As the events of the past few weeks have proven, F1 teams operate on fine margins with the pit stops. They are an important event in any Grand Prix and symbolise the notion of teamwork and self-improvement.
But when they go wrong – or the envelope is pushed too far – people get hurt.
Following a period of assessment by the FIA into the various pit stop failures early in the season, Formula One’s race director Charlie Whiting is poised to present solutions to the F1 teams.
Whilst pit stop errors occasionally happen in Formula One, there has been a high level of unsafe pit releases in the first few weekends of the season, which had prompted the FIA to investigate the causes and potentially present solutions to the teams.
What errors have occurred?
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso encountered a wheel detachment during pre-season testing (worryingly this occurred after four laps of running), whilst his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne also suffered a similar fate during free practice for the Chinese Grand Prix.
In the Australian Grand Prix, Haas were denied a huge double-points score after Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were forced to pull over with loose wheels following their pit stops.
However, the worst moment of the season occurred during the Bahrain Grand Prix where a Ferrari mechanic’s leg was broken after a Kimi Raikkonen was released from his pit box prematurely. Raikkonen also had a wheel detachment during one of the free practice sessions earlier in that weekend.
What caused the failures?
Speaking ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix, Whiting explained that there had been a mix of problems with pit stops and that they weren’t necessarily a replication of the same issue.
“The two incidences in Melbourne were quite clearly wheelgun operator error,” said Whiting. “They cross threaded the nuts and thought it was tight, came off and then realised a little too late it wasn’t.
“[With Raikkonen’s incident in Bahrain], the guy hadn’t even taken the wheel off, which is slightly perplexing.”
Whiting added that McLaren had investigated the reasons for Alonso’s wheel detachment in pre-season testing and presented a report to the FIA.
“What happened was that the design of the nose piece that goes into the axle, that is the thing that holds the two-stage retention mechanism. But the way that is fixed into the axle was not quite strong enough so the wheel was a little bit loose, it worked itself loose because it had done four laps prior to that.
“So when the wheel started to tip a little bit, it put abnormal loads into the things that were holding the nose in and once the nose came out, there was no retention.”
The solution? Mandatory sensors to be used by all teams
The array of problems in the pit stops mean that a ‘blanket’ solution to prevent all problems in one swoop is unlikely to be suggested, and any solutions by the FIA at this stage are likely to be in the form of additional checks.
Even though suggestions will be put to the teams, Whiting added that the FIA would likely still permit teams to mostly come up with their own solutions in the battle for pit stop domination. He initially suggested an increase in the number of sensors required during a pit stop.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to standardise [the system]. We need to make sure among other things that there is no possibility for the guy to give the OK until those two conditions have been met,” said Whiting.
“Some teams have a torque sensor on the gun and they have a position sensor. If you only have the torque sensor, you can gun the nut on and it can be cross-threaded and it’ll show the required torque but it won’t be tight, which is what happened to both Haas cars for example and the McLaren on Friday [in China].
“So some teams have got that as well as a position sensor, so if it gets to the required torque and it hasn’t moved the right amount, then it says it’s not done.
“So you’re using two sensors in order to tell the operator that it’s actually done up. Then he presses the button, the jack drops and the car goes.”
All photos: Motorsport Images
What are your thoughts on the spate of pit stop errors? Do you think more measures need to be put in place? Leave your comments in the section below.