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Quick change - Formula One pit stops, 2010 style 10 Mar 2010

Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Renault R30 practices pitstops. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday 25 February 2010. (L to R): (L to R):  Alan Permane (GBR) Renault Race Engineer and Steve Nielsen (GBR) Renault Team Manager.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Singapore Grand Prix, Race Day, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 27 September 2009 Renault wheel gun. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday 25 February 2010. Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Renault R30. Formula One Testing, Day One, Jerez, Spain, Wednesday 17 February 2010. The Renault R30. Renault R30 Launch, Valencia, Spain, Sunday 31 January 2010.

Sporting Regulation, Article 29 comes into force in Bahrain and states that ‘Cars may not be refuelled after they have left the pit lane before the race.’ It means that, for the first time since the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, cars will start the race with enough fuel to go the distance. While there are all sorts of technical ramifications, it’s perhaps the sporting impact on pit stops that will be most visible, as Renault explain…

“Although we always aimed to complete pit stops as quickly as possible, the main emphasis was on attaching and detaching the fuel hose,” says the French team’s sporting director Steve Nielsen. “By taking fuel out of the equation, it’s purely down to the tyres and this has become another area where you can win or lose time. The wheels need to be changed as quickly as humanly possible.”

To get ready for the frantic pace of pit stops in 2010, the Renault pit crew have been hard at work over the last few weeks rehearsing the procedure. With over five hours of pit stop drill under their belts, Nielsen reckons they will be at the top of their game come Bahrain. “It’s all about making the job second nature. Practice really does make perfect in this case.”

So what’s the target time for a respectable stop? Well, three is the magic number, or three and a half seconds to be precise. That’s the goal Nielsen has set: “Three and a half seconds will be a decent stop, which has halved the time available for the crew to service the car compared to last year.”

During practice, the team has already completed stops below the three-second mark, but no matter how many times you rehearse, it’s impossible to recreate the pressure of a Grand Prix pit stop. It’s like taking a penalty in football or a match point in tennis: the crew has to perform when it matters.

“It’s a different kind of pressure to what we had before,” says Renault chief mechanic, Gavin Hudson. “Everything happens a lot faster and, instead of looking at the fuel nozzle, I need to see four hands in the air - one for each wheel. The job is the same for all of us; it’s just a case of adjusting to the new timescale.”

To help speed up pit stops further, the team has made some practical changes by producing a bespoke front jack with a quick-release mechanism. The wheel nuts have also been reworked in the search for speed. Wheel fairings have been banned for 2010, another consequence of the regulations, which happens to make life easier for the front wheel men. “All those changes come together to save us quite a bit of time,” confirms Nielsen.

So with refuelling gone, will we see a return of the days when pit crews wore shorts and t-shirts in the pit lane? It’s unlikely. “The pit lane is still a dangerous place,” says Nielsen. “We will keep the mechanics fully kitted out in fireproof gear. The only difference this year is that OMP have supplied us with two layer suits instead of the standard three layer suits - so the guys won’t get so hot in Bahrain! Also, wearing helmets will protect the guys in case they get knocked over or if there’s an incident in the pits.”