set of circumstances has exposed competitors or marshals to immediate danger. The Safety Car slows the competing cars to a speed that ensures the safety of those concerned. This could be to protect marshals clearing an accident, or it could be for a sudden extreme downpour that has made the track dangerous. Any time advantage a driver has built up over a rival before the Safety Car came out is nullified as the cars bunch up together. It might give the chasing driver a second bite at a race that had previously been as good as lost. If the Safety Car comes on the track anywhere near your intended pit stop window, it could be very good news. In this situation a driver normally pits immediately. The amount of time he loses to his rivals is obviously far less at Safety Car speeds than it would be if they were still racing flat-out. This can be such a big advantage that you might see a team bring both its cars in together in this situation, even though they’re allowed to work on only one car at a time. The time that the second guy loses while waiting for his teammate to be replenished is far less than he’d lose if he had to do another lap at Safety Car speed.
Another thing to consider is the probable length of the Safety Car period. If the incident looks serious, you can probably bet that the Safety Car will be circulating for a long time. These slow laps still count as race distance, and so your average fuel consumption is going to be significantly lighter than you’d planned for. Depending upon what stage of the race it occurs, a smart strategist works this to his team’s advantage, maybe converting from a two to a one-stop strategy.
Sometimes the implications are quite bizarre. At Malaysia in 2001, Ferrari drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello – who were in first and second places – went off on the second lap as they hit a treacherous mix of oil and heavy rain water. Both rejoined but were now back in 10th and 11th places. New leader David Coulthard spun later on the same lap and pitted immediately. He changed to wet weather tyres and quickly resumed. The Ferrari drivers pitted together, but because they were so far back, they did so in the knowledge that the Safety Car had just been scrambled, which was not the case when Coulthard had pitted. With the field circulating at Safety Car speeds, the Ferrari pit team had longer to decide what tyres to put on their pitted cars – all they had to do was make sure they rejoined before the field lapped them. They reasoned that, with the Safety Car controlling speeds in the wettest conditions, they could afford to fit intermediate tyres. It was a decision that won them the race.