Williams take a step forward with improved compact gearbox

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John Beamer explains how Williams have refined the radical gearbox they developed last year – and produced a more competitive car.

One of the early season stories has been the relative resurgence of Williams. The team that scored just five points last year already have 18 on the board after the first four races.

Over the winter they switched to Renault engines and recruited a new technical team. Consequently the FW34 has challenged for points in the first few races of the season.

The banning of exhaust-blown diffusers means F1 design this year is less about trick aerodynamics (Mercedes’ Double DRS aside) and more about good old-fashioned aerodynamic efficiency.

To this end one design trend in recent years has been to compress the coke-bottle zone and use heavily undercut sidepods to maximise flow over the diffuser. More flow over the diffuser reduces the pressure gradient of the diffuser and air stays attached to it, enhancing its effect.

In 2011 one of Williams’ design objectives was to reduce the size of the gearbox as much as possible to maximise the area behind the engine. This micro-gearbox was carried over into 2012 with only minor modifications. The first illustration shows a close-up of the gearbox – the drive shaft is the bronze/orange axle and you can see how it plugs into the differential.

This compact design was enabled by a switch to pull-rod suspension. By placing the suspension components by the floor (as opposed to above the gearbox for a push-rod) a lot of space is cleared. There are two engineering issues to overcome.

Typically the upper wishbones are mounted at the top of the gearbox. Now this has disappeared there is a need to attach the wishbone to something and that something needs to be sufficiently strong to withstand the forces transmitted by the suspension.

Williams’ solution is to raise and reinforce the gearbox casing to act as an anchor for the wishbones. This is a change to the FW33 design which featured a ‘Z’-link suspension to ensure the wishbones could successfully manage the forces.

In addition to making the geometry work the differential has to be lowered (otherwise it is physically impossible to shrink the gearbox) and the driveshaft angled sharply.

This is a potential disadvantage as the angled driveshaft may result in a small torque deficit as the rotational energy is translated into wheel motion (through some sort of angled gearing in the upright). It is noticeable that the FW34 sports a less angled driveshaft than its predecessor.

From the drawing it is easy to see the volume of space that the FW34 has in front of the rear wing. Airflow over the ‘coke bottle’ zone and particularly the beam wing is less obstructed.

Providing the design team can deliver a reasonable suspension implementation the low-line gearbox will be a net benefit to performance. This should be achievable given the extent to which teams have compromised the front suspension set-up for considerable aerodynamic gain. Given the role the diffuser plays in overall aerodynamic performance the ‘coke bottle’ zone will play a critical role in overall performance.

One new development raced in Melbourne was the so-called ‘monkey seat’ above the beam wing – see the final illustration. This is a simple device to add rear downforce.

Many teams attach the monkey seat directly to the beam wing, which potentially impedes the efficiency of the wing although the effect is small. Williams have attached the device to its small gearbox. It’s a neat solution.

Williams has got off to a good start compared to last year. The question now is whether the team has the resources to develop the car successfully throughout the season – and whether other teams will consider their compact gearbox a route worth exploring themselves.

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Image © Williams/LAT – Illustration ?�?� John Beamer for F1 Fanatic

24 comments on “Williams take a step forward with improved compact gearbox”

  1. does HRT use the same gearbox?

    1. No I think they use the gearbox from a Mk4. Ford Fiesta

      1. @gkhillboro comment made me lol!!! People on the bus looked at me thinking what the hell!

        1. hahaha so funny

      2. Tom Haxley (@)
        27th April 2012, 11:03


      3. LOL made my day!!!

    2. I think they sell them an earlier less-advanced version which they raced in 2010.

      1. Don’t you mean a gearbox from a TATA, rebadged as a Jaguar one, which is then somehow taken by Cosworth?

  2. The rearend of this car is exceptional. Love the way the bodywork features the ” Can Opener” over the gearbox. For a team that had such a dismal year it is refreshing that their attempts at regaining advantage is done with such unique forethought and imaginative design.

    1. Very much agreed.

      Although, I’ve always considered Williams’ innovation and uniqueness, irrespective of championship success, to be one of the best… More so than some of the top runners (Red Bull, McLaren etc.) in most respects.

      Their fantastic KERS is another notable innovation that deviates from the norm of the other teams.

      1. Their fantastic KERS is another notable innovation that deviates from the norm of the other teams? What would that be then? If you’re thinking they use their flywheel KERS in the F1 car you’d be wrong.

  3. The term ” Monkey Seat ” has to be the best named new part on a car in years.

    1. Definately :D

    2. If I were them I’d put a duck on it instead of a monkey…that way they could have their own F-duck…

      1. After all, a duck would be much more aero-friendly than a monkey, a duck has the same nose as the car so that’s a nice match, and it could even open and close it’s wings depending on whether it was in the DRS zone or not…you know, the Duck Reduction System…

  4. I love to see such an old and conventional team try to make their cars go fast without cheating by the rules, but by simply design a great car. Too bad Sam Michael had to clear the field for their bad performance last year, because he is one of the key designers in this rear end.

    I think the main point on which they can find some more performance is the exhaust/shape of the side pods: can’t wait too see how the car will be further improved throughout the year!

    1. I don’t know how you can call Williams conventional. They’ve always been innovators, and have pioneered some of the most advanced technologies over the years. Six wheels (4 in the rear), CVT transmission, active suspension, traction control, 2-way telemetry…

      1. Maybe conventional was not the right expression: Williams has indeed built some pretty innovative cars in the past, like the FW07 or the FW14, but over the past 5 years the team has not been thinking ‘outside the box’ like some other teams have done.

  5. I wonder how Raikkonen would have performed in this car? For sure better than Bruno Senna or Maldonado.

    1. Probably. But given he has significantly more experience, is that a surprise?

  6. So it seems that they’ve managed to go someway to improving Sam Michael’s ‘tight rear end’?

    Good, I’m glad. On paper it sounds too obvious to not work.

    It does feel a bit sneaky when you can see so much of the rear-end of a car!

    Another good article @john-beamer Thanks for the insight.

  7. Thank you @john-beamer for the article and the excellent illustrations – these seem to be getting better and better. I can’t believe the monkey seat is worth it to be honest – it seems that the minimal amount of downforce it would generate doesn’t outweigh the effects on the airflow preceeding it (smoothness of the flow around the coke bottle). Seems like all the others are doing it in one way or another though, including McLaren.

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