Driving a Formula 1 car requires a huge amount of concentration and the driver needs to focus on what they are doing at all times. However, it can be helpful to know what is going on around the track, and one way to stay informed is with a pit board. But what exactly is a pit board in F1?
Pit boards are used in F1 to communicate with a driver quickly to give them some information about their current race situation. Pit boards are mostly used to give quick messages such as the number of laps remaining, their position, and the gaps between them and other drivers.
However, technology has advanced, and drivers now have digital dashboards and team radios. Despite this, we still sometimes see pit boards being used in F1, and teams will have them ready for every single session. Below, we go into more detail on what pit boards are and why they’re still used in F1.
What Are Pit Boards In F1?
In F1 and any other branch of motorsport, pit boards are used to communicate from the pit wall directly to the driver. It might not be the best form of communication, but it’s the most reliable. We don’t see pit boards as often anymore, but in the past, they were used all the time.
A pit board is a large black board that has slots where the crew can slide in large, bright colored letters and numbers. This allows them to form different words or numbers that they can use to communicate with the drivers.
At the top of the pit board, you can usually see the driver’s national flag and the abbreviation of their name, and this makes it easier for the driver to spot their own pit board among 19 others.
Pit boards need to have large bright colored letters in order for the driver to be able to read them quickly and easily as they drive past at upwards of 190 miles per hour. The pit boards also need to have short messages on them that won’t distract the driver. This also allows them to quickly process the message that is being conveyed by the team.
As technology has progressed, so have the forms of communication that are used by the teams and their drivers. Pit boards are not as common nowadays as they used to be in the past. That’s mainly because there are many other, easier forms of communication that have come around in the meantime.
The team radio is something that has been around for a couple of decades in F1. However, it wasn’t always the crystal clear, reliable team radio that we know today. Even as recent as the 2010s, team radios were unreliable, and it was often difficult to hear what the team or driver was saying.
This is especially true at bigger circuits like Spa, where the two-way radio had a lot of interference. They also did not have the range to reach the pits from some sections of the track. Circuits such as Monaco, despite being smaller, also had a lot of interference due to the many buildings around the circuit.
In more recent years though, the team radio has become much clearer and is a much easier form of communication. It still has some reliability issues every now and then, but for the most part, the team radios have been excellent since the mid 2010s.
Formula 1 drivers did not have as much information available to them even just 10 years ago as they do now. The teams all use digital dashboards of some kind, and they provide some crucial information about the car.
The digital dashboards on the cars give the drivers a lot of important information. Not only can they see information about their own cars, but they can also see the track conditions (yellow flags, red flags, blue flags etc.) as well as the number of laps remaining and their current position. In qualifying they can see their delta to their best lap.
This is all information that used to be given to the drivers on a pit board in the past. However, now the drivers can monitor this information live right in front of them, rather than having to wait until they get onto the pit straight to see where they are in the race. However, digital dashboards could still fail or exhibit glitches.
Safety is extremely important in Formula 1, and drivers need to understand if there is danger up ahead or if they need to move over for a faster car coming up behind them. However, a pit board doesn’t work in this situation as an incident can happen anywhere on the track, and pit boards are only shown on the main straight.
Flags are used to communicate with the drivers while they are on other sections of the track, and this is very important in Formula 1 as safety takes priority. Yellow flags, for example, are important as they warn the driver of any danger that is up ahead of them on the track.
Flags are still used in Formula 1 today, although they are also supplemented with light indicators on the side of the track. Pit boards were never used to communicate flag situations to drivers unless the mechanical flag was shown to a car (black flag with orange circle) and the driver is being told to return to the pits.
What Do Pit Boards Tell The Drivers?
Pit boards are used to communicate short and quick messages to the driver as they pass by the pit wall. With the cars moving at over 200 miles per hour in some cases, the drivers won’t be able to read longer messages in time as they speed by the pits. Drivers are given crucial information about the session by their team members on the pit wall.
During a race, the team can use the pit board to inform the driver how far they are behind the car in front, and how far ahead they are of the car behind them. This is the most common message that is sent to the driver. It allows the driver to be kept up to date with the gap and how it’s changing each lap.
The team can also use the pit boards to tell the driver when they need to head into the pits. This is often not used during the race as it can give the team’s strategy away to their rivals if they are in a close fight for position. The pit board will simply have the word “box” on it, and it will be shown to the driver as they drive past on the main straight.
Finally, the pit board can also be used to inform the driver of how many laps are left in the Grand Prix as well as their current position. Without pit boards, and before radios and digital dashboards were brought into the sport, the drivers wouldn’t know how many laps are left in the race
And if you’re in the midfield it can be difficult to keep track of your position. Pit boards quickly give a driver this information as they start their next lap, and while they were the only method of doing so in the past, they’re still a reliable method nowadays.
Why Does F1 Still Use Pit Boards?
The main reason pit boards are still used in Formula 1 today is because they remain the most reliable way to communicate with the driver from the pit wall. Sometimes, a radio can fail, or a digital dashboard can glitch, as is the case with many other forms of technology.
Despite the more advanced forms of communication that Formula 1 teams use these days, pit boards still feature prominently up and down the paddock. Teams will always ensure that they have pit boards at the ready on their pit wall, and they are still very important in the sport.
However, the good old pit board is always there, and it can be used to inform the driver of anything they need to know about. We often see radio interference with some cars, even to this day. This means that, if anything happens, the team can’t rely on their radio to communicate with the driver, and the pit board is the perfect backup solution to this problem.
Many drivers also prefer to have their pit board shown every few laps to keep them updated on their progress in the race. Oftentimes it’s the easiest way to keep an eye on what’s happening without being distracted by frequent radio messages. Since the pit board uses big bright letters right in their eyeline, they don’t have to take their eyes off the road.
Pit boards in F1 are the oldest and most reliable form of communication between teams and their drivers, and this is why they are often still used today. Despite the advanced communication technology in Formula 1, such as radios and digital dashboards, pit boards are still important.