Formula One cars use highly sophisticated semi-automatic, seamless shift gearboxes. Aside from when pulling away, the driver is not required to manually operate the clutch, nor is he required to lift off the accelerator when changing up through the gears. Instead, when another gear is selected the shift is completed ‘seamlessly’ (via a clever a system which uses two shift barrels), meaning the driver suffers from no loss of drive. As such, gear changes are not only significantly faster than they were with the traditional gear lever and clutch pedal approach (taking a matter of milliseconds), but the driver can also keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times.
But despite such high levels of technology, fully automatic transmission systems, and gearbox-related wizardry such as launch control, are illegal - a measure designed to keep costs down and place more emphasis on driver skill.
Gearboxes, which are electronically controlled with hydraulic activation, attach to the back of the internal combustion engine. But they do more than simply transfer the torque from power unit to wheels - they also form part of the structure of the rear of the car, with the rear suspension bolting directly onto what is usually a high-strength carbon maincase.
The rules stipulate that F1 gearboxes must consist of eight forward gears (the ratios having been selected ahead of the season) plus reverse, and although this may seem like a large number compared to a road car, it allows the teams to use the same transmission at low-speed Monaco as at high-speed Monza.
As with power units, the teams are restricted in the number of gearboxes they can use per season, with the rules mandating that a single gearbox must be used for six consecutive events. Every unscheduled gearbox change results in a five-place grid penalty.