In motorsport, a pit stop is when the drivers stop in the pit lane (where the team garages are) in the middle of the race to change tires, refuel the car, and make any other repairs necessary. Naturally, given the speed involved in motorsport, teams aim to do their pit stops as quickly as possible, keeping the car parked for as little time as possible. A slow pit stop, where something goes wrong can prevent the driver from being as fast as the competitors and ruin a whole race. In essence, pit stops are a really important part of all types of motorsport. Nonetheless, pit stop rules, length, and modifications vary among all different categories in motorsport.
NASCAR and Formula 1 are two wildly popular, but different categories in motor racing. While most people always wonder which category has the fastest car, another question asks which category has the fastest pit stops. The quick answer is that Formula 1 pit stops are much, much faster than NASCAR pit stops. While a regular F1 pitstop without any problems lasts less than 3 seconds, in NASCAR the cars are stationary in the pits for 12 to 16 seconds on average. However, that is not simply because the mechanics in Formula 1 do their jobs faster than the NASCAR mechanics. There many significant differences in rules, number of people involved in the pit stop, and overall race characteristics. Take a look at what makes Formula 1 pit stops faster than NASCAR pit stops.
Pit stops in Formula 1 are the fastest in all of motorsport. In normal conditions, F1 pit stops last less than 3 seconds, with the fastest pit stop ever recorded being a 1.8 second stop, done by the Red Bull Racing pit crew in the 2019 Brazillian Grand Prix. In fact, the Red Bull pit crew are well-known for their efficiency and quickness in pit stops, as they understand that in Formula 1 every hundredth of a second matters. But how can the Red Bull staff (and all other F1 pit crews) be so much faster than those of other motorsport categories?
To begin with, in Formula 1 there is no refuelling during pit stops, something that happens in other popular categories such as Indy car and NASCAR. Therefore, cars come into the pits simply to exchange all four tires and leave soon thereafter. Although it may sound like something simple to do, it is truly not; there can be up to 19 people involved in a simple tire exchange. Formula 1 teams have three people for each tire, one to operate a pneumatic gun, one to remove the used tire, and one to put in the new one. The car needs to be lifted for the change to happen, and so there are a couple of individuals responsible for doing it. You also have people responsible for taking care of the front wing, other possible damages, and even possible fires!
The fact is that so many team members, each with a very specific and extensively practiced task, makes Formula 1 pit stops extremely fast. If you think about it, it is an incredible feat to change 4 tires in close to 2 seconds.
Pit stops in NASCAR are slower and arguably more challenging than in Formula 1. That is because while there are over a dozen people involved in a F1 stop, NASCAR rules state that only six mechanics can be involved in a pit stop. Therefore, while in F1 each pit crew member has a very specific job to do, in NASCAR all members do more than one job in order to make the stop as quick as possible. In addition to all that, refuelling is not only allowed, but also necessary in NASCAR, something that F1 cars don't do mid-race.
After the driver brings the car into the pit lane and stops at the boxes, the first thing mechanics will do is put the refuelling gallon in, and raise the car so that old tires can come out and new ones can go in. While there is one mechanic to deal with refuelling and one to raise the car, they will both aid their team members with the tires. There are usually two mechanics operating pneumatic guns, and two to bring new tires. The remaining two will focus on removing old tires after their initial tasks are completed.
Remember, since there are only 6 people, first they have to do all that on one side of the car, lower it, then move to the other side and raise it to do everything again. When both sides are done and the tank is full, the fuel gallon is removed, the car is lowered, and the driver takes it back to the track.
Looking at both pit stops, while Formula 1's looks almost robotic, NASCAR's pit stops look like an organized chaos.
The number of pit stops taken in a race will depend on weather conditions, track conditions, tire strategy, and overall race development. In Formula 1, under normal conditions, a car will normally stop once or twice in a race. In NASCAR, that number is significantly higher, with drivers stopping between four to twelve times. Some variables include race length and overall race development.
In NASCAR cars will often stop for a pit stop and only change two tires, instead of all four of them. NASCAR's oval tracks, which only have turns to one side, unevenly wear tires, which allows for only two new tires being placed without significant loss in performance. A two-tire stop saves a lot of time in the pits. Remember, in NASCAR pit stops all four tires are not exchanged simultaneously, but rather mechanics do one side of the car and then the other. Sometimes, to make stops even shorter, cars might just stop for gas and not change any tires at all.
Formula 1 does not have two tire stops like in NASCAR, and the reason is quite simple. Unlike NASCAR, in F1 all tires are removed simultaneously, with more than a dozen mechanics working on putting new tires in and removing old ones. Therefore, only changing two tires would save not time at all, pit stops would still take between 2 and 3 seconds. In addition, Formula 1 does not race in oval tracks so the tire wear is more evenly distributed than in NASCAR.
Pit stops are extremely important in both sports. While it would be impossible to race without pit stops, (cars need to change tires and in NASCAR need to be refuelled to get to the finish line), it is also important that the stops are quick and efficient, and the stopping strategy is well defined and effective. There are countless examples both in NASCAR and in Formula 1 where a driver's or even a team's race was ruined due to either a bad pit stop strategy, or some kind of mistake made by the pit crew that made the pit stop last longer than usual.