Formula 1 is a sport defined by tenths, hundredths and thousandths of a second.
Every adjustable element, from the driver to the car, is precisely tuned to perfection in an effort to save time.
However, it’s not just drivers doing the heavy lifting.
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Since 2009, Formula 1 has not refueled in a race. It means that the tires are usually the only item on the car that is changed in a pit stop.
Until refueling was abandoned, pit stops were 10 seconds. Now, a pit stop lasts just over two seconds.
The fastest pit stop ever recorded was 1.82 seconds by Red Bull at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Pit stops take engineers and mechanics and quickly turn them into athletes.
Former Formula 1 engineer Chris Papadopoulos knows all too well how seriously teams take pit stops.
The Australian was part of the Renault team through its various guises from 2006 until the end of 2013.
An engineer by trade, Papadopoulos often found himself at the tools mid-career.
“We used to run tests because pit stops became critical when refueling was banned,” he told Wide World of Sports.
“We were trying to get to a two-second pit stop. They’d take everyone who could hold a tool and say ‘try to put the wheel in, try to take the wheel out, try the gun. Okay, switch places.’
“Because of that, I was recruited to do wheel changes from Spa onwards in 2012 when one of the other guys got injured.
“They call ‘pit stop’ and you close your laptop, run outside in a helmet and gloves to jump on some pretty powerful rattle guns.
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“You’ve got a car coming at you at 80km/h down the pit lane. You’re on the ground and you can barely see it. It comes in really fast.”
“If you want to have half the chance of doing a good job, you need to have the socket on the wheel nut before the car comes to a stop. You need to drag it and pull the trigger while the car is The wheel nut needs to be release when the car stops.
“You pull out the gun, the guy who’s removing the wheel pulls it out. The guy who’s putting the new wheel in moves into position and you put the gun back down, lift the nut up, it’s a retained nut like a GT3 car, and you start to push the wheel off the axle while the guy feeds the top of the tire and you pull the trigger to tighten the nut. It’s all painstakingly choreographed and rehearsed.”
A failed pit stop can be the difference between finishing within the points or on the podium.
Australian ace Daniel Ricciardo looked set to take victory at the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix only for a horrible 15-second pit stop that cost him victory.
Such is the importance of pit stops that teams practice over and over again until it becomes second nature.
“We used to do 50 to 100 practice pit stops every day at the track, a minimum of 20 on a race morning, to make sure everything was going well.
“Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you were running more depending on how you could. Whether the car was ready, whether the weather was inclement or not. You practiced a lot on pit stops.”
“We used to practice, not until you got it right, we used to practice until you couldn’t get it wrong.
“It just becomes such a natural sequence of events for you. That’s probably like everything in the sport to be good at.”
The 2022 season comes to an end on November 20 with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
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