F1: The Wild and Wacky World of the Pitbox – Part 1

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All the Formula One teams simulate pit stops during the Grand Prix weekend. © AFP/Andrej Isakovic

The evolution of the Grand Prix pit stop has been staggering in the history of the Formula One World Championship.

We’ve come a long way since driver changes occurred in the 1950’s.

Nowadays, we are seeing swift tyre changes and stops done in sub-two seconds. They are done almost as quickly as you blink in everyday life.

Silverstone saw pit stops back in the headlines. Romain Grosjean made a mortifying mistake in Friday practice, crashing his Haas on pit exit!

Meanwhile, it was revealed that conversations are taking place on bringing refuelling back into the pit stop world. Refuelling has been banned since the end of the 2009 season.

When they go well, pit stops are a piece of art. When they go wrong, they can go dreadfully wrong in a number of categories.

It’s time to go through the archives to revisit some of the pit stop nightmares in Grand Prix history.

Entering the Pits

The first job of the driver is to slow the car down and enter the pits at the correct speed limit or they face a time penalty. Sometimes, entering the actual pit lane itself can cause a real problem, with embarrassing consequences.

In 1995, David Coulthard’s last race for Williams ended in unbelievable circumstances. He was leading the Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide when he made a big mistake.

He arrived too quickly into the pit entry, locked up and understeered into the wall.

12 years on, the pit entry caught out another Brit.

Lewis Hamilton seemed to be on his way towards the world championship in his rookie season. However, his charge hit the gravel of the tight pit entry in Shanghai.

On severely worn tyres, Hamilton went straight off into the gravel trap and didn’t have the momentum to escape the gravel.

Despite the attempts of the Chinese marshals, Hamilton was stuck and chalked up his first-ever DNF from an F1 Grand Prix.

A despondent Lewis Hamilton walks away from his stranded McLaren-Mercedes after beaching it in the gravel at the pit entry during the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix. Image sourced from WTF1.

Missing the Box

It should be fairly easy for a driver to know where their pit is. After all, they pull in and out of the same spot for three consecutive days during a race weekend.

Occasionally though, it doesn’t quite go to plan.

At the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell was leading the event when he took to the pits for a routine tyre stop.

Somehow, Mansell missed his Ferrari pit. Instinctively, he selected reverse gear and went back into his box for a 20-second stop.

That simply wasn’t allowed and after being shown the black flag, he raced on and took out championship contender Ayrton Senna.

Subsequently, Mansell was banned from competing at the following weekend’s event at Jerez in Spain.

A year later, Thierry Boutsen was running second for Williams in Brazil when he entered too quickly towards his mechanics.

This was in an era where the speed limit in the pits didn’t exist. He caught a loose tyre and broke his nosecone. He was lucky not to injure anyone in the process.

Boutsen didn’t repeat the Mansell trick and salvaged fifth place after this misjudgement.

However, he was ahead of eventual race winner Alain Prost at the time of this misdemeanour so it was a costly mistake.

Stopping at the Wrong Pit Garage

A rear lapse from Jenson Button sees the McLaren driver make an unexpected trip to the Red Bull pit box at Shanghai in 2011. Image sourced from The Telegraph.

It has happened before and to two British drivers too. In two Asian races, these are two cases which these fantastic drivers would rather forget.

At the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix, Jenson Button had beaten pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel off the start and led the reigning champion into the pits for their first scheduled pit stops.

Driving for McLaren, Button peeled into the Red Bull box! It was a ghastly mistake and the Red Bull mechanics did brilliantly not to react as he cruised into his correct pit box.

To add insult to injury, Vettel overtook him in the stops and finished second on the day to Jenson’s fourth.

Button is in good company though, with Lewis Hamilton repeating the trick in 2013.

In just his second race for Mercedes GP, Hamilton boxed for dry tyres and stopped at his former team, McLaren before quickly realising he didn’t drive for the Woking-based team anymore.

No harm was done and Hamilton went on to finish third. His girlfriend at the time, Nicole Scherzinger, couldn’t hide her thoughts whilst watching the action on a mobile phone in the pits.

Tighten up the Wheels

Tyre changes are a major part of a mechanic’s job. They put in hours and hours of practice at every Grand Prix weekend in an effort for perfection.

Sometimes, it goes wrong though and once again, this saw another pit stop nightmare for Nigel Mansell in Estoril.

Two years after his 1989 faux-pas, Mansell was at the centre of another pit lane catastrophe.

He was leading again in 1991 and now back at Williams. After a seven-second pit stop, he charged back into the race, only for one of the rear wheels to fly off the car down the pit lane.

Mansell sat there, beating the steering wheel in frustration. It looked like he was crying in the cockpit as his startled mechanics tried to fit another wheel onto his car.

After a lengthy delay, he rejoined in 17th and made his way back up to sixth.

However, disqualification was inevitable as Williams had broken a number of pit lane safety regulations in their desperation to sort their mistake out.

In 2010, Nico Rosberg lost a wheel after his first pit stop during a Safety Car period at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

In the ensuing melee, Renault lost their bearings and released Robert Kubica into the path of Force India’s Adrian Sutil, who was peeling into his pit box.

Both drivers were forced to retire, thanks to Mercedes not tightening their wheels up.

A loose wheel from the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg caused chaos in the pit lane during the 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix. Image sourced from Reddit.

Organisation

A communication issue amongst the Ferrari mechanics at the 1999 European Grand Prix led to a comical tyre mix up during Eddie Irvine’s pit stop. © LAT Images

One thing a driver expects is organisation from his pit crew and for his team to be ready when he chooses to pit.

One of the most comic pit stops in Grand Prix history occurred in the 1999 European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

Title contender Eddie Irvine arrived for a routine pit stop. Disappointingly for Irvine, Ferrari turned up with only three wheels ready for him!

Eventually, the fourth tyre did turn up but not before a long delay and an argument between the troubled mechanics.

ITV commentators Murray Walker and Martin Brundle showed their frustration, with Walker calling the situation ‘ludicrous.’

Additionally, Brundle also shouted in frustation of what was taking place:

“Now look, they are having a committee meeting about it. Just stick it on and send him out!”

Irvine got underway after a 40-second stop and finished out of the points in seventh behind Marc Gene’s Minardi! It was a costly moment of madness from the Scuderia.

The European Grand Prix also provided more wheel chaos for another Brit, this time in 2009 for Lewis Hamilton.

Leading in Valencia, he pitted on his scheduled duty. McLaren made a late call, giving him permission to stay out for another lap.

When they did that though, he was already committed to the pit lane.

When he arrived, it is fair to say preparations were still ongoing. Hamilton’s dad, Anthony was dumbfounded. He realised this poor McLaren call had cost his son the Grand Prix victory.

Brawn GP’s Rubens Barrichello capitalised to take his first victory in nearly five years.

Coming Up in Part Two: Fires, extra equipment and the Canadian red light…

To make sure you don’t miss out, you can follow Simon on Twitter and Instagram @Siwri88

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