Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton will be hit by a five-place grid penalty in the Bahrain Grand Prix for an unscheduled gearbox change on his Mercedes. The Briton can start the race only from sixth place even if he secures his second pole position of the season.
Hamilton lost out in the Australian Grand Prix to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel due to an unluckily timed safety car period. The Briton’s chances of winning the second race of the season decreased after Mercedes announced that his gearbox had to be changed overnight.
According to Mercedes, the gearbox issues were known since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. The team’s engineers realized during the race that the transmission produced abnormalities regarding the hydraulic pressures. It had, however, no effect on the race performance of the car in the race.
After a thorough check at Bahrain, the team identified the seriousness of the issue. A part of the differential was also damaged. The engineers did not want to take a risk, judging the chances of finishing the Bahrain GP with that unit as slim.
Gearboxes have to complete six races before they can be changed without penalty. The F1 gearboxes are complex units and have to withstand high torque. The modern seamless shifting means that transmissions have two gears engaged at once, literally meaning zero time between gear changes. The double-hybrid powertrains produce massive torque demands. Unlike in a normal car, F1 transmissions as installed as a stress member of the chassis, meaning they need to cope with cornering and downforce forces.