How McLaren utilizes data to make fastest pit stops in F1? - Explained

In the high-stakes world of Formula One, races can be won or lost in mere seconds. A fraction of a second during a pit stop can make the difference between win and loss.

Shubham Shekhar
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McLaren pit stop strategy

McLaren pit stop strategy (Source: X)

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In the high-stakes world of Formula One, races can be won or lost in mere seconds. A fraction of a second during a pit stop can make the difference between victory and defeat. The best example of it is the recently concluded British Grand Prix 2024 where Lewis Hamilton won in pits.

The McLaren F1 team, renowned for its innovative approaches, has leveraged data analytics to perfect its pit-stop strategies, achieving some of the fastest turnaround times in the sport. So how exactly do they do it? Let's have a look at it.

The Crucial Role of Pit Stops

When drivers receive the “box, box” call over the radio, they steer off the main track into the pit lane. Here, a well-coordinated team of mechanics springs into action, changing tyres, making necessary repairs, and adjusting car settings in a matter of seconds. The goal is to get the car back on track as quickly as possible, minimizing downtime and maximizing performance.

Pit stops are critical; a flawless one can propel a driver to victory, while a poorly executed stop can dash podium hopes. McLaren’s recent performance at the British Grand Prix, where a pit stop error cost Lando Norris his lead, highlights the fine margins at play. In contrast, at the 2022 Qatar Grand Prix, McLaren executed a world-record pit stop in just 1.80 seconds, helping Norris climb from tenth to third place and secure McLaren’s 500th podium finish.

What is data-driven excellence?

The secret to McLaren’s pit stop prowess lies in its sophisticated use of data analytics. In each race, the team conducts approximately 30 million simulations, drawing on data from computational fluid dynamics (CFD), wind tunnels, high-performance computing, and real-time telemetry from the cars.

These simulations create a digital twin of the F1 car, allowing engineers to model and test various scenarios and aerodynamic behaviours. This data-driven approach extends to the pit crew, where every aspect of the pit stop is analyzed and optimized.

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McLaren uses timing data, video analysis, and human performance metrics to refine their pit stop procedures. The team’s Director of Business Technology, Dan Keyworth, emphasizes that finding milliseconds is crucial in F1: “That’s what makes the difference between winning and losing.”

The Process of Optimization

Before a race weekend, McLaren prepares by generating data from 300 telemetry sensors on each car, covering 100,000 information parameters such as engine performance, fuel levels, and gear shifts. This amounts to 250 million data points per car per race. The collected data is processed through analytics automation tools like Alteryx, providing insights that guide pit-stop strategies.

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During the race, data is continuously analyzed to determine the optimal moments for pit stops. Factors such as tyre degradation, weather conditions, and competitors’ speeds are taken into account. The pit crew, consisting of around 20 members, each assigned specific tasks, works in unison to achieve the fastest possible turnaround. The entire operation is choreographed to perfection, with every action fine-tuned through data analysis.

How does McLaren improve race by race?

After each race, McLaren reviews every detail of the pit stop, from wheel gun RPMs to the precise release point of the car. This relentless pursuit of improvement is ingrained in the team’s philosophy. As Keyworth puts it, “We’re always looking for those fine margins.” The quest for milliseconds never ends, and McLaren’s commitment to data-driven excellence continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in Formula One.

Note – This report is based on various media reports and public comments  

Formula 1 British Grand Prix McLaren