The Art of Pitstop

Watch a 2.05 second pitstop from Red Bull Racing in incredible slow motion.
By Matt Youson

Holding the pitstop record at 2.05 seconds, and more importantly being able to consistently deliver a 2.5 second stop comes from practice – incessant practice. When the Red Bull Racing team’s at the factory it’s a question of downing tools in the race bay, pulling on the race suits and spending an hour going through the process again and again and again. After thousands of repetitions it’s mundane. Boring even.

But not with a film crew capturing your every blink in ultra high-resolution, super, super slow motion. This is Art of Pitstop, a new short film created by Red Bull. With the pit crew taking two seconds to lift the car, change all four tyres and drop it back down again, the action is a blur – but when you’re shooting with cameras taking hundreds, or thousands of frames a second, the balletic elegance of a pitstop really shines through.

Film-makers KipperTie are more accustomed to working on Hollywood blockbusters or wildlife documentaries – but technical guru John Marchant and producer/cameraman Fernando Caamaño are very happy to set up their RED EPIC–M and RED EPIC-M Monochrome cameras in the race bays at Milton Keynes.

“These cameras are very good at shooting high-speed, high quality pictures,” says Marchant.

“Obviously what these guys do happens in the blink of an eye. Capturing both their movement and the equipment they’re using, with lots and lots of detail, means using special equipment like this – otherwise it’s just a blur of motion.”

While the Epic cameras shoot at between 100fps-300fps, for even higher speed work – for instance catching in crisp detail a bespoke wheel gun rotating at 4000rpm – Red Bull employ the awesome Phantom camera, capable of full HD resolution at 2560fps in bursts of between three and 10 seconds – more than adequate for a lightning-quick pitstop.

To get up close and personal the cameramen install booms to film right over the shoulders of the crew. The repetitive precision of the pitstops allows them to position priceless kit impossibly close to where wheels or bodywork come to rest. A little wary at first, the pitstop crew soon warm to the notion of impending fame and suggest a few tweaks to the shooting script, putting cameras in places cameras have never been before.

“The guys were great,” says Marchant. “They were so consistent, so perfect it meant we could get the cameras inches away and be confident they were safe.”

While the filming takes up the whole hour allotted to pitstop practice, the material generated then takes weeks to sift through. “If you shoot for a minute at 100fps, you haven’t got a minute’s worth of material, you’ve got four minutes of material,” explains Marchant. “Multiply that up for the Phantom shooting at 1000fps and suddenly you can create huge amounts of video data from very short action sequences. It’s good for a pitstop – I don’t think we could film a race.”

It’s difficult imaging how they could go any quicker.

As the name suggests Art of Pitstop has primarily an aesthetic purpose – but there’s plenty of material Red Bull Racing team manager Jonathan Wheatley and chief mechanic Kenny Handkammer might take a passing interest in. Pitstops are filmed as a matter of course, just not with this level of detail.

“We played back some of the slow-mo off the Epic for the guys on the guns,” says Caamaño. “They all wanted to see what they’re really doing, thinking there might be something there to help them improve – though having spent the morning here, it’s difficult imaging how they could go any quicker.”

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