Everything in Formula 1 racing is about speed and the pit lane is no exception. In fact, the average time it takes for an F1 race car to stop and then leave the pit is no more than 3 seconds. The major reason for a pit stop is to change tires and drivers want as few pit stops as possible.
The maximum speed limit in pit lane is 49mph or 80kph. For an F1 racecar, that’s literally crawling along. However, since pit stops have crews running around with little to no protection, the speed limit is entirely based on safety.
There are two potential penalties for breaking the speed limit in the pits. The first penalty is known as a drive-through, where the driver simply has to drive through the remainder of the pit lane, without stopping, and get back on the race track. The second reason is a ten-second penalty.
The above-mentioned penalties are brutally vicious for a driver. In the first instance, a drive-through penalty basically wastes the driver’s time, crawling through the remainder of the pit lane, no faster than 49mph, without stopping.
It's a disastrous penalty in two parts. The first is that while the driver is crawling through pit lane at 49mph, the rest of the cars are blazing around the race track at top speeds. The second part is that the driver will have to make a pit stop again to take care of the original reason they pulled in, to begin with.
Their place in the field can turn disastrous in a hurry. The second potential punishment is a 10-second delay. When this happens, the driver simply has to park their car for 10 seconds in the pit and watch everyone else race.
Ten seconds probably seems like an eternity for a driver who has to sit through it.
When F1 race cars are coming in for a pit stop, they can press a button that severely limits the top speed of the car. It's great to use as a precaution because it keeps the driver honest in the pit lane.
Formula 1 has banned the button for use in everything except for pit lane. The ban came about in 2008 because Formula 1 wanted to avoid drivers using the button as a form of traction control on the track.
At the same time, Formula 1 also banned the use of ABS systems (anti-lock braking) for the very same reasons. The powers that be at Formula 1 determined that the button and the ABS systems detracted from a driver’s skills out on the racetrack and needed to be banned as a result.
Pit stops begin and end with communication between the driver and the driver’s team. The driver will say the word “box” repeatedly. If the pit team agrees with the driver’s need to pit, they won’t say or do anything, other than prepping for the pit stop.
If the team has judged that a pit stop isn’t necessary or the driver needs to pit later, they’ll respond to “box” with the word, “out.” When entering the pit, the driver has to immediately slow down to below the speed limit in pit lane.
The pit crew assembles in the driver’s designated pit stop spot. The driver has to come to a complete spot within the outline of his own box. The driver will then place the gears in neutral and keep his foot firmly pressed on the brake pedal.
Only after the pit crew is completely finished and out of the way, the driver releases the brake pedal and, while maintaining the vehicle under the speed limit, heads out of pit lane. The driver doesn’t hit the throttle until exiting pit lane.
The driver has to remain under the speed limit until the moment he crosses the exit line. At that point, he’s free to open the throttle and go.
As mentioned above, the primary purpose behind pit stops is to change the tires. There are seven types of tires and they may need to be changed as the conditions on the track change. For instance, it may change from a bright and sunny day to a cloudy, cool one as the clouds move in overhead.
When you’re dealing with black top, the dynamics of the track change as it heats up and cools down. A set of five tires make up a category known as “slicks.” These tires go from C1 to C5. The C1 tires are very hard and they get softer as they go, with C5 being the softest.
In addition to those five tires, Formula 1 also has two sets of “wet” tires. According to the Formula 1 rules, two sets of tires must be used throughout a single race. Pit stop crews also maintain tire blankets.
These tire blankets are designed to cover the tires and keep them hot, so a driver used to race with hot tires will have a set of fresh, hot tires on when they’re changed in the pit. The tire-changing process looks very similar to what you would see in a NASCAR race.
The pit crew scrambles out and around the vehicle, wielding compressed wheel guns that unscrew the bolts on the wheel with blinding speed. The crew will throw a jack under either side of the car to lift it and drop it quickly.
As we mentioned above, a pit stop will routinely take about three seconds, once the car is fully at rest and the pit crew takes over. A pit stop is just as important as the driver’s skill out on the race track.
The speed limit in a pit stop is 80kph or 49mph. Exceeding the pit speed is a violation of the rules and results in one of two penalties. Either of the two penalties can be disastrous for a Formula 1 race car driver, so the speed limit is closely monitored and obeyed.