We broke the pit stop record again at the German Grand Prix with an incredible 1.88 second stop!
There was a lot going on at Hockenheim on Sunday. A draining grand prix saw, spins, chaos and dramatic reversals of fortune. Max sailed serenely through it all to take his second victory in three races but shortly before that, in the general confusion of the second-to-last Safety Car, something else remarkable happened, with the crew changing Max’s tyres in a new pitstop world record time. In the general chaos, you could be forgiven for having missed it. It took all of 1.88 seconds!
This knocks an impressive three-hundredths of a second of our own record of 1.91s, set two weeks ago at Silverstone – but the achievement is arguably far greater, with the added pressure of it being for the lead of the German Grand Prix, and the crew working in the knowledge Pierre would be pitting a few seconds later. Also, despite the best efforts of the garage techs, it also featured a wet pitbox, so credit to Max for absolutely nailing it to the marks.
The further you go back in time, the more nebulous the concept of a pit stop record is. The Benetton team were widely held to have done the fastest pitstop of the 1990s, with a 3.2s stop for Riccardo Patrese at the 1993 Belgian Grand Prix (using the time recorded from the car’s data logger and suspension sensors). That almost certainly stood for the next 16 seasons, as everything slowed down in the refuelling era and even on those rare occasions a driver came in for a tyres-only stop, the hardware simply wasn’t designed for speed.
Once refuelling was banned, times began to tumble: from a base of around 4s, Mercedes dropped the record to 3.4s in 2011, then McLaren went to 2.32s in 2012. We took the record at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix with 2.05s, and then were the first through the two second barrier with a liquid 1.92s stop in Austin. Those records were accepted as a matter of paddock consensus, based on internal data-loggers. Things changed in 2015 with the advent of the DHL Fastest Pitstop award and an official timing function. Our unofficial record stood until 2016, when Williams did an official 1.92s stop to take the record in Baku.
While pit stop technology improves, pit stops themselves have been getting harder. Williams took the record in an era of blown axles, in which wheel nuts were larger and harder to get moving – think pickle jar versus ketchup bottle. The latest complication is the advent of the larger, heavier wheels on the wider cars. The crews will argue an extra kilo here and there doesn’t make a difference – but when you’re judging to the thousandth of a second, everything matters.
We don’t set out to break records. Indeed management works very hard to dissuade the crew from chasing the stopwatch. Instead, consistency is the key – because while finding that extra tenth will only very rarely gain a place, losing two seconds for a fumble will often lose one. The target is to group all of the stops in that 2.0s-2.4s bracket. Anything quicker than that is a real bonus.
People may watch and think taking the wheel off sounds like an easy job but it isn’t. They are heavy, and the Team have to reach forward and shift the weight at an awkward angle. Then the new wheels have to go on without any fumbles, the jacks have to come away smoothly and the driver needs to have his reactions perfect – which again isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. If it all come together and everyone’s having the perfect day at the same time then a near-perfect stop is achievable. It is, of course, never perfect. There is always a better one out there.