Ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix, it was announced that the FIA was planning to create a new technical guideline which in Formula 1 always means plenty of off-the-track politics. These new technical directives come into play from the Hungaroring Grand Prix in three weeks’ time, which should make pit stops a lot slower.
It has been said that the directives have been brought in to ensure the safety of the mechanics in order to keep them as safe as possible in the pit lane on a Sunday, but their inclusion has also brought with it a lot of controversies, with some teams complaining to the FIA that this is being done to hinder very specific teams.
In this article, we’ll explain exactly what the intention is behind this new guideline.
Where is this change suddenly coming from?
As most fans can expect, all of this stems from the Mercedes and Red Bull title battle, and this epic battle is not only fought on the track but off it as well. Earlier during the season, Mercedes complained about Red Bull’s rear wing – the whole “Flexi wing” saga. The FIA took measures against this and tightened the regulations and tests considerably.
However, it didn’t stop there. Recently, Red Bull’s racing advisor Dr Helmut Marko said that the Mercedes team seemed to have discovered something new at Red Bull Racing regarding pit stops. Soon, the FIA received complaints from several teams, and in these complaints, the teams in question are said to have suggested that their rival’s quick pit stops could not be achieved if the current regulations were being followed properly.
It was suggested that some teams during their pit stop routines were using a higher degree of automation than is allowed by the current regulations. Therefore, the FIA decided to enforce new guidelines starting with the Hungaroring Grand Prix.
What is this new rule?
Like any other technical directive, the teams have been given ample time to get used to the new regulations, the suggestion being that the sub-2s pit stops are not possible without an element of pre-emption. The first of the two major changes are – there has to be a 0.15s delay from the time all wheelguns have signalled completion to the time the front jack man releases the car.
The second key change is that there has to be at least 0.2s delay between the time when the front jack man releases the car to the time when the green light is shown to the driver. The existing rules state that sensors must be a “passive” part of the process, and the implication is that some teams are deriving an advantage from the equipment that is more involved than that.
The FIA has taken this step in the name of safety to ensure that teams are not releasing the cars without properly attaching the wheels. And it is funny that the FIA has given such a vague reason for this major mid-season regulation change. Moreover, how these gaps will be policed, what measures are in place, nothing has been explained so far.
Why is it a biased decision?
Red Bull’s advantage over Mercedes or any team, for that matter, regarding pit stops has been built over years of investment in new-tech pit stop equipment, at a time when their cars were not as fast as their rivals. The Milton Keynes-based team hold the world record for the fastest pit stop with a 1.82s stop at Brazil in 2019.
Mercedes, on the other hand, were investing everything in making their cars faster and slow pit stop times – which were usually one second slower than the Red Bull crew – and hence, were never going to lose the world championship. But now that Red Bull have a car at least as quick as the Mercedes – if not faster – they absolutely might.
On average, the Red Bull pit crew has been four-tenths quicker than the Mercedes pit crew during the first nine races of this season. Out of the ten fastest pit stops recorded this season, the Red Bull crew has set the fastest pit stop time on six different occasions, while three of those were sub-2s pit stops, notably in Bahrain (1.93s), Portugal (1.98s), and Azerbaijan (1.98s).
With these astonishing pit stops, Red Bull comfortably lead the 2021 pit stop competition run by F1’s partner DHL, which awards points to the top 10 pit stops in each Grand Prix in the same way F1 distributes points for race finishes. Red Bull lead that “championship” comfortably by 99 points from Williams, while Mercedes are 104 points behind in third.
And as far as safety is concerned, the last major incident regarding pit spots was reported way back in 2013 during the German Grand Prix, where the right rear tyre of Mark Webber’s Red Bull went flying across the pit lane and hit cameraman Paul Allen in the back.
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How did Christian Horner react to it?
The new regulations strike at the very heart of Red Bull’s advantage which they feel has been legitimately gained from their past investments. Their team principal, Christian Horner, isn’t one bit happy with these new changes mid-way through the season.
Talking to the reporters in Austria, Horner said, “The technical directive is very wordy and you almost have to question whether it’s a change of regulation. I suppose that we have been very competitive, we’ve got the world record on pit stops, we’ve had the majority of fastest stops and it’s not by accident. And I find it a little disappointing.
“It’s the duty of the competitor to ensure that the car is safe and the penalty for a wheel not being fixed is you have to stop the car immediately so it’s a brutal punishment if you haven’t got all four wheels securely and safely fastened. So what the technical directive is trying to achieve I’m not quite sure because I think there’s an awful lot of complexity to it.
“Of course when you’re in a competitive situation then if you can’t be beaten then obviously the most logical thing is for your competitors are trying to slow you down and that’s obviously what’s happening here. You can see there’s an awful lot of pointed activity in our direction in the moment. That comes with the territory of being competitive.
“An awful lot of energy is going into trying to slow the car down which is what obviously happens in a competitive business. It’s something we’re used to but I’m not losing too much sleep about it.”
While the new technical directive is supposed to improve safety, Horner reckons it could end up having the opposite effect.
“To have to hold the car for two-tenths of a second, you could almost argue it’s dangerous because you’re judging your gaps, the guy that’s releasing the car is having to make that judgement. I think that it’s not been well thought through.
“Formula 1 is about innovation and competition. Seeing pit stops sub-two-seconds is a remarkable feat and we should be encouraging it, not trying to control it.
“Otherwise where does it stop? We’re going to be told which way to walk into the garage, where we should sit on the pit wall and which buttons we should press, I guess.”