One of the most important elements of a Grand Prix is the pit stop. A good strategy and a good pit stop can make or break a driver’s race. Pit stops are all about teamwork, but many fans may wonder just how many pit stops there are in an F1 race.
F1 drivers normally pit 1-3 times during a race, so you might see 50+ pit stops across all the drivers. F1 drivers are required to make at least one pit stop during a Grand Prix, according to the rulebook. However, there is no maximum limit as to how many times a driver can go into the pits.
Formula 1 pit stops are incredibly fast, and they can often be used as a key strategic element during the Grand Prix. However, it’s imperative that the team gets the pit stop right, otherwise it could end in disaster for the driver. Let’s get into a little more detail on the nuances of F1 pit stops.
In Formula 1, pit stops are used to change the car’s tires. Drivers need to head into the pit lane where their team will be waiting for them with a brand new set of tires. The crew members lift the car onto a set of jacks and change the tires before setting the car back down again to head out on track.
Pit stops can cost drivers a lot of time, because they need to abide by the pit lane speed limit and because their car will be stationary for a few seconds during the pit stop. This is why it’s so crucial for a team to get the pit stop right.
Each car has to make at least one pit stop during the Grand Prix if it’s a dry race. This ensures that the entire grid is under fair conditions, and you won’t have one driver completing a race without ever heading into the pits. This keeps the strategic element in as well, which is good for the entertainment side of things too.
Pit stops have been a part of Formula 1 for many years, but they have changed somewhat over the decades. In the 1960s for example, an F1 pit stop could take more than a full minute to complete. Refueling during pit stops has also been banned from Formula 1 since 2010, meaning all teams normally have to do is change the tires.
The pit lane speed limit is usually 80 kilometers per hour (about 50 mph). The FIA are very strict on drivers who speed in the pit lane, as it poses a huge safety risk. Drivers who speed in the pit lane will be given a fine, and they will also have penalty points added to their record.
Drivers have to obey the speed limits in the pit lane, because there is a high risk of something going wrong there. There are always crew members walking around, pit equipment laying on the floor, and the pit lane is usually tight and narrow.
The slightest mistake from a speeding driver can cause a serious accident. Even with the speed limit in place, we have seen some serious accidents,from cars spinning to wheels coming off and hitting crew members in the head.
Incredibly, the pit lane speed limit was not put in place until 1994. Before that, drivers could go through the pit lane as fast as they wanted to. One odd occurrence in this time happened when, due to a miscommunication, Ayrton Senna got the fastest lap by driving through the pit lane.
An F1 pit stop usually takes less than 3 seconds, sometimes less than 2. But this was not always the case. Decades ago, pit stops could take more than a minute to complete, because the crew didn’t have today’s high-tech equipment and there were fewer crew members.
Modern-day pit stops are even faster than they were in the 2000s, mostly because refueling during pit stops has been banned in Formula 1 over safety concerns. Refueling took much longer, but even then, the cars could still be filled up in less than eight seconds.
Even though pit stops are quick in Formula 1, they still cost drivers a huge amount of time, and it’s not always ideal for them to head into the pits as it will cost them track position. There are two main elements to look at when it comes to how long Formula 1 pit stops take.
Pit lane time is the time it takes for a car to get from one end of the pit lane speed limit line to the other. In other words, from the moment that the car enters the pits and needs to engage their pit lane speed limiter to the moment that they exit the pits and accelerate back up to full speed.
The average pit lane time in Formula 1 is around 25 seconds. This might not sound like a long time, however another car can often cover the same distance in under ten seconds, which really puts into perspective how painfully slow it feels for these drivers to drive through the pit lane.
So why is pit lane time so important? Teams will use the average pit lane time to calculate where their driver will exit the pits. For example, if the average pit lane time is 25 seconds, they know that they need to build up at least a 25 second gap to the car behind if they want to change their tires and get out ahead of them.
The problem with the average pit lane time is that it’s an estimate of how long it would take for the car to make it through with the stationary time included. If something goes wrong during the pit stop, such as the wheel taking too long to go on to the car, it will cost the team precious time and they might lose out on the track position.
The other element take into account is pit stop time. This refers to the time that the car is stationary in the pit box while the tires are being changed. Often, this is less than three seconds.
Red Bull hold the record for the fastest pit stop at 1.82 seconds, and it’s an incredible achievement to have the car standing still for less than two seconds and being able to change all four tires in that time frame.
The pit stop time starts as soon as the car comes to a stop in the pit box. The crew members then lift the car onto the jacks. The rest of the pit crew then change the tires and the jackmen drop the car again allowing it to drive off into the pit lane and back into the race. The pit stop time ends when the car is dropped onto the floor again and drives away.
F1 pit stops are so fast because of the precision in the process of the pit stop. Each crew member has their job that they need to do, and they practice this multiple times per day, every working day.
Formula 1 has some of the fastest pit stops in the world, with teams regularly changing the tires on their car in under three seconds. Anything over three seconds is considered to be a slow stop, which could cost the driver valuable time in the race, and they could end up behind their rivals.
There are two jackmen, one at the front of the car and one at the rear, with a backup waiting at each end. All they need to do is lift the car and put it back down once all the tires have been put on the car. That in itself is a challenge, no matter how easy it may sound.
Each wheel on the car has three crew members ready to change the tires. One crew member has a wheel gun which is used to remove and bolt on one wheel nut. One other crew member removes the wheel from the car and another one puts the new wheel back on the car. This creates a seamless, flowing process that can be done in under three seconds.
Pit stops are crucial to strategy in Formula 1. In the past, strategy was even more important because drivers could put less fuel in their car and go faster, but have to stop more often. Without refueling in today’s F1, it’s the tires that bring the strategy element into the sport.
Pit stops still allow the teams to use clever strategies in order to improve their race and get the better of their opposition. Tire strategies have become more and more interesting, as each car and driver has an influence on how the tires wear and degrade throughout the course of the race.
Teams and drivers will often agree on a number of different strategies, as they need to be able to adapt to the changing race conditions. We’ll often hear the teams refer to these as “Plan A” or “Plan B”. Each driver has their unique set of plans that they can swap between during the race.
However, there are many scenarios where teams need to adapt on the fly. If their competitor pits, then they may need to react in order to block the undercut, which is an extremely powerful technique used in Formula 1.
An undercut is when the driver behind another car is close to them and is faster but is struggling to overtake. They can pit earlier than the car ahead of them and try to make up time to overtake them in the pits.
The undercut is often extremely powerful, because the driver that pits first will have fresh tires, which will give them a huge speed advantage over their opponent who is still out on track with worn tires. If the driver in the pits can get their tires warmed up and have a good out lap, they can pull off a successful undercut.
The driver who pitted for fresh tires needs to be half a second or more faster in their following laps than the car that was ahead of them. This way, they will make up the time that they lost on their out lap with the fresher and faster tires. When the car that was ahead of them heads into the pits, it’s less likely that they will still be ahead by the end of their pit stop.
An overcut is much more difficult to pull off, and it requires a skilled driver who can take care of their tires for a longer duration in order to make this strategy work. The overcut is essentially the opposite of an undercut.
The driver behind will wait for the car ahead of them to head into the pits. As soon as that happens they will begin to push and set faster lap times in order to build a bigger gap to the car that was ahead of them.
If they are able to build a big enough lead (a lead more than the average pit lane time), they can head into the pits and still come out ahead of their rival. They’ll be on fresher tires but will have to defend with cold tires against a driver who’s had time to put temperature into their tires.
The problem is that there aren’t many drivers who are able to conserve their tires in this way and still set faster laps after the other car heads into the pits, which is why it’s rare to see the overcut used in Formula 1. However, it can work if the drivers are on different tire compounds.
F1 pit stops are mandatory. The rules state that a driver must use two different compounds of tires if the race is under dry conditions. For example, if they start on soft tires, they need to switch to either medium or hard tires. There are a couple of reasons as to why this is the case.
The first reason is safety. Modern-day Pirelli tires are built for performance, giving the cars massive amounts of grip. However, their durability is not great, and Pirelli themselves say their tires are not designed to complete the entire 190-mile race distance. This means that drivers must put on new tires or risk tire failure and crashes.
The other reason for the mandatory pit stops is to make it fair on all the drivers. Some drivers are able to take care of their tires better, which means that they could potentially complete an entire race distance on one set of tires. However, not all drivers are so kind to their tires in Formula 1.
Pitting for new tires can take at least 25 seconds, which is a lot of time to lose in a Grand Prix. In order to create equal opportunities across the entire grid, all drivers must make at least one pit stop.
There are some exceptions to the mandatory pit stop rule though, and in some special circumstances, a car might not pit at all throughout the course of a Grand Prix. This is extremely rare though, and it’s only happened a couple of times in the history of the sport.
The first scenario where it’s possible to complete a Grand Prix without making any pit stops is if the race is run under wet conditions. The rules state that if the race starts in the dry, then drivers need to use two compounds of tires. However, if it starts in the rain, drivers can complete the race on one set of tires.
It’s unlikely that this would happen, as these tires can still wear out. Additionally, drivers can often go faster when they change to new, wet, or intermediate tires. There’s also the chance of the weather conditions changing and creating the opportunity for slick tires to be used again.
The other scenario where drivers can complete a Grand Prix without heading into the pits for a change of tires is if there is a red flag before their pit stop. Drivers are allowed to change their tires during a red flag, so they simply need to change to a different compound to obey the rulebook and skip their mandatory pit stop.
With the way the modern Pirelli Formula 1 tires have been designed, it’s extremely difficult to complete an entire Grand Prix on one set of tires. In the majority of cases these tires will fall apart quickly and the driver will lose too much grip and fall down the order.
In most cases, it’s faster to take the 25-second hit of going through the pits to change your tires and then driving faster on fresher tires. This is why we sometimes see two or three pit stops during a race, and it’s purely because the tire wear is too extreme on that particular track.
In theory though, a driver could complete an entire Grand Prix on one set of tires if they drive smoothly and go through a safety car period to preserve their tires. Alex Albon drove the entire 2022 Australian Grand Prix on a set of hard tires, pitting only on the final lap to obey the mandatory pit stop rule. He managed to finish 10th and claimed one point for Williams.
How many pit stops there are in an F1 race varies. Ideally, drivers will pit as little as they need to because of the huge time loss. Sometimes, opportunities are created that allows them to pit more often. Other times, they are forced to pit more often, such as by exceedingly hot weather.
Under normal circumstances, each driver will pit once or twice during a race. Three-stop races are extremely rare in modern Formula 1, as they do not yield as much benefit as they did in the refueling era, where we sometimes saw four-stop strategies being used during a Grand Prix. These can come into play in very hot weather where there is exceptionally high levels of tire wear.
Drivers will also pit an extra time if their car is damaged and they need to change their front wing, for example. Drivers may also take the opportunity to pit under the safety car or the virtual safety car, which is a huge advantage in Formula 1.
Pit stops are becoming less common because refueling is no longer allowed. In the 2000s, we often saw drivers making 3 or even 4 pit stops, because teams were focused on the fuel that their cars were carrying, rather than making their tires last as long as possible.
In the majority of races today, we’re only seeing one or two pit stops. In some rare instances, we might see drivers making three pit stops. That said, drivers will rarely make more than two planned pit stops, as further pit stops are usually only done in reaction to drivers around them trying to undercut them.
If a driver was on a four-stop strategy, their team could put in a quarter of the fuel needed for the race distance at a time. This would make their cars lighter and much faster, meaning they could drive flat out and make up for the time that they lost in the pits. Heavier cars would be slower, but would spend less time in the pits and more time on track.
The other benefit of using more pit stops during a race is that the pit stops would be shorter. Since there were more stops, pit stops would be six seconds long compared to 12 seconds long if they needed fuel for half a race.
There is no maximum number of pit stops in an F1 race. There’s at least one mandatory pit stop per driver, but a driver could theoretically stop as many times as they like. The only exception to the mandatory pit stop is if it rains or if they change tires under a red flag.
The more time the driver spends in the pits, the farther they will fall behind their competition. If the driver makes one pit stop more than another car, they’re already at a 20+ second disadvantage due to the pit lane time that they need to get through.
Teams will carefully calculate their options when choosing to make an extra pit stop. The fresh tires that the driver puts on their car will need to make them at least one second per lap faster than the car they are racing against. Even then, they would need 25 laps to catch the other car.
The 2011 Hungarian Grand Prix saw a total of 88 pit stops, which is the record for the highest number of pit stops during a single race. The conditions mixed from wet to dry and scattered rain showers caused drivers to pit very often, not knowing what to expect when the next couple of laps went by.
Jenson Button won the Grand Prix for McLaren, finishing just ahead of Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull. Fernando Alonso brought his Ferrari home in third place. Several drivers had bad timing in their pit stops in the mixed weather conditions.
The 1961 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort was the F1 race with the fewest pit stops, as there were none. This was before pit stops were mandatory. Not a single driver pitted in the entire Grand Prix, which was 75 laps long. Wolfgang Von Trips won the race after taking the lead from Phil Hill.
Drivers pit when the safety car comes out because drivers essentially get a ‘cheap pit stop during this time. Every car on the track has to slow down immediately and stay behind the safety car. This means cars lose less time relative to their slow-moving opponents when they pit under safety car.
Since the other cars aren’t moving at 200 miles per hour out on the track anymore, the drivers in the pit lane lose much less time than in a normal pit stop.
However, it completely depends on the timing of the safety car. Drivers in the second and third sectors will benefit the most, as they can pit soon after the safety car comes out. However, if you have just passed the pit lane entry you need to go around the entire track at a snail’s pace in order to reach the pit, by which time everyone else has already pitted and caught up to you.
The virtual safety car does not provide the same kind of advantage that the physical safety car does in terms of pit stops. However, drivers can still get a “cheap” pit stop during a virtual safety car period.
During a virtual safety car period, the drivers need to reduce their speed by about 30%. While this is not as much as they would reduce their speed under the real safety car, it’s still a long way off the race pace that drivers will be going under green flag conditions.
Therefore, drivers will still lose less time in the pits if they pit under a virtual safety compared to green flag conditions. If the average pit lane time loss is 25 seconds, for example, a driver who pits under the virtual safety car might only lose 14 seconds due to the fact that the other cars are going so much slower.
F1 drivers must make at least one pit stop if the race starts in dry conditions. They can gain an advantage over others if they pit under the safety car or virtual safety car. Pit stops are an integral part of Formula 1 and serve as the strategic element to the sport.
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