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.

Analysis: Lotus to use bespoke Red Bull gearbox and hydraulics from 2011

Although the rumours suggested it will be a complete Renault rear end for Lotus Racing, today the team announced it will in fact use the Red Bull gearbox and hydraulics from 2011.

Equally unexpected was the confirmation that the technology will not simply be Red Bulls 2011 RB7 design. But a part Lotus designed gearbox. Silvi Schaumloeffel from Lotus exclusively telling ScarbsF1.com “It’s a bespoke gearbox for us and we have been in contact for several weeks and have been able to progress the design”. Thus the 2011 Lotus already has the Gearbox design considered as part of its initial philosophy.

This deal underlines the determination of Lotus Racing to get a foot hold into the midfield. Their race results this year have been undermined by hydraulic failures. Lotus Racing are one of the two teams using the complete Xtrac gearbox and Geoff Willis technical director of HRT has been critical of the units packaging in comparison to current F1 standards. Clearly if Lotus want to progress then they need to resolve the reliability issues with the cars rear end. Moreover the team also need to improve their aerodynamics, at the rear of the car this is largely constrained by the gear case design. As the gear case itself forms a large obstruction to the airflow approaching the diffuser. Plus the gearcase dictates the rear suspension geometry, springdamper packaging and the hydraulics packaging.

As a route to a cheaper and quicker entry into the Formula, the FIA allowed new teams to run with an Xtrac gearbox and hydraulics, mated to the specification Cosworth Engine. Lotus have taken this approach, of the new teams only Virgin chose to make their own gearcase, the bespoke case gave Virgin a unique rear wishbone geometry.

Traditionally teams have always developed their own transmissions and hydraulics, albeit with assistance from specialist manufacturers, but the concept, design and assembly has been in the teams’ hands. While gearboxes have increasingly been reliable from both detail design work and the increased control from electronics, the F1 cars Achilles heel has recently been the hydraulics package. The hydraulics package is complex both in its operation and the number of moving components controlling the various systems around the car. A modern hydraulics system now controls: gear selection, clutch, differential, reverse gear, throttle control & power steering. Any number of components can lead to the system breaking: pump failures and leaks, plus failures of the valves or actuators.

To build up the knowledge and resources to develop a complete gearbox and hydraulics, requires time and a huge investment. Equally with restricted testing, problems with any part of the system could hinder pre-season testing and lead to yet more race retirements. As a medium term option Lotus have taken the route to sub contract these systems to another team who already have the knowledge resources and a proven product. Several teams have offered these systems to other teams, Williams are known to be marketing their rear end, while before the Red Bull announcement, Renault were believed to offering their rear end.

The option to take a team’s gearbox and hydraulics is logical; the choice of any of the current team’s solution would be equally attractive. Why Lotus chose Red Bull is not yet clear. Perhaps the fact they are able to offer a bespoke product, rather than the same specification as raced by the factory team.

Looking at Red Bulls recent history on transmission and hydraulics does not initially paint a positive picture. In the first years of Newey’s tenure at Red Bull racing their systems were unreliable, it took the recruitment of Geoff Willis to iron out the faults, since then and following his subsequent departure, RBR have been as reliable as their rivals in these areas. Red Bull were also late to the seamless and carbon fibre trends on gearbox design.

In contrast the influence of Newey on gearbox design shone in 2009 when he designed the RB5′s gearcase to accommodate the new aero regulations. With smaller diffusers mandated he took advantage of gearbox packaging to improve flow to the rear wing and around the diffuser. Only the advent of double diffusers upset this philosophy. Newey’s 09 gearbox took a low line approach, placing the differential low down and moving the springs and dampers from atop the gearcase to low down, by use of pullrods rather than pushrods. This placed the torsion bars splayed vertically aside the gearbox and the dampers running longitudinally alongside the case. While the heave damper and inerter sat inside the front of the gearcase, either side of the clutch input shaft. Having these components in this location placed them low from an aero and CofG perspective, plus they sat in the shadow of the engine, thus once faired in beneath bodywork presented no interference to airflow alongside the flanks of the gearbox. In contrast to the low line mechanicals, the wishbones were mounted unusually high, the lower wishbone was well above the floor (leading the space for the exhaust blown diffuser in 2010), then the upper wishbone sat very high up on pylons cast into the top of the gearcase, the rear legs of the upper wishbone taking a secondary aerodynamic role in directing airflow the rear wing.
It was only later in 2009 that the team switched from cast aluminium to a carbon fibre gearcase. The switch in material having no major effect on the original designs packaging.
For 2010 Newey’s gearbox needed to accommodate the double diffuser, the original concept was largely retained, only a raised differential and revised wishbone geometry (to optimise the EBD) were altered. Newey did tell me the benefit of pullrod was marginal, it being better to stick with the known concept than alter the entire case for pushrod operation. With the ban on double diffusers in 2011, Newey’s original 09 concept will see benefits once again.

Of course Newey’s gearbox layout won’t necessarily be copied, as the Lotus gearbox will be a bespoke product, Mike Gascoyne’s Cologne based design team will be able to influence its design. However it would be logical for the team to follow some of the concepts used by RBR in 2009. Although perhaps the choice of a cast metal casing would be more effective for Weight VS cost, Carbon would be expensive and 2011 cars are constrained by the demand for forward weight distribution that RBR faced in 2009. Gascoyne does have a record of innovative gear cases, with his split carbon fibreCast Ti case at Renault, then Toyota using fully cast Ti cases and latterly MidlandSpykerForce India with cost effective cast aluminium cases.

For Lotus to truly be a leading team they will need to build up their own gearbox and hydraulic departments. This deal for RBR technology will allow them to naturally evolve these resources, while racing their bought-in gearbox.

Xtrac: F1′s spec gearbox

Xtrac Project 1044 Gearbox

Xtrac Project 1044 Gearbox

 

Xtrac Project 1044 Gearbox

Along with the Cosworth engine, the FIA have tendered for specification gearbox to be made cost effectively available to all teams. The British firm Xtrac won the tender and hence have returned to F1 as a complete transmission provider after an absence of over ten years. While the internals of the seamless shift gearbox are still secret (aside from the presence of a twin selector shift mechanism) the external details have been published through these pictures. Project 1044, as its known to Xtrac is was developed with the assistance Dallara, who gave input onto the external features for installation, aerodynamics and suspension. As the external case is used by both Hispania and Lotus we now have a clear idea of their rear suspension installation. Largely conventional in its layout, all of the features are common to those seen on other teams gearboxes.  Despite the single specification of outer case, the gearboxes can be machined slightly differently to accommadate the chassis designers exact suspension geometry.

Xtrac: The different mounting points for the rear suspension

The aluminium case features cast mounting points for the; wishbones, Anti Roll Bar, torsion bars and dampers. These are all highlighted in the attached image, although the suspension rocker linkage is absent, but this is a team designed part, so it will vary slightly between the two teams. We could expect that the teams have a heave damper mounted between the rockers and passing across the top of the case, possibly in tandem with an inerter if the team have reached the stage where they have developed a set up to incorporate the device.

In this bare guise Xtrac quote the complete units weight as “approximately 40kg”.

 Further information on Xtrac is available at www.xtrac.com.

Xtrac: The ancillaries are typical example of a conventional F1 gearbox