I was walking the pitlane this morning while MercedesGP was conducting pitstop practice, and a photographer pointed something out to me that I had not seen before.
The tyres waiting to be changed onto the car already had what looked to be the wheel nuts attached to the wheel rims. Similarly, those that were taken off the car still appeared to have the nuts attached. The guns did not appear to pull a nut off nor put one on, merely to unscrew the existing one and then tighten the replacement.
This kind of technology is nothing new to fans of NASCAR. In that series, each wheel rim features five wheel nuts (or “lug nuts” as they are termed Stateside), which are attached to the rim with an adhesive. When a car comes into the box, those five nuts are loosened and the wheel removed with the nuts still attached, before the new wheel is placed on the car and the five attached nuts tightened.
The importance of this is that it speeds up the pitstop process and eliminates the chances of a wheel nut falling onto the floor or the thread becoming crossed.
In 2010 Mercedes topped the average pitstop time, recording the fastest stop in (if memory serves and I’m sure someone will correct me if I am wrong) eight races, although world champions Red Bull racing recorded the actual fastest stop of the season.
From what I could see this morning it did not appear that all spare tyres had the nuts already attached to the rims, but there could be two reasons for this. First, that the team is still experimenting with the system before rolling it out at a later date. Or secondly, that there are only so many of these new nuts to go around and that they have only been attached to the rims to be used in practice, before being switched onto the rims for the race.
Now I could be barking up completely the wrong tree, so I requested confirmation from the team once practice was over. I’ve also put in a quick request to the FIA just to double check there’s nothing prohibiting this kind of thing, as it seems like a fairly simple and obvious solution to the wheel nut issue and one which we surely would have seen by now unless it is banned. I’m not suggesting MercedesGP would be doing anything illegal, but as colleagues and I have agreed this morning, it seems like such a simple and effective idea that for only one team to have suddenly stumbled across it would seem odd.
As soon as I get word from either avenue, I will update.
If I’m right and this is what Mercedes are doing, and if it is a success, we could probably expect to see something similar appearing at the other teams over the next few races as I don’t believe, and again do correct me if I’m wrong, that any other team is doing something similar.