Tech Talk: Slowing things down

2013 Hungarian Grand Prix Daniel Ricciardo
© Peter Fox/Getty Images

This weekend the pitlane speed limit has been reduced from 100kph to 80kph.

Having previously been allowed to drive down the pitlane at racing speeds, cars were then limited to 100kph in 2004. From this weekend that’s been cut to 80kph. It’s a minor tweak to the regulations but nevertheless one that requires teams to give the matter a little thought.

Are these measures a result of a cameraman being hit by a tyre flying off Mark Webber’s car during the German Grand Prix?
No. Reducing the speed limit in the pitlane has been planned for a while – though the introduction of the new rules may have been accelerated as a result of the injury in Germany as back in March race director Charlie Whiting said a lower limit wouldn’t be introduced this year. There have since been a number of pitlane incidents that have changed his mind.

So everyone’s going to travelling slower in the pitlane this weekend?
Limiting cars to 80kph during qualifying and the grand prix is a safety measure – but while speeds will drop on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, F1 has also raised the speed limit in practice. Previously it’s been 60kph in FP1, FP2 and FP3, now we’re going to have a uniform 80kph all weekend.

2013 German Grand Prix Mark Webber
Pit speeds have reduced to 80kph© Peter Fox/Getty Images

Why lower one limit but raise the other?
The belief is that having the same speed limit across the weekend is the smarter thing to do. Drivers will get used to the speed in the practice sessions rather than going into qualifying or the race without ever having experienced arriving in their pitbox at the higher speed. That’s good news for everybody – but especially the guy on the front jack. Also, having the same speed limit across the weekend allows the crews to do their preparation with more realistic live stop practice.

The main cause of injury among pit crews was drivers coming into the pit stop position too fast.

“Opinions have changed in light of more experience and analysis of pit lane incidents,” says Whiting. “The main cause of injury among pit crews was drivers coming into the pit stop position too fast, having had limited opportunities to practice doing this from 100km/h (as they ran at 60km/h in all the free practice sessions). It was felt that if the speed limit remained unchanged the whole weekend then drivers wouldn’t face the prospect of stopping on the marks from a higher speed for the first time at their first pit stop in the race.”

Will the limits be the same at every race?
No. 80kph will be the norm but the limit will be 60kph at Albert Park, Marina Bay and Monaco. This has long been the case, because those pitlanes (each of which is on a temporary circuit) are narrower than is usual. Everywhere else has a semi-official ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ lane in the pits.

Does this have any affect on the racing?
It might – but it depends on the circuit. Toro Rosso head of vehicle performance Laurent Mekies points out that the characteristics of the individual pitlanes have to be factored in: “In general terms for the season as a whole, the increase in time spent in pit lane could affect the strategy choice, especially at circuits with a short pit lane. Here in Budapest, going from 100 kph to 80 kph increases the pit lane travel time by a couple of seconds, for example. It's reasonable to think this change will push the teams who might have considered a 3-stop to go for a 2-stop – but of course the time spent in the pitlane isn’t the only factor to consider.”