The FIA have started a tender process for a common gearbox supplier for the 2021-24 Formula One seasons as part of the regulation overhaul that is being drawn out in the lead to 2021.
The tender applies to only the internal gear cassette. This will allow teams to design and optimise the design of the external casing in order to optimise aerodynamics at the rear of the car. It will also enable teams to keep on designing their own suspension layout, given that the rear suspension attachment points are part of the outer gearbox casing.
The tender document confirms the retention of the 4 gearbox per season rule, with the gears expected to last up to 5400km. The aim is to end up with a standard gearbox that is similar to current performance levels in F1 while not adding weight compared to the current designs.
Interestingly the gearboxes will lose one of the forward ratios, dropping to a seven speed. It has been one of the key complaints levelled at the hybrid era that the noise produced by the engines is not loud enough, and dropping a ratio should mean the engines have to rev higher. It could also be an indication that the fuel flow formula will be altered from 2021.
Currently just under half the teams are supplied gearboxes from a competitor (Alfa, Haas, Force India, and Toro Rosso), while Xtrac currently cuts gears for at least one team and supply gearboxes to Indycar and LMP. They last supplied a full gearbox in F1 for Manor in 2016.
The tender is open to all, and it will be interesting to see which, if any, of the current teams apply. McLaren already supply electronics through their applied technologies arm, while Williams have until recently been supplying batteries for Formula E. Both have a technology arm free of their F1 teams. As the gearbox design requires data from engine suppliers, the FIA may see fit to appoint an external supplier to avoid conflict.
The official decision on who will supply gearboxes will be made between 15-30 April this year.