Infiniti Red Bull 2-sec pit stops: Always keep pushing
Watching pitstops on TV or from the back of the garage gives you an overview of an ensemble in action. When stops go smoothly - and they went very smoothly in Malaysia - the choreography is a beautiful thing to behold: as intricate as a beautifully made watch and just as well put together.
To see that, however, you have to be watching from a distance. Crouched over a wheel-gun or a tire the field of vision is somewhat narrower, coalesced into that instant of activity that gets the car moving again with the minimum of delay.
"You can't judge it to the tenths but you do get an inner feeling when a stop has gone very well," says front-end mechanic and long-time pit crew member Ole Schack. "It's not so much what you see but what you hear. When it all sounds synchronized, meaning everyone's done their job at the same time, that's when you know the car's arrived and left again very shortly afterwards."
As we reported last week, Ole and the rest of the crew broke the unofficial pitstop record on five occasions in Malaysia. We weren't the only team to manage pitstops quicker than they've ever been before but we're reasonably sure Mark Webber's second stop, completed in 2.05 seconds is the new benchmark. These are the latest salvos in a battle that started when refuelling was banned at the end of the 2009 season. It's been a race as hard-fought as any on track and right now it's perhaps entering an end game. The limits of the possible are being approached - but there's still time to be found.
"You always keep pushing," says Ole. "You push the development of the car and of the equipment. You push to train people better and lower reaction times. The drivers push themselves as well because they have to be quicker to release. It's a real group effort to improve pitstops - and the times that are being done by crews up and down the pitlane suggest it's being done well, but, yes, there is more to come.
"From the point where you had seven seconds' worth of fuel going into the car, the procedures have changed massively. There is a limit of course - I don't think we'll ever see a one-second stop - but we're getting close now to changing four wheels in the most efficient way possible."
The ultimate pleasure for a pit crew is doing the stop that steals a place in the race. With margins now so fine it's an incredibly rare and precious thing, but there are other performance advantages to doing better pitstops.
"We're shaving fractions, which doesn't usually translate into positions but maybe the effect it has is getting you into a DRS zone, or slipping you out of one. The two or three tenths you can find in the pitstop gives the driver a better chance of making the place on track, is where the stop can make the difference."
The Malaysian Grand Prix saw pitstop action predicted from the start, with the track drying rapidly in the heat but the whole field starting on the Intermediate tire. Seb, by virtue of leading the race, was the first man to gamble on slicks, stopping on lap five. The early activity didn't faze the crew, who recycled him in 2.13s - a record at the time but ultimately one that was short-lived.
"Obviously we were expecting the early stop and that keeps you on your toes as you run back from the grid and prepare - but honestly that's no different to any other race," says Ole. "We're always ready for pitstops as soon as the race begins because there's always a chance the car will be in at the end of the first lap - usually because of a broken front wing or a puncture. Actually Malaysia was quite easy - not like Brazil where we're running uphill to get off the grid!"
While Mark's 2.05s stop is very fast in its own right, no one in the pitlane is betting against the record dropping under the two-second barrier in the weeks ahead, but as we've said before, records really aren't the goal.
"It's nice to have a really quick stop but it's the consistency that counts," says Ole. "It's the same across all sports, whether it's F1 or football or darts, consistency is what you're aiming for. Obviously we want to beat our best time, we want to get quicker, but breaking the two-second barrier is the glory run and we're more interested in bringing down our average times. The really good thing to come from our performance in Malaysia is that we managed good stops over and over again. That's the thing that gives us the real satisfaction."