Despite Ferrari’s pitstop lighting system having let the team down on two occasions thus far, Honda are testing a similar system with the view of running it next season. Like with Ferrari, the lights hang from a gantry above the driver during a pitstop and indicate when it is safe to to leave the box and continue with the race. Although Ferrari haven’t had much luck with them, Ross Brawn believes the lights are safer than the traditional lollipop.
Honda tried the system for the first time during the Thursday pitstop practice at Fuji yesterday and have even mooted the idea of running them during Friday’s practices in China and Brazil. And speaking to Autosport, Ross Brawn stated that he believes it could be safer than having a team member stand near the car with a lollipop.
We can see a lot of safety benefits from the system. But like any system it has got to be very robust and you have got to be very confident in the technology you are using. It is quite a delicate situation.
At the moment we are really going through an assessment period. We wanted to do some trialling in the practice days at the race track to be in a good position to make a judgement over the winter about what we want to do. Ross Brawn.
The current issue surrounding pitstops is two-fold. Firstly, the danger of the car leaving while the fuel hose is still attached can add unnecessary danger to an already dangerous part of the race. In Singapore, Felipe Massa lept away from his pitstop too early and the hose was ripped from the refuelling rig, taking a team member down and briefly spraying fuel as it flew past. The second issue is being released into the fast lane in front of another driver. This aspect of the pitstop comes down to human judgement, but the consequences of getting wrong are potentially race-ending penalties.
The light system is designed to help with problem-one, the lights not changing until the hose is clear from the car. This is an automatic part of the process and in theory, shouldn’t fail in the way a human can. Of course, that doesn’t mean to say it won’t, but as Brawn says, you have to be confident in the technology you’re using.
We can see, despite the poor exposure the system has had recently, a lot of safety benefits of the system – because the interlocks you create can, in theory, make it impossible for the car to be released without all the actions being completed.
But someone has to make the call for whether there is a gap in the pitlane for the car to exit into, and we haven’t yet worked out a way to deal with that. We have thought about sensors in the pitlane that sense when other cars are there and things like that, but that is still a human judgement.
It would still be human judgement if you had a lollipop though. And, with a lollipop, the guy is also trying to make that judgement at the same time as watching all the other activities that are going on with the car. That is where it is more difficult for him. Ross Brawn.
Interestingly, Ferrari are reverting away from the auto-lights in Fuji in favour of the traditional and proven pitstop-lollipop. One thing that inspires confidence in Honda’s approach though is that they are quite clear with the fact they won’t rush into the new system, but instead want to extensively test it over the winter first.