Analysis: HRTWilliams transmission technology deal

It seems recently more rumours and speculation circulate around the Hispania Racing Team than around any other team. But the first sign that the team will remain in F1 for 2011, was the announcement that they will be provided with gearboxes from Williams F1 from next season.

In their debut year Hispania (HRT) have run the standard Xtrac gearbox and hydraulics, being mated to the Cosworth engine and in turn to a Dallara chassis. This standard FIA specification rear end has been supplied to all three of the new teams (albeit with Virgin running their own gear case). The set up has not been without its own issues. Largely related to the reliability of the hydraulics package that controls various parts of the transmission. Having been the weak point on an F1 car for many years, for the existing teams at least the hydraulic system has finally matured into a reliable system. So it’s no slur on Xtrac that their first contemporary hydraulics package is less reliable than a seasoned F1 teams set up. To take step forward for 2011 and improve reliability the new teams have been seeking an alternative supply of gearbox and transmission technology. With Williams also running the Cosworth engine, their gearbox and ancillaries are already matched to the same engine as the new teams and reliable with it. So it’s no surprise that Williams have been offering this proprietary technology to other teams.

The short press release provided few details, but Williams have provided me with more information on the technical deal. Announced as a deal for Williams to provide HRT with transmission systems from 2011. The release added that this deal will extend for the life of the current Cosworth engine deal, expected to change with the new engine rules for 2013. This of course underlines the fact that Hispania will continue to use the Cosworth the CA2010 V8 beyond this year.

Williams have a record in sharing gearbox technology, the team provided Toyota with seamless gearbox technology while the pair shared a common engine supply in 2007. Williams had already run a seamless shift of their own in 2006, but this double clutch set up was discarded for their second generation set up. This latter version was shared with Toyota and exploited the now common method of using a double selector mechanism to provide the seamless shift.

What Williams will be providing HRT is a complete rear end package; this will be the complete gearbox including gear case. Williams have run a cast aluminium case for many years, although they have investigated carbon and titanium cases over the years, they feel the Alu case is the best solution for them. When asked if the deal was to provide the same specification as the Williams teams will use, as opposed to a bespoke case, Williams would only say that specific detail was “confidential”. With HRT’s limited budget and lack of technical resources, it would be expected for the team to share a common casing, perhaps with only the detail machining varying between the two teams.

In addition to the gearbox and case, Williams are also supplying HRT with “all associated hydraulics”. Perhaps this is the most critical aspect of the deal, while gearbox technology is not quite a commodity item, it is relatively accessible. However the hydraulics package is harder to acquire and takes time to develop. The systems are not commonly used in other motor sport formulae and differ in detail from Aerospace systems. It was after all Williams that matured modern electro hydraulic controls with their active suspension and winning world championships with them in the nineties. Albeit, it was the pioneering work done by Lotus that introduced the systems into F1 in the eighties.

KERS will be part of F1 again next year, again Williams via its subsidiary Williams Hybrid Power, has proprietary technology available to other teams. However Williams confirmed that there was “no KERS solution under this agreement”. This leaves Hispania to seek a KERS solution from Cosworth or another vendor.

Effectively Williams will provide the entire assembly from the rear face of the engine to the start of the rear crash structure. Primarily this will lead HRT to have the same rear suspension set up as Williams. For 2010 Williams have focussed on packaging their pushrod suspension to create as lower line shape the Red Bulls much talked about Pull Rod set up. Having a push rod set up necessitates having the rockers, torsions bars, dampers and antiroll bars on top of the gear case. With a double diffuser, pushrod creates more space for the diffuser at the cost of a streamlined shape to the cowling leading the lower beam wing. Next year with double diffusers banned, the Pullrod set up may be more beneficial, having less impact on diffuser packaging and better flow to the rear wing. Sam Michael confirmed to me at the FW32’s launch, that a pull rod set up was assessed for 2010, but the concept was discarded. But it’s possible the Pullrod solution could be back on the specification for 2011. Thus HRT will run the Williams inboard suspension geometry leaving the designers to adapt their rear suspension around those constraints and in turn the front suspension to match that.

With the majority of the rear end specified, it remains for HRT to design the rest of the car. The 2010 car was designed by Dallara, but the relationship fell apart after the opening races. Acting as a consultant, Geoff Willis was critical of the Dallara project and HRT have since severed ties with the Italian constructor. Rumours link the HRT team to Toyota, largely as the defunct Toyota motor sport team have F1 designs available for sale. Added to the fact that the base for the otherwise Spanish branded team is based in Germany at Colin Kolles workshops in Greding, some 4 hours drive from Toyota in Cologne. Rumours that the team had bought the entire Toyota operation for some $50m have been rubbished. It’s still possible that the car could be designed using existing Toyota IP or from new by their in-house design team. It’s also possible that a design office lead by Willis using German based design talent, could be a route to designing the car. This approach was taken by Lotus to get their 2010 car up and running.

Hopefully any design programme is already well under way, as the car will otherwise be very late. HRT will need an aero concept, suspension, electronics and the primary structures (i.e. monocoque & crash structures). The lead times for these programmes in both design and manufacturing terms are very long and with the season nearly complete, there’s just four months until testing commences in February. HRT have not confirmed any details of their chassis programme for 2011. So despite the deal announced today it’s far from clear if they can make it to grid next year.

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