“Ferrari’s mistake with the stoppage of Sainz in the Netherlands is unjustifiable”
Ferrari has made many mistakes this season, some of which were repeated during pit stops. The latest, a 12.7 second save from Carlos Sainz last weekend that ruined the Spaniard’s chances at Zandvoort. After the race, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto assured the problem was a call too late for the Spaniard to enter the pits, which meant the tires weren’t ready. The fronts arrived just right, but precisely the left rear didn’t arrive on time, not because he was on his way, but because the left rear wheel mechanic was positioned at the front of the car. He was right on the opposite side of where he was supposed to go, and as best he could he walked around the car until he reached the area he was supposed to go to and handed the wheel over to the mechanic who was to mount it.
For fans, journalists and people off the beaten path, it was a very strange action. But even more so for those who know in detail the dynamics and the work carried out in an F1 garage. We refer to Edu Llorens, who from 2017 to 2021 was a mechanic for AlphaTauri (formerly Toro Rosso)and precisely, it was tire manager in one of the two boxes, occupying the post of ‘Tyre Technician’.
Its function was not to remove the wheel from the box, nor to put it on. His job during a pit stop, in addition to others he did during the race, was to make sure the four mechanics had the correct tires to make the stops.
This is how a pit stop works
“The tire manager has advance information from the engineer and knows what strategies the team is considering and therefore which wheels to race. But just so the whole team knows, there is an indicator on each set of tires that lights up to indicate which set to take in. This light changes during the race,” tells MD the former coach of the Faenza team, now in other professional challenges far from the “Grand Cirque”.
“For example, on the first lap the light usually comes on above the hard tyres, and as the race goes on it gets updated. And there are other variables, like if a “safety car” comes out, which may require you to change the compound you had planned to put on, so you always have to be attentive, especially the four who have to take the wheels, they must always have their helmets and gloves on to be ready at any time,” he added.
With this information, imagine that in the middle of the race, a team wants to make a pit stop. The procedure is as follows: “They call the driver to the pits. The light of the set of tires to be mounted on the car lights up, and in the event of a last minute change from the planned strategy, the light of the set of tires to be fitted also changes to avoid forgetting, which can happen… “.
“At this moment, the tire technician is aware that all pit stop mechanics who have to take a wheel always take the correct one and that there are no mistakes, which has happened, because I’ve seen people get the tire wrong because it was the one with the light on the last time he looked at it. It’s something that can happen because of the stress of the moment”, remarks the Catalan, specifying that “that’s why you always have to be attentive”.
But it can happen that, for some reason, a mechanic is distracted and a wheel won’t come off. The tire technician should realize this. But not only him, this is where the so-called “team ‘di scorta'” (reserve team) comes in.
What is the ‘di scorta’ team?
“The ‘di scorta’ team is a second group of mechanics who go out in a hurry. A clear example is the case of a broken nut, as happened to Bottas in Monaco (2021). This is where the ‘di scorta’ team comes in, coming out with a second set of tyres,” remarks the man from Igualada. “In AlphaTauri there were two of us in this reserve team, but a big team like Ferrari must have around four people. It therefore seemed impossible to me that one of the wheels had not come off”.
But even stranger was what he saw with the detailed rehearsal of what had happened. “What I thought was that the mechanic had left very late, something that surprised me a lot because it’s super rare.. But what we saw later with reruns is even weirder and they have no justification. The rear wheel mechanic can never be at the front.”, precise. And it is that according to the ex of Alpha Tauri, in the practice stops that take place in the Grand Prix, each mechanic has internalized their path to the car. Hence the surprise.
“Inside the box there are always people, people prepared with helmets and gloves. Things like that can’t happen in a club with so many people.”. He says it with conviction and surprise. Above all, for the number of times a team practices a pit stop during the weekend and throughout the course.
2,000 pit stop training sessions per year
“In every race there are ‘pit stop practice’. In other words, a team typically practices around 10 pit stops per race every day of the Grand Prix, Thursday to Saturday, which can be around 12 or 13 if they go wrong. Meanwhile, on Sundays about 5 or 6 are practiced, just so that the mechanics face the race with a good feeling. More or less, we can talk about 40 or 45 pit stops for each race, and there are 22 appointments throughout the course. In total, around 1,000 pit stops per year in Grand Prix,” says Llorens, not to mention that many more are done in pre-season and at the factory.
“In winter they do ‘pit tests’ every day, and before the chassis is ready they can do a double test session. Quietly, in winter, you can make about 1,000 additional pit stops for training. In total, about 2,000 in a whole year,” adds Edu.
All of these practices are aimed at ensuring that the choreography between the members of the parades is perfect and that it comes as close as possible to 2 seconds. Carlos at Zandvoort was 12″7, and for Llorens, a late pit call was not to blame. It was a lack of attention.
“It’s not the fault of the late call. Unforeseen events like this can happen in a race and the mechanic should be prepared in case things happen. There may be yellow flags, safety cars, a virtual safety car, tires may burst…and the mechanics need to be ready. Late call is no excuse. The call is made when it is made and the mechanics must comply with it”concludes Edu Llorens.
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