There have been a few articles about F1 safety in the pitlane, and I agree with most of them.
First, I mostly agree with Gary Anderson that pitstops should be slowed down. He makes some excellent points; the problem is that two team members per wheel is doesn’t cut down much on the number of team members and won’t slow down pitstops by much.
Second, I disagree with Bernie Ecclestone that camera operators should be relegated to the pit wall only. The danger is not that they are in the pitlane, the danger is that they face away from traffic.
Third, I agree with all of the journalists that have said that anyone in the hot pit should have the same safety gear as F1 team members; however, perhaps both team members and other personnel in the pitlane should have increased protection.
Here’s what I would do about it if I made the rules in F1:
1) Limiting team members in pitstops:
Unlike Gary Anderson’s suggestion of two team members (“TMs”) per wheel, I would suggest that they apply the IndyCar model for wheel changing. That’s one TM per wheel: undo the nut, remove the wheel and place to one side, take the new wheel from the other side and mount it, and then refasten the nut. This would slow pitstops down quite a bit. Also, then there’s only one set of hands at each corner for the lollipop TM to look for.
The existing TMs for other duties would be allowed, as safety would be reduced if wheel TMs had to also clean sidepods or adjust wings, and the car must be steadied given current jack design. The only new limitation would be that one person per wheel is allowed to come in contact with the wheel.
Another method of controlling pitstop speed could be to revert to hexagonal wheel nuts. This comes to mind from an old story I heard about regarding a pitstop battle between McLaren and Penske back in the mid nineties at a Stars & Cars event held by Mercedes. McLaren was only allowed to use one TM per wheel to even the odds between them and Penske. Penske won, and McLaren asked if they could study their pitstops to see why. It turned out that Penske had designed spline wheel nuts that allowed for much quicker wheel gun alignment, rather than McLaren’s traditional hexagonal nuts; The Penske only required a few degrees of wheel gun rotation to align, whereas McLaren required as much as 15 degrees. McLaren adopted the design and saw a sudden drop in pitstop times.
I hesitate on this one as the hexagonal nuts’ impact on pitstops hinges on making wheel gun alignment more difficult, thereby increasing the likelihood of a wheel not being fastened correctly. This would require a bit of research before implementing eventually, if at all.
2) Camera operators in the hot pit:
There are protocols currently in place for marshals whereby if one of them needs to face away from traffic, they have a spotter that is facing traffic to warn/tackle them if needed. It would be simple to have another person there with the operator, shoulder to shoulder, ready to move the operator by force in case of an errant wheel. The problem with Bernie Ecclestone’s idea is that the same problem still exists: the operator still turns away from traffic.
Having a spotter still allows for the amazing camera views that would be lost if the operators weren’t allowed in the hot pit, and makes it much safer by eliminating almost all situations where errant wheels, or worse, sliding cars, could be headed in their direction without having a chance to evade them.
3) Increased protection for any personnel in the hot pit:
While helmets are an obvious start, chest and back protection is the next logical step. If young kids in karting need to wear a chest or rib protector, so should equally exposed pitlane personnel. Also, if police officers have sufficient mobility with bulky bullet-proof vests, there is no excuse for pitlane personnel not to wear a simpler and more flexible chest protector. Simple padding on the chest and the back would go a long way if they were hit by a car part, or worse, a car.
Increased protection should also be mandated for those on pit wall, as an errant tire could end up bouncing in any direction. While they definitely do not need chest protectors and helmets, there should be a catch fence between them and the hot pit as few of them face traffic in the pits, and if they did there is limited room to duck if a wheel did head their way.
There are three basic implementations that would drastically increase safety. Reduce the number of TMs per wheel from three to one, thus reducing the number of participants in the hot pit during a stop and thereby reducing confusion for the lollipop TM. Next, all camera operators must have a spotter and all personnel in the hot pit must wear approved head and torso protection. Finally, the pit wall enclosures must be protected by a simple catch fence to protect those on the wall from flying or bouncing car parts.
The reduction in wheel TMs would incur no extra cost, and may end up being a savings. Introducing spotters would incur a marginal cost as paid individuals would need to accompany each camera operator or official. Requiring head and torso protection would cost a few hundred dollars/euros at most, per pitlane occupant. Installing fencing along the inside of pit wall could cost a bit more, but certainly less than even one injury lawsuit.
All of these could be implemented for the next race with minimal cost, and would see a dramatic increase in safety for all involved.