#F1 Forensics: Williams and Lotus – The Gearbox Tax


Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Tourdog


Williams-Mercedes Power Units went the distance, both covering just over 4200 KM and 7 races. A combination of Bottas running a little more often in practice, and Massa only running 7 laps FP2 in China, and 0 laps FP2 in Australia, made up the difference for Bottas missing a race, putting them statistically about even in distance.

Using the same 5000 Km end-of –life standard we applied to Mercedes, both Massa and Bottas should be able to run about 7 Free Practice sessions with their old PU. So look for Susie and Sutil to both get some seat time over the next few races. As with Mercedes, this may very well push back the installation date of their 3rd Power Unit significantly.

Williams gearbox situation however, is fairly unique. Bottas participated in every session of the Australian GP, except the actual race. So Bottas covered about 60% of the total weekend distance with his PU and gearbox, but reaped no rewards. The bigger issue is that he Did Not Start. Since he didn’t participate in the actual race, he did not get 1 of the 6 races checked off of his gearbox allocation. So Bottas had to run the next 6 races, through the end of Canada, on his first gearbox. If he had started the first race, and then retired after the first lap, he could have changed his gearbox before the second race without penalty. Since he didn’t start, he had to keep his gearbox an extra race, compared to everyone else.

So, why does this matter, well, if we project out through the end of the season, something interesting happens. Assuming all the major players finish every race, and change their gearboxes after 6 finishes, MAS, HAM, ROS, PER, HUL, VET, NAS, & RIC, will all be running a brand new 4th gearbox at the final race in Abu Dhabi, where Bottas will be running the 6th race on his 3rd gearbox. Will that make a difference? Who knows. As Matt has pointed out, teams regularly change out gears, syncros, dog bones, etc on the gearboxes. They seem to be able to change out pretty much what ever they want of the internals on the grounds of “reliability”, or some other such smokescreen.

But for sake of argument, if we assume a New Gearbox is better than a Used one, then Bottas will be at a disadvantage compared to his peers at the final race. If we look back 6-7 races, we can speculate that if Bottas finds himself in a non-points scoring position at the end of the Belgium or Italian GP, it may be to his advantage to “retire” the car before the checkered flag. Not finishing would allow him to change gearboxes, and put him either even with the leaders, or at single race deficit in terms of distance run. Would a retirement from a points scoring position, just to change his gearbox installation date be worth it? Most probably not. But there’s still a lot of time between now and then, so who knows.


I am going to try very hard not be dismissive or condescending towards Pastor. There is a lot the raw data doesn’t tell us about a driver, and Pastor is a great example of that in 2015.

He has technically only crossed the finish line once in 7 races, finishing 7th in Canada. He was Classified in Bahrain, but he was in the pits and did not cross the finish line. His problems supposedly have not been reliability related, just “Pastor crashing”. So lets look.

We know the Mercedes PU is pretty solid, and he has the fewest kilometres of any Mercedes powered driver anyway, however he has changed his gearbox 5 times.

Since Lotus is building their own gearbox for the first time in a while, is it possible the gearbox is really what’s causing Pastors problems?

The only other car we have to compare him to is Romain’s. GRO failed to finish in

Australia, going only a single lap. This allowed him a penalty free gearbox change in Malaysia, so he took it. Pastor did as well.

Pastor DNF’d in Malaysia, so he did another penalty free gearbox change in China.

China, again a DNF, so Pastor changed to his 4th gearbox before Bahrain. Pastor’s classification in Bahrain meant he had to keep his 4th gearbox for Spain.

A DNF in Spain meant gearbox number 5 in Monaco for Pastor.

Romain managed to finish races 2-5, putting 4 checkmarks out of 6 on his gearbox, but then in Monaco, oops, 5 place grid penalty for doing a change, and not going 6 races.

Did everyone catch that? Pastor used 5 gearboxes in 6 races (through Monaco) without incurring a penalty, yet Romain covered the same distance (actually more, and finished 5 races to Pastor’s Zero) with only 3 gearboxes, and yet he took a 5 place grid penalty hit in Monaco.

So what does all this mean. Quite simply, Lotus might have an inherent gearbox problem that is hurting Pastor. Romain’s penalty proves that they have yet to make it 6 races on a single gearbox. But I think this more clearly demonstrated what I am going to call…


It is inherently advantageous to install a new gearbox at the following race if a car DNF’s. For a team like Mercedes this is no big deal. What is the cost of an extra gearbox or two over the season, in the Billion-dollar picture? But this might become a huge problem for the midfielders.

In order to remain competitive, teams MUST change their gearbox if given the opportunity to do so without penalty. I currently project Lotus to use a minimum of 13 gearboxes this year, it will most likely be more towards the 16 mark, and that does not include the regular replacement of parts that happens so often I haven’t been able to find it all.

So if we throw out a random cost to buy/build a gearbox at 100,000 euro, plus another 100,000 in parts and labor over the season, Lotus is spending 1.7 million Euro this year on gearboxes, and we have not talked about development costs yet.

So the way I read this, is if the rules regarding how gearboxes are utilised were designed to increase longevity, and reduce costs, they have had the opposite effect.

Put simply, if you don’t finish a race, you have to buy/build another gearbox. Since the midfield and  are more likely to DNF, they are paying a financial penalty for each failure, in addition to any points lost.

I do not have an answer as to how to fix this problem, but I think we can now all agree that there is one.

Lastly, I would like to point out Lotus just announced Joylen Palmer will be driving in FP1 over the next five races. This makes sense, as Pastors PU#1 only has about 3,300 Km on it, and Romain’s only about 3,800 KM . Lotus should be able to take either of the old PU’s for the practice sessions, allowing Palmer to drive Romains car without putting unnecessary distance on the current PU.

The money Palmer brings will surely be needed.

WILL-Lotus summary specific gearbox--june 15--  (version 4.0)

Thanks for reading.

As usual, I encourage criticism, and stay tuned for our next instalment, covering Ferrari, Sauber, and possibly the race team that FOM refuses to acknowledge.

11 responses to “#F1 Forensics: Williams and Lotus – The Gearbox Tax

  1. surely the rules need to be changed to allow for engines and gearboxes to be torn down between races and parts exchanged with *like-for-like* for free, no penalties. This would save costs for everyone, less blocks, replace only what’s wearing, no grenade engines like Renault was doing…

    • Renault’s problem was like for like replacements would produce the same results. So they change stuff ‘for free’ under the reliability exemption clause. New component designs.

      • New components, use some tokens; fair enough. Do your home-work before the season… Seems like at least 2 teams can do that, and its not just them, look at the LMP1 cars this year; their power plants are not so dissimilar. High-performance V6 engines are not rocket science; at least not building engines that can survive these arduous regulations.

        I agree, Renault’s engine can’t make it a whole race. But I do think in the interest of cost savings it would actually benefit everyone to let them tear the engine down and replace like-for-like components. No ‘reliability’ guise, just let everyone do it.

  2. “Since Lotus is building their own gearbox for the first time in a while”

    Where were Lotus getting their gearbox from previously? I thought they had always built their own?

    • I went back to find my source, and it appears you are right. They were building their own gearboxes prior. I read a lot of articles to try and piece things together and I guess I screwed that up.

      • No problem, I was worried my memory was broken…

        Thanks for these articles, really enjoying them

  3. Thanks for another great forensics post Tourdog. These “drill down” posts are far better than my suggestion :-D! I really appreciate the look into the vagaries of an F1 season – and the hidden cost of “doing business.”

  4. @Tourdog I believe that the cost to a customer team to buy in gearboxes from their engine supplier is 3-4 million a year for the minimum number that is technically required (if no ‘free’ changes happen too). These were numbers that were being thrown about at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 when the costs of the new PU’s were being scrutinized. So if a team only gets 8 gearboxes for 4million currency units of your choice, then that is half a million per gearbox. Now I understand that making them in house will reduce the manufacturing costs but there is still the cost of the R&D to allow for. Even if a gearbox was only a quarter of a million made in house, 16 new ones would stiff Lotus a cool 4million, that’s a big chunck of a small budget, even bigger than you suggested in your piece, which makes it all the more alarming.

  5. Has it ever occurred that a team may recycle gearbox parts that aren’t broken and still class it as a “new” gearbox. The current F1 regs are freely available.

    • Hey Martin. Yes it has.
      The topic was discussed in a previous article.
      It comes down to what the FIA’s definition on “new” is.
      The fact that we need to even debate that point is a pretty good indicator of how screwed up the regs are.

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