The fastest tire change in Formula One was performed by the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team. During the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, they changed a full set of wheels in 1.82 seconds. It was the team’s third record of the season, which started on the Silverstone circuit at the British Grand Prix, where they set the record at 1.91 seconds. They then beat their time by 0.03 seconds, clocking 1.88 during the German race.
The Need for Speed
Dealing with car issues during a Formula One race is not a simple case of driving onto a two-post auto lift and waiting for the mechanic to tinker around looking for a problem. The time spent at a pit stop can mean the difference between winning and losing, so the activities are synchronized and practised for maximum efficiency.
Before the race, the crew discusses the strategy and decides when the car will pull in for a tire change. During the race, the driver executes the plan with support and instructions from the team through radio contact; the driver also notifies the pit crew of any problems.
At the agreed stage of the race, the car exits the circuit through the pit lane to the garage area. The car stops, the engine is set into neutral and the driver keeps his foot on the brake. The four ‘gunners’ approach the stationary car and use air guns to unscrew the wheel bolts while two people at the front and rear of the car place car jacks under either end and raise the car. Another crew of four people remove the wheels from the axles and clear the way for the ‘wheel-on’ crew to put new tires on the car.
The new tires are preheated, so they provide grip to the surface and do not burst with the sudden increase in pressure and friction on the track. The gunners come forward to tighten the wheel nuts, raising their hands when they’ve finished. The car is lowered to the ground and the front and rear jacks are removed. Finally, another crew member signals for the driver to return to the race.
Jack it Up
The research and technology behind Formula One cars have led to faster and safer vehicles. Everything from aerodynamics and engine performance to brakes and tires is reviewed and improved to help keep a competitive advantage. However, the key components of the car jack, such as the lifting pad, axle and wheels, handlebars, pivot, and release mechanism have remained mostly unchanged.
In the 1980s, McLaren introduced pneumatic jacks, but they were soon disqualified and the manual jack returned to the pit stop. With a return to manual jacks, the quick-release swivel jack for the front and rear has proved to be the most efficient. The jack is released after a tire change through a lever on the handlebar and the lifting pad drops away.
Because the pad pivots, it is easily pulled away from the car. The pad is made of carbon fiber with foam padding to reduce the impact as the front wing on the car is lifted. It is attached to the rest of the jack by hinges, with back springs stopping it from falling out of position.
The efficiency on the race track doesn’t always transfer to the domestic highway. For the less car savvy, changing a flat tire on a family outing can be measured by the half-hour, or longer if the tools are missing.