Mercedes-Benz US GP pitstops are the key

MONTVALE, N.J. (Sept. 14, 2000) -- A Formula One World Championship (F1) grand prix runs approximately 200 miles and takes up to two hours to complete, with racing machines travelling at speeds of more than 200 mph. Yet it's the time these...

MONTVALE, N.J. (Sept. 14, 2000) -- A Formula One World Championship (F1) grand prix runs approximately 200 miles and takes up to two hours to complete, with racing machines travelling at speeds of more than 200 mph. Yet it's the time these cars spend standing still that can determine the outcome of the race.

Pit stops for fuel and tires are a critical part of the competition. In F1, more than 20 people work on the car, and stops last about seven seconds -- pretty quick when compared with CART (12 seconds) or NASCAR (17 seconds). Yet for the driver and his crew, it can seem like an eternity.

"You've only got to have one little thing go wrong somewhere, and the whole weekend could be wasted," said David Ryan, manager for the defending champion West McLaren Mercedes team with drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. "There are any one of 20-odd people who could make a mistake."

"Pit stops are a stressful time for the driver as well," Hakkinen agreed. "As you are coming off the track, you are preparing yourself for what is going to happen next. Every action is amplified because it all happens so quickly."

The championship-winning West McLaren Mercedes team prepares by performing practice pit stops up to 30 times on Thursday evening of the race weekend. The manual jacks used in F1 -- on top of the long days spent building the cars -- put an enormous demand on crew members for strength, speed and stamina. But a quick stop can mean gaining several positions on the track, and therefore mean the difference between victory and defeat.

"You can tell if you've had a quick pit stop," Coulthard said. "Everything just gels. When you get away smoothly and back onto the track ahead of the opposition, you know the guys on the crew have just worked another miracle."

The West McLaren Mercedes team will compete at the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 24 as Hakkinen and Coulthard vie for the coveted Drivers' Championship and McLaren Mercedes seeks its second Constructors' Championship title in three years. The race will mark the return of F1 to U.S. soil for the first time in nine years.

In the Blink of an Eye: A Formula One Pit Stop Timeline*

Minus 30 seconds
Tires are taken out of the electrical warming blankets used to bring them up to operating temperature. Pit crew assembles in the pit lane. Three men will be assigned to change each tire, three men handle the manual jacks and the starter, four men handle the refueling, and four additional crew members handle visor cleaning or provide general support and safety supervision, for a total of 23 team members.

Zero-1 second
Car stops. Jack men in the front and rear position the jacks under the car. The air hammers are on the wheel nuts within 0.2 seconds after the car has stopped.

1-2 seconds
The jack men lift the car and the air hammers go into action. The fuel hose is connected. Fuel begins flowing into the car's tank 1.5 seconds after the car stops.

2-3 seconds
The wheels are taken off the car. Refueling continues.

3-4 seconds
Mechanics on each corner put on a new wheel and the air hammers go into action again. Each wheel man signals when the wheel is secure. Refueling continues.

4-5 seconds
The front and rear jacks are lowered and removed. Refueling continues.

5-7 seconds
Radiators are cleaned if necessary. The driver is shown the first-gear sign board. The fuel hose is removed. The driver gets the signal to exit.

7+ seconds
The car heads back onto the track.

<small>*Information provided courtesy of West McLaren Mercedes and Stars & Cars.</small>

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Mika Hakkinen , David Ryan
Teams Mercedes , McLaren