For decades, pit releases in Formula One were the province of one crew member holding a sign on a pole in front of the car and driver. Appropriately (and affectionately) known as “the lollipop man,” they choreographed the whole pit stop ballet, were a fixture in F1 racing and often — like Peter Windsor in 1991’s Portuguese Grand Prix, when Nigel Mansell’s FW14 Williams was let out too quickly, allowing a wheel to fall off in the pit lane — the subject of intense controversy.
The lollipop man was responsible for indicating to the driver (1) where his pit box is, (2) when to put his car in first gear, and (3) when to leave the pit box, when the driver came into the pits during the race. They were also well in danger’s way, as Jenson Button’s lollipop man experienced first-hand in 2006. And it was a frightening job.
My abiding memory is one of fear. It was terrifying, not only for myself, but because you’ve been entrusted with the safety of the crew — and your actions could contribute to the result. It was one of those things where you’re thinking “don’t put anyone in hospital” and “do the best job you can.” The first time you do it, it’s not a pleasant feeling. I really can’t remember the driver, whether it was Johnny Herbert or Eddie Irvine, but I do remember it being a long walk out to get ready for the stop. You’ve got all these scenarios going through your mind. And you’re almost playing through the pit stop before you even take part in it.
But all things in F1 must change. By 2013, nearly all the teams, such as Mercedes AMG Petronas and Ferrari (below), except for the backmarkers, have now switched to a system of automated lights. Sometimes they hang from the overhead superstructure and sometimes they are affixed to the front jack apparatus. The austerity of lights removes some of the human element from the sport, which we’ll miss. (For a longer historical view of the evolution of Formula One pit stops, check out this nice post at the F1 Framework blog.)
Ever on top of things, the official Formula1.com site still says: “The car is guided into its pit by the ‘lollypop man,’ named for the distinctive shape of the long ‘stop/first gear’ sign he holds in front of the car.” Pit Stops | Formula 1® – The Official F1® Website. Get with it, Bernie!
To honor the memory of all those old lollipop warriors, here’s a collection of some of the best lollipop man photos we’ve seen.