How the Williams F1 team used biometrics to make Formula One’s fastest pitstop

Formula One is one of the fastest sports on earth, and it’s got there through incessant tweaking and optimisation. Teams will sink millions to be a fraction quicker than their competitors – whether it’s by developing a new front wing, changing the setup or hiring a better driver. And now, in the quest for a slight advantage, the Williams F1 team is using tech to revolutionise another, often overlooked part of the sport: pitstops.

How the Williams F1 team used biometrics to make Formula One’s fastest pitstop

Chess at 200mph

Pitstops have always been a part of Formula One, and consist of tyre changes and setup tweaks, but in the past they used to include refuelling. That meant they’d take several seconds to finish, and it didn’t really matter how long it took to change the tyres as the fuel always took longer. But since 2010, refuelling has been banned from Formula 1. That means getting the tyres swapped over as soon as possible can get you in and out faster than your rivals – and hopefully ahead of them.

However, it’s not just speed – consistency is important, too. “There’s no point us doing a sub-two second pitstop and the next one being five or six seconds,” explains Gemma Fisher, Williams’ human performance specialist. “In order to undercut rivals and plan your position on track, we need to know that we can rely on those guys to perform at a certain level.”williams_f1_pitstop_1

For the last few years, Williams’ pitstops haven’t been the best. While teams such as Red Bull or Ferrari – notorious for their super slick stops – could get a car in and out in around two and a half seconds, Williams were stuck firmly at the back of the pack, around a second behind. And when you consider that one second equates to an eternity in F1, it wasn’t ideal.

“In 2013, we were setting 3.5-second pitstops as kind of our quickest,” Graeme Hackland, the team’s IT director admits. But three years later the Williams pitstop crew is the fastest in Formula One and recently won an award for a 1.92 second stop, the fastest this year. So how did they do it?

Using tech to set the fastest pitstop

To combat the issue, Williams did what all F1 teams do when they encounter a problem – they threw more resources at it. First they hired human performance specialist Gemma Fisher and then began to use cutting-edge biometric and IoT tech from Avanade, a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft specialising in solutions based in the IoT or the cloud.

“Gemma came in and started looking at the whole process,” says Hackland. “And then we started to look at technology. What do you need, and what data do you want.” Williams also looked at other sports such as rugby and football that track players when they’re on the pitch.”williams_f1_pitstop_4

First, Williams focused on the physical condition of the pit crew. Bio harnesses were strapped to four key members of the 22-person team, measuring heart rate, breathing rate, temperature and peak acceleration. This data was then sent to Azure, a Microsoft-powered cloud solution – and then pulled through Microsoft’s Power BI technology and Avanade’s own Biometrics Analytics Dashboard to be analysed more easily.

This data was the first step to fixing the problem, because it gave Williams a better idea of the physiology of a pitstop. “We could see that when we’ve had good pitstops the data looks quite similar,” Hackland explained. “And when we’ve had a slow pitstop or something’s gone wrong, you can see that the data is all over the place, there are lots of spikes and everything.”

Now, the team knew what sort of shape people were in during pitstops, and by looking at factors together – such as breathing and pulse rate – it was possible to tell when mechanics were stressed, and how they could improve their performance. Some mechanics realised they could recover faster if working in a certain heart rate zone, while others benefitted from reducing their caffeine intake.


With the physical, human side of things taken care of, it was time to look at the actual process of a pitstop. For most mechanics, much of the pitstop procedure is second nature, but to improve the entire process things had to be written down and critiqued in precise detail.

“We stripped [pitstops] right back to the procedures and protocols, how we do this, how we train. How do people even know what to do when they run out there on the pit lane,” Fisher says. After that, video was used and analysed from three cameras – and the positions were analysed by video.

You might think wearables – not video – would be the best way to track pitstop movements, and it turns out Williams already tried that. “We couldn’t find anything in the gloves, because there are five or six gloves very close together,” Hackland tells me. “The gun and the tyre people, their gloves are too close together, and the data is getting mixed up. But it’s an area we’re still looking at.”

The next step

Williams has had this system in place from the beginning of this year, and has effectively halved its pitstop times. But, after talking to Grahame Hackland, it’s clear Williams has much bigger plans for its Human Performance Program. All aspects of the car, from the engine to the brakes are monitored every second the car’s on the track. Yet, in this scientific culture of improvement and optimisation, the people who make the decisions and drive the car aren’t monitored at all. That’s something Williams wants to change.

“We’ve got 300 sensors on the car, we’ve got 1000 channels of data, and before this year zero on the humans. And they’re at least 50% of your performance,” says Hackland.

“We want to go so that it’s everyone. The people who are manufacturing the car, designing it. Are the designers really fatigued? If they’re fatigued they won’t be producing the most creative drawings. So I can see this over the next few years really expanding to more and more people.williams_f1_pitstop_2

Real-time analysis and GPS use

This year, the data was recorded and then analysed afterwards, but in the future Hackland tells me Williams wants to see and act on real-time data. That way, changes and advice could be given between pitstops, rather than the day after – and that could make all the difference.

The technology could change too. In addition to the video and biometric analysis, Williams is still keen to use wearables, and GPS. “We are looking at putting GPS data on the humans, everyone who is on that pitstop, the 22 people,” reveals Hackland. “What we want to get to is that everyone in the pit crew knows that so they can adjust before the car even stops, based on GPS. 

Although most of this stuff seems extreme, and almost Big Brother-like in some ways – after all, who wants someone monitoring your hydration – it’s very much in the spirit of F1. Formula One has always been a sport that analyses every aspect of itself for an advantage.

Everything from engines, brakes and even wheel nuts are optimised and tweaked every year, so it’s almost surprising that it’s taken teams so long to put pitstops under such scrutiny. Williams may well be the only team doing it now, but with such clear benefits to be had, it’s only a matter of time before every team is doing the same.                        

Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.

Todays Highlights
How to See Google Search History
how to download photos from google photos