Pit board

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Driving at full race pace, a Formula 1 driver has no more than about a second to read his pit board. It brings a new dimension to the term ‘speed reading' but now, as it was 50 years ago, this simple piece of equipment remains a vital link between a driver and his team.

Where once mechanics would chalk messages on blackboards, the Team McLaren Mercedes pit board is made from lightweight carbon fibre with an aluminium tube frame. Its biggest enemy, though, remains the same – the elements. Rain is no longer a problem, but to enable the signaller to keep a steady hand in gusty conditions the board has holes to reduce its wind resistance. These also help reduce overall weight.

Drivers may not glance at their board for several laps, particularly if engaged in a close battle. But when they do look, they need to assimilate information quickly. Details are therefore always displayed in the same places: race position and the number of laps completed or remaining at the top; then, on successive rows, the gap to the car in front and to the car behind; the bottom of the four lines is reserved for supplementary messages.

But why, in this hi-tech age, do we have boards at all? “The pit board relays information that you don't want cluttering up a driver's other senses,” explains Steve Hallam, head of race engineering at Team McLaren Mercedes. “Drivers have to concentrate extremely hard, and if you imagine also hearing a whole list of information in your ear, when you don't know it's coming, you'd soon be saying, ‘Give me a break. Just let me drive!' That's why we reserve the in-car radio for high priority communication.”

Pit boards have resisted the digital revolution because LED displays are heavier and hard to read in bright sunlight. Instead, they use 200mmhigh characters printed on black plastic slid between carbon runners. Drivers' boards are differentiated by colours, as well as by national flags. Such simplicity has advantages, as was proved during the 2005 Bahrain Grand Prix. Kimi's radio had stopped working after he hit a kerb, but he was running out of fuel and needed to be called in. Stops aren't usually indicated on a pit board, as it would alert others to the team's strategy, but in this case it saved the day.

The relationship between signaller and driver can be crucial, so the boards are currently operated by two of the men who know Kimi and Juan Pablo best – fitness trainers Mark Arnall and Gerry Convy.

“The way you present information can help keep a driver in the groove,” says Hallam. “You might round numbers up or down or, if there is a blip when your driver is closing on somebody, you might ‘smooth' the figures. If the gap's gone 8.8s, 8.6s, and 8.3s, but suddenly it's 8.5s, you might wait a lap to see what the next gap is to keep encouraging him.”

Technical specification

Size: 850 x 1100 x 40mm
Weight: 4.5kg
Material: Carbon fibre and aluminium

Special thanks to McLaren