The pit lane is parallel to the track, adjacent to the start / finish line and allows cars to enter and exit the track safely.
The pit lane is the area dedicated to the team set up and management with garages, pit boxes and pit walls. The epicentre of the team, where the engineers prepare and finesse the car, drivers are melded into it to become one, and strategists formulate to set a winning trajectory.
Each team is allocated a double garage with a single pit box, with the order down the pit lane based on the results from the previous season. The winner of the constructors is given a choice but all others are prescribed. The team will set up the facility by Thursday before bringing in the cars and focusing on them to be ready for free practice on Friday morning.
The pit lane runs parallel to the track through the section of the track with the start and finish line. This allows cars to enter the track and complete a warm-up lap before crossing the line at speed to start a timed lap. And the opposite at the end of the lap, where, after crossing the finish line, the driver completes a cooldown lap before returning to the pits.
The pit lane has two lanes, a fast lane on the outside used for travelling through the pits and a slow lane inside where the teams service the cars in their pit box. The speed in the pits is limited to 60kph for practice and – 80kph during the race. Lines mark the start and end of the pits, and cars are fitted with pit lane speed limiter buttons on the steering wheel to assist drivers in maintaining the correct speed. Speeding in the pits is a serious offence, with fines issued and times deleted for practice. Offences during a race will result in drive-through or stop-go penalties.
When exiting the pits, the team must ensure a safe release meaning the car is sound, the team is clear, and they do not interfere with other cars or teams. As the car rejoins the track, they must stay within the pit exit lane until the line ends. This ensures they merge back into the race and do not pull in front of a faster car on track.
The team’s garage is a double bay with a dedicated space for each car. The teams will each have their own set-up that includes walls, displays, tools, air and everything they need to build and service the cars. Fuel filling, battery charging and tyre warming are all done in the garage.
There will be storage for some spare parts, with much more out the back in one of the many trucks. The rear of the garage is often set up with a driver’s area, somewhere to sit and wait, focus and prepare. It is common to see a guest space for invited family, friends or sponsors to have the experience of being amongst the action.
Cars can only be fuelled in the garage for safety reasons and no longer receive a fuel top-up during the race. This is, in part, due to the hybrid power units that utilise electrical power. Refuelling is done by a highly accurate dispenser that can also remove fuel from the car so the team always knows exactly how much fuel is on board.
This is critical as a full tank weighs 100kgs and has a direct effect on the car’s speed, with the impact lessening as fuel is consumed. Cars must have a minimum of one litre left at the end of the race for the scrutineers to sample and test.
Teams will have monitoring equipment and telemetry, and screens displaying media channels in their garage. However, the bulk of this information is managed from the pit wall.
During a race, the pit crew will be seen sitting on fold-out chairs, watching the action and ready to spring into action when the car is called into the pits.
“Box, box, box” – the call to the driver to make a pit stop. And comes from the German word Boxenstopp, meaning pit stop.
Every car must make a minimum of one pit stop to change tyres and run a different compound. This rule is to push the teams to consider strategies and potentially force errors, opening up opportunities for others and creating interest for fans.
The physical box is marked in front of the garage and has an overhead gantry to power wheel guns on both sides of the car. The crew service one car at a time in the same box, and occasionally you will see the second car waiting behind the first, referred to as double stacking.
As well as changing tyres, minor adjustments to the aero can be made, and a nose cone replaced if damaged in an incident. Anything more than that will require the car to be pushed back into the garage, which usually signals the car has retired.
Pit stops are a critical part of race strategy – how many, when and how fast can it be done… All of this may affect the strategy and determine the outcome of an attempt at an undercut or overcut.
Teams practice their pitstops, and a fast one is just over two seconds. Red Bull holds the record of 1.82 seconds, but subsequently, a 0.2-second delay has been introduced into the signal system to improve safety.
Teams compete for the DHL Fastest Pitstop Award, but it would be fair to say the advantage of a fast stop during a race is probably the best prize.
The Pit Stop…
The pit stop will take around 2.5 seconds; to do this, 20 crew members will need to work seamlessly as one.
The car travels through the pits with the speed limiter and pulls into the pit box, stopping on predetermined marks. The moment it has stopped, a jack is slipped under each end, and the car is lifted off the ground.
A tire gunman uses a wheel gun (pneumatic wrench) to remove the wheel nut. F1 cars use a single nut, precisely engineered to position the wheel and lock into place in an instant.
Another crew member removes the old tire, and a third crew member lifts the new tire into place. Followed by the gunman, who uses the tire gun to secure the new wheel by tightening the wheel nut back on.
The wheel guns are fitted with sensors that trigger lights to let the head crewmember know that the wheel is fitted and secured. Once all four wheels are fixed, there is a 0.2-sec delay, and the light goes green, indicating the car can be dropped and the driver can leave the box.
F1 teams seek to consider and allow for all eventualities. You will often see a crewmember standing by with a backup jack in case of an issue with the first one. Pit stops can also get tricky if the car is damaged and the jacking point has been obscured. In this instance, additional work, like changing the nose cone, may be required.
Travelling through the pits costs time, whether for a pit stop or a penalty. The actual time differs from track to track as the length of the pit lane varies.
The average delta for a pit stop is 25 seconds, referred to as time lost. This is the combined effect of exiting the track, travelling through the pit lane at 80kph and the pit stop, relative to the cars travelling at full speed down the start straight.
Strategy plays a big part in minimising the time lost and even finding gains with a cheap pit stop or free pit stop. A cheap pitstop occurs when a team stops during a safety car where the rest of the field has been slowed to 60% of their race pace, meaning the relative lost time is less, around 15 seconds. A free pit stop occurs when a race is red-flagged, and the team carries out their stop while the car is in the pit lane.
Because the occurrence of a safety car can’t be predicted, teams can be caught out where their driver has pitted, and a subsequent safety car gives their competitor an advantage. If the safety car comes halfway through a stint, the team will need to weigh up the benefits of an early stop or possibly an additional stop.
A fresh set of soft tyres could give the driver a one-second per lap advantage, so combined with a cheap pit stop, this might give them a chance to chase down the cars ahead and make a play for a higher finish or, ultimately, the win.
Penalties served in the pit lane include drive-through, where the driver must enter the pits and drive through at the slower speed. Stop-go, where they must pull into their pit box and come to a complete stop before continuing back to the track. Time penalty, where the car must stop in its box and can not be touched for the specified time. Often the penalty can be served with a planned pit stop, but there are many rules to determine if, when and how…
The Pit Wall is on the opposite side of the pit lane to the garage. Typically, the team principal, chief designer, chief strategist, sporting director and race engineers have been those who have sat on the pit wall in F1.
Strictly speaking, drivers are supposed to drive the car alone and unaided. However, there is still a team of experts behind the scenes, analysing the data from telemetry, running thousands of scenarios, making decisions and communicating with the driver.
Each driver has one senior engineer who they communicate with. Drivers will provide feedback on how the car feels, how the tyres are wearing and whether there are any concerns. At the same time, the engineer will provide instructions on engine settings, advise if there are alerts from any of the car’s hundreds of sensors or communicate warnings from the stewards.
Occasionally team orders will be given, requiring the driver to let his teammate pass to give the car behind a chance to chase down the cars in front and make gains.
Strategy is a significant part of the race, but it covers the entire weekend. Teams must set their tyre allocation, deciding which to use early on and which to save for qualifying and the race.
The strategy team will gather information across the weekend that will inform the strategies over the weekend. You will hear drivers and engineers talking about Plan A, Plan B or Plan C as the many variables of F1 ebb and flow.
During a race, teams and drivers will react swiftly to their competitor’s moves, either following suit or doing the opposite, depending on their strategy. Occasionally, you will see a pit crew get ready for a pit stop as a bluff to try and force the competitor’s team to react and dive into the pits.
The FIA provides stewards to work with the race director and clerk of the track to monitor and enforce the many rules that govern the sport. Stewards can be seen in the pit lane and garages, observing the team’s actions and carrying out physical inspections as required.
The stewards will watch to ensure teams do not exceed the regulated number of parts, parts used meet the specifications, changes are not made while the field is in parc ferme, and crews do not work beyond curfew.
The pit lane will have a scrutineering area and weigh station where cars are checked, and drivers can be ordered at any time for a random check. In addition, the stewards have access to cameras throughout the pit lane and garages to constantly monitor what is happening.
Occasionally, a team will create a human wall at the front of the garage to prevent the media from seeing what they are working on. This may be to hide an innovation or prevent the opposition from spotting a weakness. Stewards maintain full access rights and can not be precluded from carrying out their duties.
Starting from Pit Lane
If a car must change its Power Unit or Gearbox following Qualifying and while the field is in parc ferme, it can not start on the grid. Instead, it will line up at the pit exit and be allowed to start once the rest of the grid has gone past.