(BTW, Vettel's penultimate lap tire change / pit stop was 3.3 seconds)
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The secret of Alonso's pit stop at Monza
Sept 14th 2010
More than ever before, on this occasion, Formula 1 really proved to be a team sport. Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso’s win was not just down to his abilities as a driver and the fact his car was competitive. It was also, or more accurately, especially, down to the work of the team during his pit stop.
Fernando himself acknowledged the fact immediately after the race, when he commented that he was surprised at how quickly the guys changed the wheels. 3.4 seconds was the time it took for the sixteen personnel involved in the operation – two on the jacks, front and rear, one on the lights, one watching the traffic in pit lane, three men per wheel – to send Fernando back on track.
That’s a great time, under the average so far for the Ferrari crew (3”7) but not as good as their best in a race, which happened at the Canadian Grand Prix, when the pit stop was completed in 3”3, which at the time, allowed Fernando to get ahead of Hamilton, who had stopped on the same lap.
“We have worked very hard this year to improve the wheel changing procedure as much as possible,” explains Diego Ioverno, the head of Race Operations, car assembly and gearbox. “Up until the end of last season, it was the length of the refuelling time that determined the duration of a stop and the mechanics working on changing wheels had a reasonably comfortable safety margin, although even here we are only talking seconds. Today, the slightest error is heavily penalised: you could say it is much easier to lose a race in the pit stop than it is to win one.”
All well and good, but what the fans will remember is the images of what the mechanics in the red suits did yesterday afternoon in the Monza pit lane. Let’s take a closer look at the detail of the procedure, tenth by tenth, starting from the moment Fernando stopped his F10 in the pit lane, millimetre perfect on the specified mark:
+0”35: car lifted up by the two jack men
+0.70: wheels with the soft tyres come off
+1.40: wheels with the hard tyres in position
+2”30: first wheel locked on and arm up to confirm
+2”60: second wheel locked on
+2”70: third wheel locked on
+2”90: fourth wheel locked on
+3”40: car on the ground and green light
What makes this sort of performance possible?
“There are two secrets, if we can call them that: training and constant practice,” adds Ioverno. “From the start of this year, we have done over 1300 pit stop practices, at the track and at the factory. In the weeks when there are no Grands Prix, we train three times, carrying out around thirty simulations per day. At the track, we work from Thursday to Saturday, tackling the weekend as though we were a football team: the day before, some fine tuning and on Sunday, relax before the match. It is important that the guys receive the instructions in a calm manner, without getting agitated: they are perfectly aware of what a big responsibility lies in their hands, especially in races like yesterday’s. There is no point in rushing them as this only leads to mistakes.”
Apart from the sixteen personnel involved in a standard pit stop, there are eight other people ready for action when the car comes into the pits: one man on a side jack, in case the nose needs to be changed, two ready to change the angle of the flap on the front wing, one on the starter, in case the engine stalls and four on another set of wheels, in case of a “double” stop, when the two drivers pit one after the other.
The crew is chosen from a pool of around thirty, who all have other duties both at the factory and when they are at the track: it’s a real football squad. In order to gain tenths of a second, much thought goes into the equipment used in this delicate operation. Particular attention is paid to the jacks – halfway through the season, a front one was introduced that could be released at the side of the car, so the jack man can move out of the way before dropping the car to the ground for a faster release.
Also important are the wheel nuts and their design and thread is optimised for speed. During the car’s design phase, Ioverno and his team work in conjunction with the engineers to look at the details that could make the job of carrying out a pit stop easier, thus gaining valuable tenths in the context of the race as a whole. One of the most significant new ideas introduced by Ferrari in recent years has been the traffic light system: today the average three tenths advantage this device affords is a serious asset compared to many of the team’s main rivals.
However, the human aspect remains at the core of the operation.
“A pit stop is like a ballet, played to a soundtrack of an engine, in which a group of people has to operate in perfect harmony with themselves and with the star dancer, namely the driver in the cockpit,” continues Ioverno. “The success of the operation also depends a lot on him: it is crucial that he always stops at the exact same preordained spot, otherwise you lose valuable tenths, because twenty centimetres more or less means the whole crew has to move. Each role requires its own physical and mental characteristics.”
“For example, the guys on the jacks must be pretty strong, given that every time, they have to lift a car that weighs around seven hundred kilos. Agility, staying cool and quick reflexes are the key requirements for those doing the wheel changing, especially the wheel gun men, as their job requires technical skills that are far from simple. In training, we have actually managed to get near the three second mark, but what counts is the race and that is why yesterday’s performance was amazing: when I gave the lads the call to come out of the garage, they were well aware that the win could hang on their actions.”
“They did it and you could see the pride and satisfaction on their faces, even if there was still a long way to go to the chequered flag. When Fernando crossed the line, then they could express their delight and that of the whole team.”