With all the fanfare and focus surrounding Sebastian Vettel’s record-breaking eighth consecutive grand prix victory in a single season at the U.S. Grand Prix, some viewers may have missed another impressive Red Bull record.
With Vettel cruising serenely to victory, Red Bull’s other focus was on Mark Webber closing the gap to Romain Grosjean in second place. And when he came in for his pit stop on Lap 28, something incredible happened.
The mechanics were in perfect position as they always are, with pneumatic drills at the ready. Off came the old front and rear medium compound tyres, and on came the new hards. It all happened in less than two seconds—1.923 seconds to be precise. A new world record.
"The team's car data recorded Mark as being stationary for just 1.923sec, an incredible feat," said the team on its official website.
Team boss Christian Horner also acknowledged the record-breaking stop in the same breath as lauding Vettel’s victory.
To achieve this result in front of so many of our Team Partners and supporters, as well as setting a potential new pit stop record on Mark's stop, has topped off a fantastic weekend for the whole team.
Of course, such an achievement does not come about by chance. In Malaysia this year, Red Bull came close to dipping under the two-second barrier. It’s all down to practice, practice, practice.
I was fortunate enough to be given a guided tour of the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes on the eve of this year’s British Grand Prix. My guide, Richard Soddy, told me of the achievement in Malaysia but that they regularly break the two-second barrier on the factory floor.
Yes, you heard that right—they practice pit stops on the factory floor where markings are painted, and they practice often between races and during the offseason.
Of course, all of the important work is done during the race weekend. As early as free practice, drivers practice tyre burnouts over the pit box area to lay down rubber on the slippery concrete surface to improve grip and traction for the pit stops proper.
Now it’s time to practice a stop. The driver will follow four yellow marker arrows in his pit box leading up to the lollipop man and then line up his front axle to stop in line with markers being held by two of the front mechanics.
Once stationary, the car is jacked up, and the mechanics can get to work. There are three in place on each corner of the car. One operates the wheel gun, one detaches the old tyre, and the other attaches the new one. When the new wheel is in place, each mechanic will raise his arm to signal the job is done. When all four arms are up, the lollipop is lifted and away goes the driver.
All in less than two seconds.
Of course, not every pit stop runs like clockwork, even for a team as polished as Red Bull. Behind each tyre crew are a backup wheel gun and a spare wheel nut. Although it's now a rarity, stalling the car is also a possibility, and for this reason a further mechanic lies in wait behind the rear jack operator just in case.
Pit stops are such an important part of grand prix racing that pit crews will practice changing a car’s tyres up to 60 times a weekend, with each driver having around 20 mechanics designated to him.
And as Red Bull discovered on Sunday, practice really does make perfect.