You are probably used to seeing them on a Sunday afternoon seemingly waiting around, dressed in fireproof suits and helmets, and most of the time, sitting in the pits doing nothing. They seem quite relaxed, and then, out of nowhere and before you even have a chance to realise what’s going on, the ballet starts.
In less than five seconds, more than 20 people will have jumped up from those seats and be ready in front of the garage for a pit stop, planned or unexpected.
We talked to the team’s Chief Mechanic Matt Deane to understand precisely what happens in the pits during the course of a race…
“During a race, communication between everyone is absolutely key”. Matt is looking carefully as the car is being weighed as part of one of the FIA’s scrutineering procedures, whilst he replies to us. “All of the guys watch the race on a big screen in the middle of the garage. They are always alert and need to be ready for anything. The next set of tyres, for example, is always ready and double-checked long before the pit stop is planned.” Despite meticulous pre-race planning and countless pit stop practices, surprise is often part of the equation. “They need to be focused just in case we need to change part of the plan, or if rain joins the party, or a Safety Car suddenly comes out”.
Eight mechanics specifically look after the tyres. Matt explains: “They need to follow what’s going on quite closely and be ready at any time. They need to be up and running before you know it if a late call comes in”.
Whilst digital radio has become increasingly more important to ensure good communication, the team also rely on good old-fashioned methods as a back-up: “I prefer to use gestures and to give the guys a thumbs-up to make sure they understood what was just discussed on the radio. It’s always important to see in their faces that they have understood what is required.”
Not everyone in the pits will hear every piece of communication, mainly to avoid any confusion and to keep the guys focused. “The guys will hear Ron (Meadows, Sporting Director) or myself only. I will generally know what is going on two to three laps before any stop so I will signal the guys to make sure they’re ready.” Every piece of feedback from the drivers or the engineers needs to be relayed to the team: “If the driver has asked for a front wing adjustment for example, this will be communicated instantaneously to the guys. We also keep updates on the set of tyres planned and any other requirements such as wiping the driver’s visor or checking for damage on the car”.
“I need people that I can trust. And I have that here”
Consistent good results come from continuous practice and this is why the pit crew have such an intense programme of pit stop practice from their arrival to the track and during the Friday and Saturday practice sessions. “The guys need to stay relaxed and focused, and this only comes with experience. You need to do this for years before really being able to be in the required state of mind.”
Matt relies on his guys and needs to be able to trust them completely: “The front and rear jack guys for example, I need to be able to trust them blindly. If they drop the car too quickly, we could be in a bad situation. I need people that I can trust, and that is exactly what I have here.”
To relax, and to keep the enjoyment going, at the end of the day, the guys will have a “Pit Stop Challenge” where the guys on each corner of the car are challenged to do their roles faster and faster. “All the guys watch from the side” reveals Matt, smiling. “It really is a challenge and the losers have to buy the other guys a beer after work!” As Matt says, this is also a way for the guys to push each other to improve. “Our guys simply love what they’re doing. Doing a great job will make a difference to our race. They work as a team but also individually. Formula One is a part of our DNA. It’s become a second nature. We simply want to be the best”.