With pit stops having been a major part of the Formula 1 landscape since the mid-1990s, drivers, teams and fans alike have been witness to – or part of – some serious pit lane action.
And with tyre changing – along with refuelling, when it was in the rulebook – becoming such a fine art that could mean the difference between places won or lost on the race track, we are guaranteed the occasional bouts of madness. And sometimes this madness occurs even before the driver manages to get into their pit bay, or when they leave it.
It’s been a while since we put together a Richard’s Top-10 special, but in the spirit of all things subjective, here’s our countdown of silliest, scariest and craziest action in the pit lane…
10. Jack? What jack? – Johnny Herbert leaves with some pit apparatus, 1995 Spanish GP
A routine pit stop for Johnny Herbert at the 1995 Spanish Grand Prix saw one of the more bizarre incidents to occur during a race when he drove off with the rear jack still attached to his car!
Incredibly no one was injured in the incident, and Herbert went on to finish second to team-mate Michael Schumacher in the race, his first career podium.
[Video via Vladimorka]
9. Mirror? Signal? Manoeuvre? – Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil come to grief, 2010 Hungarian GP
The appearance of a mid-race safety car can often cause complete chaos in the pits as drivers flood in to take advantage of a change in race strategy.
But it’s during these times when you most need your wits about you, and the Renault lollipop man looking after Robert Kubica’s pit stop was clearly having an off day. The Pole was let out of his pit bay straight into the path of Adrian Sutil, who was turning into Force India’s pit bay (immediately in front of Kubica) to be serviced. Sutil was out on the spot, and Kubica deservedly received a drive-through penalty, while Renault picked up a fine for their troubles.
8. Don’t overshoot your pit bay – Nigel Mansell earns himself a disqualification, 1990 Portuguese GP
Before the days of refuelling, there was no pit lane speed limit and it wasn’t uncommon to see drivers hurtling down pit bay at well over 250km/h. How more mechanics were not seriously injured is a miracle, although you will see that plenty of mechanics have been mowed down even in the days of the pit lane speed limit…
A classic example of why pit lane speed limits are a sensible idea came at the 1990 Portuguese GP, when Nigel Mansell arrived at his Ferrari pit bay with far too much speed and overshot is mechanics.
Instead of waiting to be pulled back into his pit bay (as the rules allow), the moustachioed Brit engaged reverse gear and attempted a neat reverse park, nearly collecting a few of his crew along the way!
But the rule-makers deemed he had broken the rules and duly issued him with a black flag. Which in true Mansell fashion he managed to repeatedly ignore, and not before he took Ayrton Senna out of the race. The disqualification turned into a one-race ban…
But this wouldn’t be the last of Mansell’s pit lane escapades at Portugal…
[Video via paulrasf1]
7. Tighten those wheel nuts – Nigel Mansell, 1991 Portuguese GP; Michele Alboreto, 1994 San Marino GP; and more!
Pit stops call for a coordinated effort from the entire pit crew of up to 22 mechanics whose role it is to raise the car, remove and fit tyres, check for damage, clean radiators and helmet visors, and refuel the car.
A slip from one person could be the difference between a place lost or gained, but a monumental stuff-up can have broader ramifications.
We have already documented Nigel Mansell’s woes at Portugal, and the 1991 race would see yet another pit stop fiasco. Still in contention for the championship title in his battle against Ayrton Senna, Mansell needed a good pit stop to leap into the lead, but it all went horribly wrong when right right-rear-corner ‘spotter’ – no less than F1 journalist Peter Windsor! – indicated that Mansell’s right-rear tyre had been properly seated when this was not the case.
Mansell trundled a few feet down pit lane before wheel parted company with car, and he was disqualified from the race when his team refitted a tyre in the middle of pit lane. What a shambles!
But loose wheels can have far more serious consequences, as was evidenced in the already-tragic 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The right-rear wheel fell off Michele Alboreto’s Minardi as he exited pit lane, with the errant wheel ploughing through several mechanics who were injured, although none seriously.
6. Detach the umbilical cord – Christijan Albers, 2007 French GP; Felipe Massa, 2008 Singapore GP; Heikki Kovalainen, 2009 Brazilian GP; and more!
The period of mid-race refuelling had – in the opinions of many – brought an unnecessary degree of risk into the sport, and during the near-15-year period that it graced the Formula 1 landscape, we saw several frightening incidents of drivers leaving their pit bays with their fuel hoses still attached.
Most came about due to over-eagerness on either the driver or lollipop man’s part, and all had the capacity to be much worse. Of these, three spring to mind:
Christijan Albers’ last-ever F1 race had a particularly comical ending that pretty much summed up the Dutchman’s time in Formula 1. Far too eager to keep his Spyker in the pit lane until all the fuel had been delivered, Christijan took it upon himself to just drive off with the entire assembly still in place. The photos hardly did the Spyker brand any good, and when Christijan failed to stump up his next sponsorship instalment, he was not surprisingly shown the door.
When Nelson Piquet deliberately binned his Renault into the Singapore cement walls to bring out the safety car, Felipe Massa pitted from the lead. But thanks to Ferrari’s insistence on a traffic-light system instead of a lollipop man, Massa left his pit bay with the hose still in place – an error that cost him the race win and (he argues) the 2008 Drivers’ Championship title.
And lastly, the penultimate race where refuelling was still legal served to everyone as a timely example of why it was being banned from 2010 onwards. Finland’s two F1 representatives, Heikki Kovalainen and Kimi Raikkonen, pitted together for their first pit stops. But Kovalainen drove off with his fuel rig still attached, spraying fuel into the Ferrari driver’s path, which nearly set the former champion on fire!
5. Toyota Prius brakes – Too many to mention!
Approaching a ‘human garage’ of 22 men at speeds of up to 100km/h has plenty of risks, and we take our hats off to the faithful team mechanics who bravely put their lives in their drivers’ hands at each and every pit stop.
It’s not surprising then that mechanics get clobbered by their drivers from time to time, and you’ll find YouTube clips galore of plenty of incidents from the years.
But a certain Michael Schumacher always bring out a rather cruel giggle from the Richard’s F1 team with this effort in testing during the 1999 season.
[Video via ryanpfc1992]
4. Time for an eye test? – Jaime Alguersuari, 2010 Abu Dhabi GP; Jenson Button, 2011 Chinese GP
With each of the teams running (largely) with rather distinctive uniforms for their mechanics, it takes a particularly special talent to arrive at the wrong pit bay for a pit stop.
Jaime Alguersuari can be forgiven for his blunder during the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when he arrived at Red Bull’s pit bay when he meant to stop at Toro Rosso’s – admittedly, the two drinks giant-owned teams had quite similar uniforms and they were positioned next to each other on the pit lane.
But Jenson Button takes the biscuit in one of the better driving gaffes we’ve seen in a while, when he attempted to get serviced at Red Bull’s pit bay during last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix!
[Video via 2011FernandoAlonso]
3. The red light means stop – Niki Lauda, 1976 British GP; Lewis Hamilton, 2008 Canadian GP
The Montreal circuit’s pit lane – and in particular, it’s red light – has seen many drivers fall foul of the rules dictating that drivers must stop at pit exit if it is illuminated. The light can be on simply because the pits are closed, or because the safety car is approaching pit exit.
Fail to stop at the lights and you’re disqualified. Just ask Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella 2007, or Juan Pablo Montoya in 2005, or Nigel Mansell and Alessandro Nannini as far back as 1989. On each of these occasions, the indiscretion was unforgivable on the part of both driver and team.
At the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix, McLaren should have paid more attention – especially given that one of their drivers (Montoya) had previously fallen foul – when it happened again. With Lewis Hamilton pitting at the same time as many other cars during a safety car interruption, he failed to see the red light that Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica had managed to spot, and ploughed straight into the back of the Finn’s Ferrari, while Nico Rosberg planted his Williams into the back of Hamilton.
Back in 1974, however, red lights were not the done thing, but a race official parking their vehicle across pit exit would work equally well.
Just ask Niki Lauda: leading the British Grand Prix comfortably and on course for Ferrari’s first win in over a decade when he’s forced into the pits with a slow puncture. Trying to exit pit lane, he finds himself trapped in pit lane when a circuit official parks their car across the exit. The win was lost, and Ferrari successfully negotiated an appeal to have Niki’s fifth placed result improved to a fourth. Hardly fair…
2. Clobbering the pit wall – David Coulthard, 1995 Australian Grand Prix
Looking set to take his second career victory in his last race for Williams at Adelaide in 1995, David Coulthard cocked up his run into the pit lane, slid on a patch of oil and buried the front suspension into the unyielding cement wall at pit entry.
Watch the clip for a classic moment in F1 punditry from Murray Walker!
[Video via michael1995T]
1. Barbecue, anyone? – Jos Verstappen, 1994 German Grand Prix
Well, there really can only be one winner…
Jos Verstappen’s infamous fuel fire is undoubtedly one of the most recognised pit stops in the sport’s history.
Allegedly caused by a junior mechanic removing a fuel hose filter (designed to restrict the rate at which fuel flowed into the cars during a pit stop), it was a miracle that Verstappen and the members of the Benetton crew were not seriously injured.
[Video via 20mlt09]
No doubt you might have your own favourite moment that we may have missed out on – post your suggestions below!
To view the other Richard’s Top 10 countdown articles, click here.