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April 26, 2017

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Formula One mulls minimum pitstop times

BUDAPEST -- Formula One team managers discussed introducing a minimum pitstop time, without reaching any agreement, as pitlane safety remained a hot topic at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Thursday.

The sport's governing body did, however, relax a complete ban on television reporters and photographers working from the pitlane during practice, making a limited number of special tabards available.

A driver who is released from the pits with a loose wheel on his car will be handed a 10-place grid penalty from Hungary onwards.

The pitlane speed limit has also been reduced from 100kph to 80 in practice sessions as well as the race.

The tighter measures have been imposed after Red Bull released Australian Mark Webber's car during the race in Germany this month without securing his rear right wheel, which bounced off and hit a cameraman.

Webber, who is leaving Formula One at the end of the season for a new career in sportscars with Porsche, said he had texted cameraman Paul Allen — recovering from a broken collarbone and ribs — since Germany.

"He's in sensational spirits. It's good that he's a bit of an old warrior, he's not precious. He's a good lad and knows none of it was done through anything intentional," he said.

"We all dodged a bullet that day and all of us were thinking of his health and it's great that he's relatively OK."

Despite the Nuerburgring incident, the Australian doubted slower pitstops would make much of a difference and felt there was an element of media hysteria.

"I think there still needs to be a competition in the pitlane," he said.

Two Seconds

Pitstops have become far quicker in Formula One since refueling was outlawed, with Red Bull changing the tires in a record 2.05 seconds during this year's Malaysian Grand Prix and all teams seeking to shave off precious fractions.

Previously, mechanics would change tires and wait for refueling to finish before the car was released.

The decreased turnaround times have led to concern that pit crew are under too much pressure and may be more prone to making mistakes as a result.

"I don't think anyone would disagree with improving safety — teams, drivers, media, promoters. But it is difficult to find an agreement on the way to do it," said Ferrari's double world champion Fernando Alonso.

"If they find a solution to increase the pit-stop time to improve safety and it is the same for all the teams, I think no one will disagree."

McLaren's Jenson Button said he would advocate a return to refueling, with new technology to limit the dangers that go with it, but Webber thought the lightning fast stops were an important part of the show.

"I think it's a sensational talking point," he said, even if he recognized it had little relevance to road cars and the average motorist's experience of a visit to the tire shop.

"When they can turn a car around that quickly it's a great advert for the sport. It's another part of our operation to show how performance-oriented we are.

"It's impressive. A lot of people talk about that when they are in the garage and they see a Formula One car come in and disappear. The difference between two seconds and three seconds is still impressive."

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