FEBRUARY 4, 2005
The BAR gearbox
The current kerfuffle in Formula 1 circles about the latest British American Racing gearbox seems odd thing given that the teams involved (and we believe there are more than one of them) are not generally stupid enough to build systems which are blatantly illegal. The problem appears to relate to the speed of the modern gearshifts which can now change gears within a few milliseconds. The rules, as they are written, indicate that "continuously variable transmission systems are not permitted" (Article 9.3.2 of the FIA Formula 1 Technical Regulations). CVT was developed in the early 1990s by Williams and banned almost immediately. It is a system that makes it possible to vary progressively the transmission ratio and so allows the selection of a infinite number of ratios. But this is clearly not the case with the current generation of F1 gearboxes which have a set number of gear ratios. There must therefore be a break in drive as one shaft switches to another. This can be proved by showing the FIA the mechanical design of the gearboxes. The point of interest is the speed at which this is now being achieved.
According to the teams we have spoken to, the question of transmission development was raised by Ferrari at the most recent technical working group meetings. The Italian team has been claiming that costs have been accelerating as quickly as the gearboxes but the other teams say that this is not the case at all. They say that while gearboxes are marginally more expensive to manufacture, they now last considerable longer and so are much more cost-effective.
The suggestion we have heard from the other teams is that Ferrari is making a fuss about gearbox technology because it has not developed as good a system as its rivals.
However the motivations of the whole business are not relevant. The only question that matters is whether or the systems constitute CVT or are simply gearboxes with impressivly quick gear changes. The rules do not indicate that there must be a gap of X milliseconds between changes of gear and thus the gearboxes should, in theory at least, be deemed to be legal.
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