Amidst all the intensity and chaos on the track that draws people in, F1 pit crew members are on stand-by, ready to do their job. Though they may go unnoticed, the pit crews are essential for keeping the races going. Many fans may wonder how to become an F1 pit crew member themselves.
There are many ways to become an F1 pit crew member, but a strong knowledge of automobiles and the motorsport industry in general is an important start. Potential candidates must complete an intensive pit crew training course. F1 pit crews only consist of the best at what they do.
There are certain educational paths that are better suited for pursuing a career as an F1 pit crew member, but it is not as simple as just picking the right degree at university. Read below to find out what you need to know to chase your dreams of being a pit crew member for a Formula 1 team.
What Do F1 Pit Crew Members Do?
F1 pit crew members prepare the race car to get back out on the track as quickly and efficiently as possible while minimizing the possibility of making mistakes. When a car pulls in for a pit stop, the crew members each have their own role that creates an effective, coordinated pit stop.
Some might incorrectly think of Formula 1 as a single person sport. While Formula 1 drivers do race all the laps in a single seater car, make no mistake, this is a team sport through and through. The drivers rely heavily on their pit crew, for things like adjusting the car and replacing tires to repairing the vehicle in the event of an accident.
Formula 1 teams have not been allowed to add any fuel to their race cars mid race since the 2010 championship season. Ever since the implementation of the rule change, Formula 1 cars have started races with a gas tank with enough fuel to get the car to the end of the race. One of the most important reasons for this rule change was safety for everyone located in the pits during races.
This change in the regulations from the FIA caused some changes to the dynamics of pit crews. For instance, there is no longer a need for a pit crew member that is dedicated to refueling the tank of the car during pit stops. This was a potentially dangerous job to do because of the fast-paced nature of pit stops and the explosive nature of fuel.
Refueling will likely not make its way back to Formula 1, but similar rules have been reversed in the past. It added another element to the racing, albeit in a dangerous way. Only time will tell whether it will make its way back into the race strategy for Formula 1.
Quick tire changes are arguably the most important quality that a pit crew can have in Formula 1. This is because needing fresh tires is by far the most frequent reason that drivers must make a pit stop during a race (the others being to repair damage or serve penalties). The only regulation that requires a driver to make a pitstop is to use at least 2 different tire compounds in each (dry) race.
To a casual viewer, it might not seem like tire changes would be very important, at least when compared to other aspects of the race. However, dedicated fans of the sport know that a 2.7 second tire change versus a 3.3 second tire change can completely change the results of a race.
There are 8 tire changers in each pit crew, along with 4 wheel gun operators. The wheel gun man is responsible for loosening the old tire and tightening the new one, with one wheel carrier taking the old one off and another placing the new one on. They do this like a choreographed dance, with each wheel being changed in a matter of seconds.
There are also 2 jackmen that lift the car (one at the front and one at the back), 2 people that hold the car steady from the sides, people to adjust the front wing if required, and various other crew members, taking the total up to about 20 pit crew members for each team.
Pit Stop Strategy
Pit stop strategy is all about finding the perfect time to pull your car in for a pit stop without losing track position. It is essential that the pit crew nails their tire change for the planned pit stop strategy to work. Often teams are attempting to hit a very small gap, so every tenth of a second spent in the pits is very important.
A mistake from one pit crew member, such as failing to fully secure a wheel nut during a tire change, could cause havoc for a team’s whole race weekend. Haas learned this the hard way during the 2018 Formula 1 season opener in Australia. Both cars ended up retiring due to the same problem caused by two different pit crews. Wheel nuts on both cars were cross threaded during pit stops.
Cleaning The Car
The benefits of the aerodynamic designs of Formula 1 cars are only achieved when the car is operating in the correct conditions. If there is a piece of debris that has lodged itself somewhere on a car making a pit stop, then the pit crew will be sure to remove it before the car leaves the pit. Even a small piece of debris could cause the car’s aerodynamic performance to drop significantly.
Changing And Adjusting Wings
When Formula 1 cars end up in a crash, their front and back wings are the most likely areas to receive damage. Front wings are comparatively fragile to the rest of a Formula 1 car due to their sleek form that allows for important aerodynamic capabilities. Teams know that front wings are at a high risk of being damaged during close racing, sothey design them to be easy to change.
If a front wing needs to be changed mid race, then specific members from the crew quickly prepare to swap out the entire front end of the car for a brand new one. These wing changes take quite a while longer than tire changes (usually at least 12 seconds), so teams will often change the tires at the same time to try to make use of the additional time used.
Sometimes there may only be minor damage to parts of either the back wing or the front wing. In this situation, the crew members that check the wings may try to make minor adjustments to the wing during a regular pit stop for a tire change rather than taking the time to change the whole part. Crews can also adjust the front wing slightly to suit the driver’s downforce preferences.
Lifting The Car
Before the pit crew members can do anything else, the car must be lifted off the ground quickly and safely. There are two jacks that are used to lift the car up, one in the front and one in the back. When the jacks are being used to lift the car off the ground, there are also crew members assigned to stabilize the car at both ends and in the middle.
Pit crews usually consist of more than 20 individuals, reserving a couple of members to serve as emergency personnel. A couple of positions that exist for emergency situations include the fire extinguisher crew member and the engine restart crew member.
The fire extinguisher member ensures that any fire will be put out immediately. This includes when a car comes into the pit with a fire or when a fire starts during a pit stop. The engine restarter quickly assists in restarting the engine for the driver. This is typically when the engine malfunctions or if the driver accidentally stalls the car. Both roles are essential for emergency situations.
Walk-Through Of A Typical Formula 1 Pit Stop
The Driver Enters The Pit Lane
The driver will slow down to meet the pit lane speed limit. As this is happening the pit crew is quickly grabbing everything that they need to replace on the car including tires, wings, cleaning materials, etc. They get into position before the driver arrives at their pit box. The driver then turns into his pit spot and switches the car to neutral, keeping their foot on the brake.
The Car Is Lifted And Tires Are Changed
Immediately the front and back of the car is lifted with the jacks. The tire changing crews are already pulling off the old tires with air guns before the car is fully lifted. Meanwhile, if the front wing needs to be replaced then the wing crew will be removing the old wing while the new one is being brought over from the garage. The crew members will also clean any debris off the car.
The Driver Is Released
By this point all four tires have already been changed. If it was just a tire pit stop, which is most common, then the car would be lowered, and the driver would wait for the green light and then put their foot down and leave the pit box. The pit crew will then move all the equipment they just took off the car out of the way to be prepared for the next pit stop.
How To Join An F1 Pit Crew
As you can see, being on an F1 pit crew is an intense, fast-paced job. However, if reading through this information makes this job seem like one of the best jobs out there, read further to find out exactly what you should do to help yourself land a job in a Formula 1 pit crew team.
Teams Hire From Within
It is unlikely to see an F1 pit crew job position advertised. Pit crew member positions are often filled by staff that the race team already has, including engineers, truck drivers, mechanics, etc. However, those who fill the position still need additional training and practice.
As the teams tend to hire from within, getting a job that is connected to a Formula 1 team in any capacity greatly increases your chances of one day becoming a pit crew member. Mechanics and engineers are more likely to be chosen for a pit crew position as they already have a wide breadth of knowledge on the cars.
What Qualifications Do You Need To Join An F1 Pit Crew?
To join an F1 pit crew you need several informal qualifications including pit crew training certification, automobile and motorsport industry knowledge, previous experience, and reasonable fitness. These all ensure that an F1 team has the best pit crew members available for smooth, quick pit stops.
Whether your path to joining an F1 pit crew comes from a traditional educational route or a nontraditional one, by learning as much as you can about automobiles and the motorsport industry you are increasing your chances of reaching your goal. Getting experience working as a mechanic at your local racetrack or automotive repair shop is a great way to gain useful experience.
If college is currently an option in your life, then consider an engineering program at your college/university as it is a great way to learn the technicalities of automobiles. Many schools compete in motorsport competitions where each school’s engineering department develops and creates a racecar and then races them. Consider getting involved in your school’s race team if it has one.
Focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects will benefit you in the job search when you are graduating and looking to start your career. A formal education is not required to find your way to a Formula 1 pit crew, but it will benefit you greatly when looking to join a professional race team.
If you have any opportunities to hop out onto a racetrack, then take them. Having experience as a driver will give you a much more holistic view of how everything works together on a race team. Even if you don’t end up pursuing a position as a Formula 1 pit crew member in the future, you’ll be glad that you gave yourself the opportunity to try racing.
Join A Small Team’s Pit Crew
Find a race team at your local track and see if they are looking for any mechanics or possibly a member for their pit crew. If you can get some experience working as a member of a pit crew in a smaller racing series, then by the time you find your way up to applying for a Formula 1 team you’ll have plenty of pit crew experience under your belt.
This also ensures you stay interactive with the overall motorsport community on a regular basis. To make it in Formula 1, you need to make sure you are getting your name out there, making your abilities known. You may be good at what you do, but there are a lot of other people that have the same goal as you. Networking and connecting with the right people will give you an advantage.
Along with having a good understanding of everything automobile related, pit crew members also need to be physically fit. Especially on race weekends, pit crew members need to be fully prepared to work longer than average shifts. These shifts will likely be worked in extreme cold and hot weather climates throughout the season, while also lifting heavy objects (like tires).
Though Formula 1 cars are made with light materials, that is a relative term in this circumstance. Pit crew members still need to be prepared to life heavy objects and have the strength control to move quickly and accurately, all the time.
Applying For F1 Pit Crew Jobs
Becoming a Formula 1 pit crew member is not a straightforward pursuit. There are currently only 10 F1 teams. With two cars per team, this means that there are 20 pit crews that you could work for. There are not jobs open on each of those teams though. Even if a team is looking to add a member to their pit crew, it is not a simple application process.
Your first goal should be to get a job on one of the race teams. This might include getting a non-racing related job for a manufacturer that races in Formula 1 and working your way over to the racing side of things. Formal education as a mechanic or an engineer will help you to get a foot in the door somewhere.
After You Get The Job
Once you have a job with a race team, then look to apply internally for a pit crew position. Each team likely has their own application system format. Even if you are not employed as a mechanic or engineer for the team, if you don’t have anywhere that you’re needed during the race, you will likely be allowed to apply for a position on the pit crew.
Without the mechanic/engineering background you probably won’t be a top candidate. However, even without that background, if you can prove that you know your stuff and are highly motivated and able to do things quickly, then you might just be given a chance.
How Much Do F1 Pit Crew Members Get Paid?
F1 pit crew members get paid anywhere from around $20,000 to high six figures depending on their position. The lowest paid members are fire extinguishers and car restarters as they are only used in emergency situations. The highest paid crew members are those on the biggest teams.
A Note On Pit Crew Salaries
The pit crew provides very valuable skills that can make or break a team’s race weekend, so they get compensated well for doing a good job. It’s also a full-time role. While you might only see pit crews in action during the race, they’re also working all weekend long, during free practice and qualifying sessions.
Outside of these formal sessions, pit crews practice constantly throughout the season and in the offseason too, so that they are always sharp with their skills and updating their techniques as new technologies appear and new processes come into force. Pit crew members may also have other roles in the team outside of racing hours.
Below, we cover the annual salaries you could expect to be paid for each pit crew position, but note that some may pay per race. It’s also hard to find accurate numbers, and a lot of the salaries will be dependent on the team and experience of the person. So, take these numbers as rough estimates, knowing that there is a wide range of salaries both above and below these figures.
Tire carriers are the members of the pit crew who are responsible for carrying the new tires out to the front of the garage where the pit stop takes place and putting them onto the car or removing them as quickly and smoothly as possible. They can get paid up to $190,000 for an annual salary at the bigger teams, but at smaller teams this will be substantially lower.
Wheel Gun Operators
Wheel gun operators are the pit crew members that loosen and tighten the nuts when changing the tires. They can make a little bit more than their tire carrying counterparts on the wheel changing team, sometimes up to $250,000 or more, but the average is still likely to be under $100,000.
Wing changers/adjusters are the crew members that deal with all things related to the wings of the car. As mentioned earlier, this sometimes involves replacing the entire wing itself during a race. These members can earn an annual salary of up to $110,000.
Jack operators are those who are tasked with lifting the car off the ground as safely and quickly as possible. There are two jack operators, one for the front of the car and one for the back. They earn a salary of up to $110,000 for this position, although this will be lower for smaller teams and less experienced crew members.
Car stabilizers are the crew members that work cooperatively with the jack operators, ensuring that the vehicle stays balanced while it is lifted off the ground. They maintain balance from the left and right side, as well as the center. This pit crew member can expect to earn an annual salary of up to $64,000.
Fire Extinguisher And Engine Restarter
The crew members in charge of the fire extinguisher and of restarting the engine in the case of a surprise stall or cutout are extra members that are only there for emergencies. As such, their salaries are significantly lower, often in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. These pit crew members may be paid per race, and they may have other jobs within the team.
Do F1 Pit Crews Get Bonuses?
F1 pit crews often get bonuses for working each race along with additional bonuses for winning races. The bonuses, like salaries, depend on the position. They can range from $500 to $7,000 per race (not including additional bonuses), and are typically offered in every race the team participates in.
Tire carriers can earn a bonus of up to $2,500 for every race their team wins (depending on the team), whereas wheel gun operators might earn a bonus of up to $3,500 per win.
The wing changer/adjuster pit crew members and the jack operators can earn bonuses in the thousands of dollars too. Bonuses are often paid out to every member of the pit crew, but the emergency positions for example may earn substantially less than their tire changer counterparts.
To become an F1 pit crew member you must be certified for the job with plenty of experience, and be prepared to start with an initial race team job and work your way up. Formula 1 teams only choose the best members to make up their pit crews, and so it’s not usually an easy job to get.