George Russell, Williams, Imola, 2020

Williams to use Mercedes gearboxes from 2022

2022 F1 season

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Williams have announced an expansion of their technical co-operation with power unit supplier Mercedes.

From the 2022 F1 season, the team will use Mercedes gearboxes and other components which can be transferred under the sport’s regulations. Williams will continue to manufacture some chassis elements internally but from 2022 Mercedes will supply gearboxes and associated hydraulics, in addition to their power units.

“Historically, Williams has built its own gearboxes and hydraulics in-house,” said the team in a statement. “However the increased partnership with Mercedes will enable Williams to implement a more efficient design and manufacturing process in-house in the long-term, allowing the team to focus its resources more effectively in other performance areas. Williams will continue to design and manufacture other chassis parts internally.”

Williams has used Mercedes power units since the current V6 hybrid turbo regulations were introduced in 2014. However the team long persevered in developing other major components including its gearboxes.

But the team’s declining performance has been a cause for concern. Williams finished last in the constructors championship in 2020, for the third year running, after failing to score a point. Mercedes won both F1 title for the seventh consecutive year.

The change marks a departure from the team’s former status as a fully independent constructor. It follows the team’s sale last year by the founding Williams family to new owners Dorilton.

Prior to her departure, former deputy team principal Claire Williams told RaceFans the team intended to continue building its own gearboxes. She made their commitment to independence clear in an interview in Netflix’s Drive To Survive.

Explaining the change in attitude today, team principal Simon Roberts said: “Williams is an independent team, but Formula 1 is always evolving, and as a team we must be agile to react to the current climate in order to put the team in the best position to be competitive on-track.

“This long-term agreement with Mercedes is a positive step and forms part of our strategic objectives for the future whilst we will still retain our design and manufacturing capabilities in-house.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said the new arrangement is a positive step for both teams.

“For Williams, it makes sense to acquire the integrated powertrain after running our power units since 2014 and for our team, it makes sense in terms of economies of scale to supply another team under the new rules. This is a project we have been discussing with Williams for some time and I am glad we have been able to bring this extension to fruition.”

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...
Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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34 comments on “Williams to use Mercedes gearboxes from 2022”

  1. I really get why the team wanted to keep hold of their internal / propriatory gearbox and hydraulics, it gives them power and the know how to do the job themselves.

    But when the team clearly has struggled to make everything work well in recend years, just buying in parts that fit great with the powertrain (the Mercedes package really is greatly integrated) to be able to focus on parts where you can actually achieve some performance gain. Or to avoid losing out because of bad integration and not having the time and resources to do the job properly yourself.

    Good way forward for their mid term results, I would think. Although it does add to the worries one might have about how the sport will cope when down the line the likes of Mercedes decide to step away.

    1. @bascb

      Agree. It’s a great mid term solution for Williams. The Mercedes gearboxes work great with their powertrain, so why allocate further engineering resources on it. Given their current situation, they should really optimise resources on improving chassis, suspension, etc. Once they get more competitive, and have a cash influx, then reevaluate the benefit of putting more effort into parts they can’t get from Mercedes.

  2. Understandable and ultimately something (Claire) Williams should have done years ago when she was given the opportunity. Invest those resources on the chassis design department instead. You’re already buying the engines anyways, buying the accompanying and matching parts will only benefit you rather than trying to invent something better on your own.

  3. Buying the Merc gearbox also includes the rear suspension pickup points at least and locks them into a longer wheelbase concept as well. Merc run a long driveshaft between the back of the gearbox and the differential which is where their extra wheelbase resides giving them more floor area, but all this could be going away for the 22 season with the new ground effect tunnel regs. Interesting times ahead. Too late for Russell though, this is a move Williams should have made years ago and is part of the reason why they are so far behind. It would be interesting to see if McLaren also take the Merc gearbox.

  4. Well, to me this was bound to happen once the family bowed out, as it had seemed a prudent, but apparently not internally politically/technically favored at the least since the time Wolff was still in charge at the team. I get that there are advantages to keeping it all in-house, but practically, that is only true when that actually brings enough flexibility and other advantages on the track. I recall their super-low 2012 gearbox (I think?), which turned out to not bring enough to be retained for long, and might have restricted their usage of the blown diffuser at the time (was it also not quite stiff enough?), which had been a lot of work. Mercedes’ DAS at least was useful for the single year of use, and that team can afford a lot more not-optimally allocated resources.

    1. Oh, was 2011 that gearbox wasn’t it?! Still.

      I do feel sorry for the people that were creating the gearbox though and hope they can be moved to another part of the team, no reason to think they have been anything than excellent at their work (there’s not been anything wrong with Williams gearboxes, just not clear that doing it themselves actually adds a lot, or is among the things they need to improve).

      1. Gavin Campbell
        5th January 2021, 16:53

        Actually theres been decent paddock gossip that the Williams gear boxes have long been outdated in terms of construction and materials. This normally relates to casing/housing around the gearbox but thats also where ballast is attached so assuming the car is underweight elsewhere you just end up with a slightly more optimal CoG positioning off the Gearbox. I believe Paddy Lowe looked at it during his time but concluded the costs didn’t outweigh the benefits.

        However purchasing a gearbox from Mercedes that will be paired to the engine is probably quite cost effective – especially as the development is quite mature in terms of the engines and they probably have the option to still build their own housing around it if required.

        So its not that Williams couldn’t design it or want to save money its more a case of deploying those resources in the best place.

        Theres lots of technical convo here on the matter:
        https://www.f1technical.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=27914&start=60

      2. @bosyber it was their 2011 car which had the low-line gearbox, and you are correct that there were reports of problems with a lack of torsional stiffness that caused handling problems from the rear suspension pick up points moving around and subtly altering the rear suspension geometry.

  5. Frank isn’t there to look after his people any more. Just when F1 was moving back towards independents.

    1. The team was nearly bankrupt!

    2. Can’t particularly agree that Williams have been looking after their people. The team has been a shadow of its former self for sometime now. Making sound decisions doesn’t mean the team has lost its soul, more that it is more likely to be alive into the future… Hopefully the new owners will allow them to make some more decisions that the Williams family haven’t because of the heritage of the team.

  6. Commonsense at last. They should have done this a long time ago.

    An encouraging sign that the old garagista mentality has been put out to grass.

  7. Will McLaren use Mercedes gearboxes or are they producing their own?

  8. So F1 has finally become a true spec series: guess Formula DTM is now a better name.

    1. It is the logical outcome when rules are written they way they are in F1. Everything is slowly tightened up over time as new rules and clarifications are added on top of each other. Very rarely is anything removed or simplified, only expanded and made more complex. In my opinion it’s amazing that the teams are still here independently spending millions on designing their own versions of stuff that can basically only be designed to specification anyway. They add rules to cut costs, but in the wider picture it is a huge waste of resources.

  9. I remember the articles a few weeks ago where Russell said was using his Merc experience to bring ideas and inputs back to Williams.

    He’s been very inconsistent with his grid starts for Williams but absolutely nailed his start in Sahkir. Maybe his influence was the final push for this move?

  10. Super-smart choice.

  11. Since the Pink Mercedes was so successful, perhaps Williams should look at a white Mercedes for 2021 … ;)

  12. A bit concerning just how much influence Mercedes has in F1. I personally don’t like this one bit. It was a mistake to allow Mercedes to supply an additional team (Mclaren) too. It makes sense for the receiving teams but it further strenghtens Mercedes political and sporting stronghold on the sport. Politically FOM and the FIA will increasinly have to compromise to Mercedes’ will.

    1. I believe the back end of the AlphaTauri is mostly designed by Red Bull Racing, so what Mercedes are doing isn’t that much different from what RB are already doing. I suspect one could raise similar arguments concerning the Ferrari powered cars.

      1. That wasn’t really my point though. It’s the cluster of teams aligned to Mercedes that worries me. Four teams voting as one, playing the political game as one. It isn’t in F1’s interest so have such a majority group among the teams. It makes life hard for FOM and the FIA to ever get something done.

  13. I understand that stepping into this direction is highly profitable for them and this would make them more competitive I suppose.

    But as an F1 fan I’m not a fan of “B team” approach, which I share the same opinion on RP, AT and Haas.

    This also leaves McLaren as the sole “independent” constructor without any factory PU support.

    1. I should add Alfa Romeo too, they also have a unique design.

  14. …. but thats also where ballast is attached so assuming the car is underweight elsewhere you just end up with a slightly more optimal CoG positioning off the Gearbox.

    Not really, since the front/rear weights at the wheels is defined by regulation. There’s not much scope for moving the c.g. because of this and added ballast would have to be distributed or located with the front/rear requirement calculated in.

  15. How the mighty have fallen: Williams supplied gearboxes to Toyota because Toyota couldn’t get their “seamless” design to work, now Williams is buying gearboxes from Mercedes.

  16. When a team buys a gearbox from another team, are they able to specify change to the ratios?

  17. Finally.

    This has been going on for years.

    More and more designs should be standardised, there is no need to have 10 gearbox designs, research facilities, 10x cost.

    Even better would be single design for all teams.

    1. @jureo It depends if you ask me. If the rules, as currently, specify exactly how the gearbox must be made down to the number of gears and even the mass of individual gear pairs then you are absolutely right. Why have several teams spending millions just to arrive at essentially the same product? Many racing series do, and should, use standardized or “spec” parts, but F1 has never been about that. With a cost cap in place, why not allow the teams to design their own gearboxes more freely? That way, deciding to spend some of your allowed budget on developing a gearbox instead of buying one could actually make a difference.

  18. one of Williams’ biggest sacred cows is finally gone.

  19. Up until the present time, there was Williams F1 and a separate business, Williams Advanced Engineering, the consulting part of the Group.
    It would not have looked good for the F1 team to be buying components like gear boxes from a competitor when on the other side of the office you are trying to sell expertise to do exactly the same thing for clients. That was my take on why they persisted with their own unit.
    Now that there is a separation of the groups, buying components from others makes sense. Especially as these are all effectively integrated and it frees up resources to do other things.
    Even Racing Point recognized they had to change their suspension and chassis concept to match the Mercedes gear box and suspension design. And we know how that has been working out.

    1. That is a good point that I had never really thought about, that the F1 team had to uphold the face of a larger company group not only by their on track result but through their business model and decisions as well. On-track performance will make the brand look better, but discarding your own products to achieve it would not. Fascinating conundrum.

  20. When reading the article I wondered if this was after GR input after he drove the black Merc.
    Also interesting the Toto said it would improve their economies of scale. Does this mean he can sell the boxes to Williams cheaper. Even cheaper if he provides boxes to all 8 cars. However, if I recall correctly, when McLaren were saying about the tokens they had to use, they only referred to the fitment of the Merc PU.

    Dieter, any chance YES/NO by McLaren using Merc boxes could be confirmed, please?

    1. Not Dieter, but according to several articles McLaren just bought the engine, not the gearbox.

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