A tale of planning and pitstops

Why do we need to plan? Why can’t we just get on with doing?

The Mercedes Formula 1 team gave us an extreme example of the impact of planning on pitstops at yesterday’s race in Germany.

Love or loathe F1, the teams and individuals involved are the epitome of high performance. In a world where fractions of seconds count, no detail is overlooked.

A modern F1 pitstop (changing 4 wheels and tyres) take around 2 seconds (the fastest is 1.92s). If you are not amazed by that, please re-read the sentence. 2 seconds to get a car in the air, get 4 wheels off, 4 new wheels on, put the car down and send it on it’s way.

A 2 second pitstop is only possible because the entire pitstop is finely orchestrated. Every team member (including the driver) has a set of things they need to do, at set times, in a set order. Everything has to be perfect for it to work.

As an aside, whilst the pitstop is perfectly planned, it is also practiced a lot.

What would happen if a pitstop wasn’t planned?

We found out in the German GP yesterday. The weather was awful; it was raining a lot, on and off, and the teams couldn’t work out which tyres best-suited the conditions. To make matters worse, one of the track run-off areas was unexpectedly like an ice-rink when it was wet.

Lewis Hamilton had just slid off the circuit, just before the pit entry, in seriously wet conditions, breaking his front wing in the process. He did the only sensible thing he could do and headed straight into the pits, but his team were not ready for him.

The Mercedes F1 team have made all the other high performing F1 teams look amateurish this year, such is the level they have been operating at. And yet, we saw them here with a car but no plan.

As the team struggled to spontaneously organise themselves, running backwards and forwards, grabbing tyres and a new wing, Lewis could only sit there in the car and wait.

Eventually, the team managed to get the tyres changed (the wing had also been replaced).

Rather than the 2 second pitstop that Lewis had been used to enjoying, he lost 50 seconds sitting there waiting for the team to change his tyres.

In F1, 50 seconds is huge. It only takes 73 seconds to complete a lap of the German circuit in the dry. From leading the race, Lewis ended up finishing last on the road (though he was subsequently promoted to 2 places following penalties for other drivers).

The point of this is not to criticise the Mercedes F1 team; All the teams struggled to cope with the randomness caused by the weather. “It was like a horror movie mixed with a black comedy”, as one of the drivers put it.

The point is to highlight that normally the pitcrew operate accordingly a highly refined and well practiced plan. Take away the plan and performance drops off a cliff. The plan is essential to deliver the performance.

If you want to achieve something, planning is usually important.