Do F1 Cars Have A Reverse Gear?

How you ever wondered if F1 cars had reverse gear? And why it was rarely used? Well, we wondered it too and we researched the answer.

F1 cars do have a reverse gear. It is required by FIA regulations. The reverse gear on F1 gearboxes are not robust and are external to the main box. They are actually designed for a few meters only. They are designed that way to keep the gearbox’s weight to a minimum since the reverse gear is seldom used in F1. It is forbidden to use it in the pits because it is dangerous and drivers prefer making doughnuts after spinning rather than engaging the reverse gear. Again, this is due to safety reasons because, in an F1 car, visibility is reduced while driving on the reverse.

If you are interested in the history of reverse gear and particular cases were it was used keep reading.

The History Of Reverse Gear In F1

Reverse gears were introduced in 1961 on F1 cars with the introduction of the 1500cc F1 cars. It was imposed by the racing authorities to have also the possibility to use it without getting off of the car. In the history of F1, engineers often did not install the gear in order to gain some weight in some places of the car. This is for instance what happened to Nelson Piquet, the former 3 time World Champion, who said that often Brabham mechanics were “forgetting” the gear.

The reverse gear was seldom used during races. Most notably it was used by Mika Hakkinen in 99 during the Monaco Grand Prix to reverse out of a dead end. His mechanics were worried the gearbox would break. The reverse gear is used most in Monaco since it is the tightest Grand Prix on the calendar. Nigel Mansell also used it in the pits in Estoril in 89. This cost him the race as he was disqualified quickly after.

Actually, the reverse gear is difficult to get into for drivers because in order not to use it accidentally teams have made it so. When it is really required it takes some time and the mechanics and engineers explain step by step to the driver how to get into the reverse gear. This happened to Alonso in a practice session during the 2013 Silverstone Grand Prix.

Now let’s see if other race cars have a reverse gear integrated into their gearbox.

Reverse Gear On Other Race Cars

We’ve made a beautiful table just to answer this.
Formula 1 Yes
Formula 2 Yes
Indy Car Yes
Nascar Yes
Rally Yes
24H Le Mans Yes
So to sum it up, Formula One, Formula 2, Indy Car, Nascar, Rally, 24H Le Mans cars all have reverse gears. As for the usage of reverse gear, it is seldom used in these other sports and even forbidden in the pitlane for some (24h Le Mans for example). Now that we covered the reverse gear, let’s talk about the F1 car’s gearbox in its whole.

What makes the F1 car’s gearbox special?

First of all, you have to keep in mind that everything in F1 serves multiple purposes: front-wings give down-force to the car while creating vortexes, carbon braking disks have a cooling system that also gives air direction, etc. It is the same for the gearbox. It is not only an organ linking the mechanical transmission to the engine. Some components are fixed to the gearbox such as the suspensions, the deformable structure that takes the shocks, etc. A gearbox has a mechanical aspect, and also an importance in aerodynamics: the smaller the gearbox, the freer are the engineers working on aerodynamics.

An F1 car cannot have more than 8 gears (not counting the reverse gear). The gears are changed using paddles that are behind the steering wheel. The gears are switched without a clutch for maximum efficiency. There is a system responding to the driver’s orders and changing the hydraulic actuators automatically. This is called the “seamless” gearbox. Basically, drivers change the gear by using the paddles and the change of gear is done automatically without interruption of any sort and with continuous propulsion of the vehicle.

For a small fraction of time, the car uses both gears: the disengaged gear and the newly engaged gear. This requires a very precise and well designed electric and hydraulic system. Before this system, cars were losing time when shifting gears. In fact, when the last gear was disengaged, and the new one engaged, there was a small window in which the car was not being propelled. Some engineers have evaluated the loss of time to be around 0.5 s/lap. The seamless system was actually introduced late into F1: around 2005 before quickly spreading among teams.

Some teams actually had the idea to integrate this system sooner, but the system remained forbidden by the FIA for quite some time. Today, the FIA imposes a minimum usage for each gearbox of 6 Grand Prix before allowing a gearbox change on a car. If the gearbox is changed before 6 races, the driver will be penalized with 10 places when starting the race.

Now let’s talk about the economics.

How Much Does an F1 Gearbox Costs?

The gearbox is one of the most expensive parts of an F1 car. According to estimates, the F1 semi-automatic seamless shift gearbox costs roughly $500,000. Some teams can have a higher cost than that, depending of course of some technical difference or specificities. The hydraulic system of the car is said to cost approximately $200,000.

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