Pit stops. Who needs them? According to some in F1, we should have more rather than less. Others – admittedly, a minority – would prefer no pit stops at all.
The latter has my sympathy mainly because, even though there were stops for refuelling, I thought 2005 to be an entertaining season thanks to drivers having to make a single set of tyres last the entire race.
That manifested itself in a number of ways: from Kimi Räikkönen trying to coax his leading McLaren home and suffering a left-front suspension failure (caused by chronic tyre vibration) on the last lap of the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, to the race story changing dramatically as rear tyres lost grip in the closing stages at Monaco.
You could argue that a one-set rule is no more an artifice than saying every driver has to stop at least once. Nonetheless, endurance should remain an ingredient of Grand Prix racing, whether applied to the driver or his machinery. Choose whichever tyres you want, but make them last; it’s part of the challenge and the skill. Or, it should be.
On the other hand, pit stops involve the entire race team beyond simply preparing the cars. Marc ‘Elvis’ Priestley’s excellent book ‘The Mechanic’ graphically describes the gut-wrenching tension associated with a role that can win or lose races. And pit stops add to the ‘show’.
Or do they? If you’re talking about spectacle then, with the greatest respect to painstaking fine-tuning pursued by each team, having the car stationary for just two seconds is a nonsense. How can spectators possibly appreciate the meticulous training and preparation if they can’t actually take in the high-speed choreography with the naked eye?
And what’s the point of the usual hollow talk about cost saving when teams don’t think twice about spending a fortune on lightweight air lines, machined aluminium and carbon fibre jacks, laser positioning devices to ensure complex wrist-breaking wheel guns are held at the correct height, digital traffic lights, clever axle designs, retained nuts in the wheel hubs; all of this miniscule detail in order to make the operation even faster and therefore – irony of irony - more difficult for spectators to fully appreciate.
Go to that trouble if you want, but don’t in the same breath talk about improving the entertainment value for a punter who, if he or she blinks, will miss an operation that, typically, is there for the benefit of the team and not the person they’re supposed to be entertaining.
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner talks about having more than one pit stop in each race. Like many in F1’s administration, Christian is looking through the wrong end of a telescope for the terminally short-sighted.
How about making the single stop last longer? Why not cut the crew of 18 to half that number? And have them work on one side of the car and then rush to the other. The downside of involving fewer of the race team could be overcome by mechanics working on their own car, adding to the rivalry within the garage as well as beyond.
If F1 is to insist on incorporating more pit stops, then make them worth more than an extravagant exercise that’s been and gone in less time than it takes Horner to say: “We want to provide exciting races”.