Maranello, 18 October –The people of Ancient Rome were clearly right when they said that doing things again, good things obviously, can only do you good, The same can be said about pit stop performance, as this is one of the moments that most clearly expresses the concept of Formula 1 being a team sport: the synchronised efforts of around 20 mechanics involved in changing tyres, the precise driving and prompt reflexes required from the driver, the reliability and strength of the car and the technical equipment required are all key elements when it comes to a successful pit stop. Setting a record time once, which makes the headlines, doesn’t count as much as being able to do it over and over again with consistency in all conditions.
It is this concept of repeatability that Diego Ioverno stresses incessantly, in his fifth season as head of track operations for Scuderia Ferrari, which means he is the conductor for the red orchestra. “The most important thing is to do it repeatedly at a high level, rather than doing the fastest pit stop overall. Sure, if that happens we are pleased, but what matters is to always be consistently quick,” explains Ioverno. “You have to consider that the lads who do the pit stop are a bit like goalkeepers: if you block every shot, or make no mistakes, that’s considered the norm, but if you make a slip, or an error that costs you a place, then you are at the eye of a storm. Fortunately, this year, things are going well, which is always nice to see: if we take a close look at the fifteen races run so far, in over half of them we were on average the quickest: definitely the Alonso stop at Suzuka in 1.95 seconds is a great time, but ten stops under 2.5 are worth more. Especially when the season is difficult, results like this can help to keep up the morale of the team.”
The core of the group of Scuderia mechanics has remained pretty much unchanged over the past few years, as Ioverno confirms: “We have tried to work on managing our resources, because in this five year period the job of the mechanics has changed considerably: for example, there is no longer a test team and the number of mechanics at the race track is limited in the regulations, as has the number of hours they can work. We have tried to operate a bit of a rotation programme, trying to introduce new elements into the group, but without undermining the value of experience. Clearly, the average age has risen but we have worked a lot on physical training, as well as on the psychological aspect and the results are there to see.”
That Ferrari is at the cutting edge when it comes to pit stops is a given, at least for the past few years. This is not only down to the work of those who have a material effect on operations at the track, but also to the work of those who concentrate on designing the car, those who drive them and those who have to ensure that the right people are in the right place in the best conditions to carry out their tasks. “It’s absolutely true,” explains Ioverno. “The group is the same one that, in the first part of 2011, was not operating well. Then we made changes to the car, simplifying certain functional choices, such as the geometry of the hubs and the jacking points and in the second part of the season, we were consistently among the fastest. At the start of 2012, we made a further step forward with the introduction of wheel nuts that are integral with the rims and we used new materials, which proved to be immediately very competitive and we have continued down this road this year too. We have tried to improve the areas where there is a margin to do so, bringing a new front jack and introducing the automatic release at the front and the back, revising the way the traffic lights work and intensifying the physical training programme for the crew.”
The pit stop time has been steadily dropping ever since it has no longer been linked to refueling, as the engineer from Bologna confirms. “In 2011 a good stop was one under 3.5 seconds and an exceptional one was under 3. Then in 2012, the average went down to 2.8 and the extraordinary to 2.4. Today, our average is 2.48 – we are always talking about the complete time from start to green light – and then we got to the time recorded in Suzuka, as an example. An important aid, which is valid for everyone and came in for the last few races, was the establishment of an 80 km/h pit lane speed limit from Friday to Saturday: this way, everyone, mechanics and drivers, can get used to that as a benchmark, from the very first day of track action.”
As to how low the times can go, Ioverno has a reasonably clear idea: “With consistent rules, I think we are close to the limit, which is confirmed by the fact that the difference between the time in training and the one at the track has gone from five or seven tenths to around one. One can gain something by overlapping the operations but I don’t think there is much to be done. It would be very different if we had total freedom, in terms of technology and human resources. Let me explain that: for example, if we could have automatic lifters that could start the process while the car is still moving, or if you could use mechanics whose one and only task was the pit stop, with a physical constitution specially adapted for each role, then the times would come down significantly.”
This is fantasy F1, at least for now: but we can still enjoy the spectacle of a pit stopwhich takes under two seconds!