Devil in the details: the Formula E pit lane

Hazel Southwell
Mar 16, 2018 · 5 min read
The Punta del Este pit lane from (roughly) a driver’s eyeline (photo by me and my dirty knees)

Formula E’s pit lane is a sort of endless fascination — and frustration — of the series. And with timed pit stops putting the pressure on drivers and teams to get the car swap procedure note-perfect, there’s nothing being left to chance.

In Formula 1 — in fact, most motorsport — the pit lane is pretty straightforward. Done on a circuit, it’s a straight which has a ‘driving’ lane down one side and a lane in which drivers, guided by “lollipop men” stop in the other lane, not entering the garage. Certainly not driving head-first into it. Actually you’re usually not allowed to drive into garages full stop.

Anyway, I digress — Formula One pit stops are basically what defines the concept of a pit lane and they’re mostly built for them. Two lanes, one for stopping, permanent concrete buildings (even at street circuits like Monaco and Singapore, the pit is a structure) with a raised walkway on the outer side, called a “pit wall” which is basically where goons like yr correspondent can hang out and try not to get run over.

That isn’t how Formula E works, of course. Formula E doesn’t use permanent-built pit lanes. Exception occasionally when it does. Which is sort of what you can say about any Formula E pit lane, to be honest.

With the help of some excruciatingly bad diagrams, let me explain you a very specific thing.

DS Virgin fluorescent signs attached to the Punta del Este pit wall

Walking down the pit lane here in Punta del Este, I noticed some teams were attaching fluorescent signs to what kind of would be the pit wall in some places — the outer edge of the pit lane. At first glance I assumed they were opposite their garages — but they’re not.

Slightly puzzled, I spoke to Mahindra who confirmed my suspicions — they’re braking points for the drivers as they head into their garages for the car swap, an attempt to get every entry as precise as possible with no chances taken at all.

You might think that sounds a bit patronising — the drivers names are, after all, right over their garages and these are people able to spot a potential overtake around a corner half a kilometre ahead of them while driving at over 100 miles an hour, surely they can work out how to park?

As always, in Formula E it’s not that simple. Let me show you some bad drawings.

I couldn’t remember seeing the pit markers before — probably because it’s relatively unusual for FE to have a railing (and no pit wall) along one side of the lane. Here’s the layout that a lot of FE tracks use for the garages, with a double-sided pit lane:

A horrible illustration of the HK pit lane including extremely not to scale cars.

In these lanes, drivers are only able to rely on their lollipop man to guide them in, with no opportunity to put additional markers down the open middle of the lane. It makes even what looks like a wide lane very tight, with cars pitting on both sides simultaneously:

Hong Kong pit lane: looks wide until Venturi and Jag are making a pit stop at the same time… (bad photo by yr correspondent)

If this was all Formula E pit lanes then it would probably be something you could make watertight. However, since then we’ve had two rounds (Marrakesh and Mexico) which use permanent facilities’ pit lanes — so the F1 design:

I am. So sorry. But you get the idea. (mixed media biro and back of envelope, 2018)

Formula E don’t use the pit lane the same way that Formula One do, with cars driving into — and then back out of — the garage.

Dodgy photo of Mexico pit lane — pit wall on the left, beyond that the pit straight, garages on the right.

This is quite a different setup, a much longer pit lane with the garages end-to-end and with one ‘driving’ lane and one ‘crossing’ lane.

Then there’s here. To recap, here’s the header for this article — the Punta pit lane from outside the second garage along, kneelinmg at about the height of a driver in a cockpit:

Curvacious, no?

Several of the garages — specifically, Techeetah, DS Virgin and Mahindra, are on or around the curve of the pit lane, making those now-racing car swaps a much more challenging maneuver to finesse, especially with a sandy, dirty track.

I apologise to illustration, motorsport, you the reader etc.

With every micro-second counting, now that the minimum pit stop time has been removed, these little fluorescent panels are a clever indicator for drivers, desperate to avoid losing in the garage, as maybe happened to Oliver Turvey in Mexico:

Mahindra pit markers — actually opposite the DS garage but designed to guide drivers in.

There is of course also a fourth FE pit lane model, the ‘detached’ where the lane is moved away from the garages, which are placed in the usual five-by-five ‘facing each other’ structure as per Hong Kong. We’ve only seen this in Long Beach and Montreal, neither of which are in the current calendar but never say never -

Actually to be fair the mayor of Montreal did seem pretty emphatic but still.

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