Sunday’s German Grand Prix was an absolute treat, races with a mixture of weather conditions usually are. Great racing drivers aren’t just fast, they are superb at adapting to every change in track temperature, grip, tyre wear and fuel load lap after lap. It’s what they do and why the rest of us just watch. Hockenheim was Formula One at its brilliant best.
What was also good to see is that the drivers wanted to go racing right from the start, not splash around behind the safety car for a few exploratory laps. That we had a standing start was good news, but those safety car laps weren’t really necessary. But F1, like everything else these days, exists in a world where caution comes first and safety is paramount.
Evidence of the push for greater safety can be seen everywhere in F1: halo, vast run-off areas and safety-car starts to name just a few. So why does no one talk about the insanity of the F1 pit stop?
There were 78 pit stops at Hockenheim on Sunday. It was brilliant to watch as drivers tried to master the changing conditions by having the right tyres at the right time. But that was 78 occasions on which an F1 car was driven at 50 mph down a narrow pit lane and into a crowd of 20 people. It doesn’t make any sense and is a lousy spectacle for both spectators and television viewers. If something lasts around two seconds and you can’t even see it, it’s hardly worth bothering with, particularly if you think of the carnage in the event of an accident.
At Mid-Ohio on Sunday evening there was an Indycar race and that had 69 pit stops, which is about normal for a road-course event in that series. Over in the US the quick stops were taking seven or eight seconds, and that included refuelling. Only six mechanics were involved each time. The beauty of the Indycar way of doing things is that everyone can see what is going on and the pressure on the crew is enormous. The tyre changers are responsible for the whole process: removing the nut, then the wheel, mounting a new one and then securing it. One of them has to ensure a safe release as well. It just adds to the drama.
Just as F1 is making the sensible move to more durable tyres, so rumours are surfacing of a return to refuelling. Putting more fuel in a car mid-race is now safer than it has ever been, but it still requires two mechanics and that only adds to the crowd… and the danger.
F1 needs more races like Sunday’s epic. There were the usual (and predictable) calls for sprinkler systems to be installed so every grand prix can have the wet/dry drama, but those conditions mean more pit stops, so let’s make them safer and therefore better. One great race doesn’t cure all F1’s ills, but what made it great brought it closer to disaster.