A modern Formula One race is a game of fractions. A few grams shaved off the weight of a car here, or a tiny improvement in the power output of an engine there, can mean shaving a few hundredths of a second off a lap time that may be the difference between first and second.
But despite these efforts, races can still be won or lost when the car isn't even moving - namely in the pit lane. Getting a car serviced and out onto the track as quickly as possible is as much a part of building a successful team as having the right driver and the best engine.
And it's not just about human performance. Making the perfect pit stop is also a huge engineering challenge, as everything from the design of the car to seemingly simple things such as how the jack works can make a difference.
In the early days, coming into the pits was a fairly leisurely activity, if they were made at all. This was an era when the points scoring positions could be separated by minutes rather than seconds, so speed wasn't exactly of the essence. With a pit crew that might number only two or three people, the driver usually had time for a chat and a quick snack while waiting for the tires to be changed.
But today, even the slightest delay can be the difference between winning and losing, so the pit stop has had to evolve hugely, both in terms of the technologies deployed and the way the mechanics themselves operate.
The right technology
Take a look at some of the videos available of pit stops from the 1950s and you'll see it wasn't exactly a smooth operation. Changing a wheel would usually involve hitting the nut repeatedly with a hammer until it came loose enough to remove (repeat three more times for the rest of the car). Yet today, even something as seemingly simple as a wheel nut is a part that's carefully designed and engineered to be as efficient as possible.
This needs to be combined with hugely powerful wheel guns that rotate the nut on and off within a fraction of a second - and it all has to be strong enough to cope with the immense forces that will be put through it when cornering at 150 mph. It's no mean feat, but one that often goes underappreciated.
Then there's small changes like front wing adjustments, which need to be done precisely at speed in order to keep the car perfectly balanced. Innovations such as swiveling jacks than can be pulled out of the way faster also help cut fractions of a second off a stop.
Even factors such as signaling the driver when to go have been thought through and honed to a fine art. Until just a few years ago, this was done with the oddly low-tech solution of a man with a board he'd lift to tell the driver to set off. Nowadays, every team has their own traffic light system in order to shave a fraction of a second off their stops, that's activated once all the wheel gun and jack operators press a button to indicate they're ready.
The best team
Of course, all the technology in the world is useless unless it's placed in the hands of the very best mechanics who make it all look effortless. A modern pit crew involves upwards of 20 people, and it's a perfectly-choreographed act, where everyone involved knows exactly what their role is. For instance, it takes three people on each wheel just to change a tire - one to remove the old one, one to fit the fresh rubber, and one to operate the gun. Add to this front and rear jack operators (plus backups), and those adjusting the aerodynamics - even the person cleaning the driver's visor - all have to know exactly where to be and how long they've got to do their job.
The results can be spectacular. Currently, Williams Martini Racing holds the fastest record for a pit stop stands at under two seconds, and anything above three is seen as painfully slow. When it all comes together, it's a perfect example of how technology and human skill work together to create a winning team.
Randstad has been the official partner of the Williams Martini Racing Team since 2006. Success in Formula One requires the commitment of a talented team performing at the best of their ability. The expertise, spirit of excellence and trust on which we base our relationships, are illustrated within the Williams Martini Racing team every day.
In both the racing world and the HR business, one has to be proactive as well as have quick reflexes to perform well. Like Randstad, the Williams Martini Racing team is an innovative team with a solid track record and a remarkable workforce.