Lean in Formula 1

After a serious fire during a race in 1994 a case of cheating was raised against formula 1 team Benetton. It concluded that a filter was removed from the engine of the Benetton car of Jos Verstappen to try and increase the rate at which fuel was added, a filter put in place to reduce the risk of fire.  However Benetton thought this filter was slowing the rate at which fuel could be added, it’s removal was designed to speed up the process.

Teams were even listening to the sound of the engine to decide when it was nearly full, giving the fuel team member a split second advantage when pulling the fuel rig away from the car.

All teams will behave how they are measured and allowing fuel stops during a race, this being the most time consuming part of the process, meant that all attempts were made to speed it up.

So….after a series of safety concerns and accusations of rule breaches the FIA finally banned in-race fuel changes in 2010.

“For the first time in modern F1 designers have had to think, not just about making the car light and fast, but about how they can improve the way wheels are changed during the race, with the realisation that it now has a direct impact on the outcome of a Grand Prix.”

This shifted focus to cost and non value adding waste reduction in the pit stop process.  In this case lead time was of a massive importance so gaining even a few hundredths of a second was worth happening for mid race competitor advantage.

The pit stop process that had for many years taken a back seat in terms of R&D investment was now being analysed as its value to the team of winning races was now critical.


Using a combination of process (triggers rather than manual intervention), design (lights rather than hand signals, buttons and switches rather than boards) and technology (wheel guns turning speed, wheel nuts needing 3 turns and not 6 and auto direction changes for the guns), the time it took to change tyres and complete the pit stop would reduce.

Over the 20 years since the fire of Jos Verstappen the time it took to carry out a pit stop had halved due to a Kaizen approach of small steps to continuously improve.  Always aiming, as Ferrari put it, for speed and consistency rather than records.

Safety is always a top priority and all this automation does have to be closely monitored and thoroughly tested.  Even the best systems can fail and it is about how we react.  When Mark Webber’s wheel came off and injured a cameraman in 2013, it was this combination of automation and manual intervention that failed.

“The findings state the initial application of the nut to the wheel resulted in it being cross-threaded by the right-rear gun man. In attempting to remove the nut, the wheel gun slipped in his hands, resulting in him accidentally depressing the ‘go’ trigger to the man on the front jack, who in turn released Webber.
Without a nut attached to the wheel, it quickly spun off and bounded through the pit lane past several startled mechanics in other teams prior to striking Allen.”

The teams are not stopping there, things can always be improved.  They are already looking into automating the release of the jack: stopping the car in the pit lane automatically. One team even hired Michael Johnson (former sprinter) to fitness train the pit team.   Every second (or hundredth) counts in the race to be the best.

Here is a beautiful slow motion video of red Bull carrying out a 2.05 second pit stop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TKE_cA_7z4

Old vs new – how they carried out a pit stop in 1950 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRy_73ivcms

Based on the article: http://f1elvis.com/2012/11/27/the-evolution-of-pitstops/


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