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Red Bull: FIA attempt to slow pit stops could be dangerous

SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes the FIA’s plans to slow down pit stops from the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards could result in making them more dangerous.

On the grounds of safety, the sport’s governing body circulated a technical directive — essentially a clarification of the rules — aimed at preventing teams from using automated systems to speed up pit stops.

F1’s rulebook outlaws the use of sensors to anticipate each stage of a pit stop before it happens, saying such devices can only be used “passively” during tyre changes.

The technical directive, which will come into force in Hungary to give teams time to adapt, is designed to ensure each stage is split by human reaction times rather than those possible with automated systems.

For example, 0.15s must separate the moment the wheel nuts are tightened and the moment the car is lowered from its jacks. A further 0.2s must elapse before the driver receives the signal to leave the pits, usually via a traffic light unit suspended above the car.

Red Bull currently holds the record for changing all four tyres in race conditions — at 1.82 seconds — and routinely completes faster pit stops than its main title rival Mercedes.

Asked if his team had been specifically targeted by the technical directive, Horner said: “I think you can see there’s an awful lot of pointed activity in our direction at the moment, but that comes with the territory of being competitive.

“An awful lot of energy is going in to try and slow the car down, which is obviously what happens in a competitive business.

“It’s something that we are used to but not losing too much sleep about.”

Part of the reason for the technical directive is to ensure automated systems do not take over and result in the removal of checks by pit crew members to ensure the car is released in a safe condition.

But Horner is concerned the details of the technical directive may have the opposite effect.

“I think to have to hold the car for 0.2s, you can almost argue it’s dangerous because you are judging the gaps and the guy releasing the car is having to make that judgement,” he said. “I think it’s not been well thought through.

“F1 is about innovation and seeing pit stops at sub-two seconds is a remarkable feat and we should be encouraging it, not trying to control it.

“Otherwise, where does it stop? We are going to be told which way to walk into the garage, where we should sit on the pit wall and which buttons we should press I guess.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said his pit crew had already put extra safety checks in place during its pit stop as the potential cost of a car leaving without a wheel attached far outweighed any benefit from a slightly quicker stop

“You will always put everything into your pit stops so you avoid the wheel just detaching or coming off because the penalty is enormous,” Wolff said.

“We in the past had a policy of making sure that that wouldn’t happen and that also meant to have some circuit breakers in the system in a way that that could never happen. And that slows you down in terms of pit stops.

“But that was our own decision, it had nothing to do with anybody else. A fast pit stop is nice to have and they look cool but I’m not 100% sure there’s such a huge performance differentiator because we are talking about a tenth or two on average, we are not talking about the slowest or the fastest pit stops.

“It will be interesting to see where that comes from and what the basis was.”

When asked if Mercedes triggered the clarification to the rules by speaking to the FIA, Wolff added: “We enquired with the FIA on a safety mechanism which is related to a system that we were using and whether that could be optimised.

“That happened, I would say, three or four weeks ago and it was a technology question. Did that trigger anything else? Maybe, I don’t know, but this is the question we’ve asked.”

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