Some great gearbox rendered pictures courtesy of http://www.carbibles.com/

Gears cluster Gear cluster
Parts of transmition cluster


To know more about "shifter", and to get complete picture, check my article about gearbox and transmission.

From the other articles on this site you know that the pistons drive the main crank in your engine so that it spins. The need for a gear ratios in the gearbox of a car is a consequence of the characteristics of the internal combustion engine. Engines typically operate over a range of 600 to about 7000 revolutions per minute (though this varies, and is typically less for diesel engines), while the car's wheels rotate between 0 rpm and around 1800 rpm. You can't simply connect a set of wheels to the end of the crankshaft because the speed is too high and too variable, and you'd need to stall the engine every time you wanted to stand still. Instead you need to reduce the revolutions of the crank down to a usable value or disengage the engine from the driveshafts. This is known as gearing down - the mechanical process of using interlocking gears to reduce the number of revolutions of something that is spinning.

First we will explain basics of the gearbox and how he work in "normal" cars. Racing cars have more sophisticated gearboxes, and especially Formula one. They are optimized for faster operation and higher forces. More about that later.

A graphic illustration of a Mercedes-Benz C-class sport coupe's six-speed manual transmission
A graphic illustration of a Mercedes-Benz C-class sport coupe's six-speed manual gearbox


A car propulsion consists of a engine and a power transmission system, which provides controlled application of the power to the road. The most common use is in motor vehicles, where the gearbox adapts the output of the internal combustion engine to the drive wheels. Such engines need to operate at a relatively high rotational speed, which is inappropriate for starting, stopping, and slower travel. The gearbox reduces the higher engine speed to the slower wheel speed, increasing torque in the process. Gearboxes are also used on pedal bicycles, fixed machines, and anywhere else rotational speed and torque needs to be adapted. Often, a gearbox will have multiple gear ratios, or simply "gears", with the ability to switch between them as speed varies. This switching may be done manually by driver, or automatically. In car applications, the gearbox will generally be connected to the crankshaft of the engine via clutch. The output of the gearbox is transmitted via driveshaft to one or more differentials, which in turn drive the wheels.

Neglecting mechanical losses you can use gearboxes and differentials to simply reduce speed according to the gearing ratio and to multiply torque by the same factor. As you will see, if you take; P = w x T (P(W, Watts) is the product of rotational speed (w, radians/sec) x by the rotational torque (T, Nm)) and then pass this through a gearbox with a reduction ratio of 2:1 you will end up with; P = (w/2) x (T x 2), whereby you will be moving at half the speed, but able to push more inertia / accelerate quicker.

We can also appreciate that with a fixed amount of power, the lower the revs of the motor, the greater the torque. If you doubt this take a look at a semi-trailer and compare the difference to a fully loaded rig to an empty one. An empty one will even give a standard car a run for its money, but the same car will never be able to haul as much freight!

Most modern gearboxes are used to increase torque while reducing the speed of a prime mover output shaft (e.g. a motor crankshaft). This means that the output shaft of a gearbox will rotate at a slower rate than the input shaft, and this reduction in speed will produce a mechanical advantage, causing an increase in torque.

Typical 5 speed gearbox
Internals of a 5 speed gearbox. You can see the helical gears meshing with each other. The lower shaft in this image is called the layshaft and it's the one connected to the engine via clutch. The output shaft is the upper shaft in this image.

The gearbox has an input and an output. The mainshaft extends outside the case in both directions: the input shaft towards the engine, and the output shaft towards the rear axle on rear wheel drive cars. Front wheel drives generally have the engine and transmission mounted transversely, the differential being part of the transmission assembly. Both shafts are suspended by the main bearings, and is split towards the input end. At the point of the split, a pilot bearing holds the shafts together.

Types of automobile transmissions include manual, automatic or semi-automatic transmission. There is always some number of gear ratios, in modern cars from 4 to 7, and one reverse gear ratio. The forward gears are all constant-mesh. That means that the gear teeth for all ratios are always engaged with each other at all times. Instead of sliding a gear out of engagement with another gear, the gear is disengaged by disconnecting it from the shaft that it is on. Only one gear ratio pair can be connected to the shaft at one time. The reverse gear is an actual non-constant-mesh sliding gear whose teeth actually slide out of engagement when it's not being used.

Reverse gear
Reverse gear have one extra gear involved. Typically, there will be three gears that mesh together at one point in the gearbox instead of the customary two gears. There will be a gear each on the layshaft and output shaft, but there will be a small gear in between called the idler gear. The inclusion of this extra gear causes the last gear on the output shaft to spin in the opposite direction to all the others.

Each forward gear can be coupled to its shaft by a sliding locking coupler. This coupler connects splines on the shaft to splines on the gear. The coupler needs to be at the same speed as the gear splines to avoid grinding. When people refer to "grinding the gears", it is actually the splines that are grinding, not the gear teeth. To synchronize the coupler with the gear splines, there is an intermediate device called a synchro-mesh or "dog ring".

One of Webster's definitions for „dog“ is „Any of various devices for holding, gripping or fastening something, as one consisting of a spike or bar of metal with a ring, hook, claw or lug at the end.“
Hold your hands out with fingers spread and your finger tips pointed toward each other.  Now move your hands together such that your fingers slip between the fingers of the other hand.  Now try to rotate one hand within the other.  That is the concept of „Dog ring engagement.“  The fingers or dogs of one hand are engaged with the fingers or dogs of the other hand - they are hooked together.

Dog rings
synchromeshSynchros, synchro gears or synchromesh - all basically the same thing. A synchro is a device that allows the dog gear to come to a speed matching the helical gear before the dog teeth attempt to engage. In this way, you don't need to 'blip' the throttle and double-clutch to change gears. Synchro does this job for you.

The synchro-mesh is a lightweight ring with spline teeth on one side, and a conical friction surface on the other side. It is positioned between the sliding coupler and the gear splines. The gear also has a conical friction surface that mates with the surface of the synchro-mesh.
When a gear is to be engaged, the shift linkage selects a sliding coupler to connect to a gear. At this point, the coupler and the gear to be engaged are usually spinning at different speeds. As the coupler starts to slide, it first engages the spline teeth of the synchro-mesh ring. Because the synchro-mesh is lightweight, it can virtually instantly change speed to match the sliding coupler that was just forced into engagement with it. He then becomes part of the coupler. As the coupler continues to slide towards the gear splines, the friction surface of the synchro-mesh ring is pressed into contact with the friction surface of the gear assembly. This friction causes the transmission's input shaft (which at this point is hopefully disconnected from the engine by the clutch) to be accelerated (or decelerated) so that the coupler and the gear are spinning at the same speed when their spline teeth finally engage.
A synchro-mesh is limited in how much mass it can accelerate and how fast it can do it.

dog box
A true racing transmission may not have synchronizers at all. The transmission may be equipped with very strong dog rings that are simply jammed together.  These are also known as crash boxes (because gears are not synchronized but crashed together), or dog boxes, and use straight-cut gears instead of helical gears. Straight-cut gears have less surface area where the gears contact each other, which means less friction, which means less loss of power. That's why people who make racing boxes like to use them. And on many early transmissions there were no dogs to help with gear alignment, the gears themselves were simply put together - with various degrees of success and grinding depending on the expertise of the driver. racing gearboxes.


I will keep a simplified discussion here!

First thing to understand is that cars’ speeds are limited by gear ratios chosen for different circumstances. Car can't go faster that gear ratio alove him to go. A short gear will result in higher torque but a lower top speed. A long gear will result in lower torque but a higher top speed.
With that in mind, F1 engineers tune F1 gars for each track separately. Again finding the right gear ratio for a F1 car on new track, need a bit of a testing, simulation and experience. On well known track, F1 engineer use data from previous events.

Gear transmition ratio

If revs are not reaching the redline at the end of the straight, they can shorten the gears, until they find the revs just reaching the redline. If they find that revs are going up too quickly on a faster part of the track, that normally mean that on slower curvy part of the track they do not have enough power (torque) on the wheels. Adjusting a gear ratio is always a compromise between speed and torque.

Transmition ratioNumbers of teeth on mating gears is caled gear ratio. Ordinarily the ratio is found by dividing the number of teeth on the larger gear by the number of teeth on the smaller gear or pinion. For example, if the ratio is 2 or "2 to 1", this means that the smaller gear or pinion makes two revolutions to one revolution of the larger mating gear.

All the gears in high performance (racing track use only) cars are straight-cut to minimise power losses and to provide the maximum possible strength and durability; the gears of most roadcar gearboxes are helical, to reduce noise.

helicalFor many years it was the convention on F1 cars to locate the gear clusters behind the differential, for ease of access in order to change gear ratios, although this compromised weight distribution and aerodynamic performance. The current trend, with the gear clusters at the front end of the gearbox, means that the gearbox must be removed to change the gear ratios. The gear cluster (input shaft and output shaft) is mounted in a removable cassette, which can be removed once the gearbox/rear suspension/wing assembly has been removed from the rear of the car.


Formula 1 gearbox gear cassette
The gear clusters in Formula 1 car are mounted in a removable cassette. Much easier to work with gears, but can be removed only when the gearbox/rear suspension/wing assembly are removed from the rear of the car .


The input shaft and output shaft each carry seven gears (maximum alowed by FIA regulations), and each pair of gears (one on the input shaft and one on the output shaft) is carefully selected to give the required gear ratio. The FIA regulations from 2011 stipulate that each car is allowed 30 pairs of gear ratios from which to choose during the entire season, and these 30 ratios must be declared to the FIA before the first race of the season. The 2010 FIA regulations stipulated that all gears must be manufactured from steel, with a minimum weight (0.6kg) for gear pairs, and a minimum thickness (12mm) for each gear.

formula 1 reverse gear
When reverse is selected, a solenoid operated intermediate gear (red arrow) is engaged between the input and output shafts.

All cars must be fitted with a reverse gear to comply with the FIA regulations, and reverse is operated using a button on the steering wheel which engages an intermediate gear between the gearbox input and output shafts to reverse the direction of rotation of the output shaft.

Master gears
Engine gears
Master gears


The smallest gear of a gear drivetrain is called pinion. The pinion can be either the driving or the driven gear and is often used in cars as differential pinion or in a rack-and-pinion steering mechanism.


Dog ring
                                         Different versions of dog rings
Honda F1 2007 Gear Ratio & Layshaft Assembly
                              Honda F1 2007 Gear Ratio & Layshaft Assembly


Ferrari 2000 gearbox

F1 gearbox used by Ferrari during seasson 2000


Check out my Shifting Technique article.

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Books to read


Some useful links:

- f1technical.net, a great site with a lot of technical information’s and explanations. Site is updated daily with news from F1 word.

 - autosport.com, This site is a legend. A bible for racing lovers. News from all around the word. Unfortunately, to get access to all news, interviews and to open the site completely you should be subscribed to Autosport magazine. Anyway, great read.

James Allen on F1
- JA.F1 site (or blog) ovned by ITV Sport’s lead commentator on Formula 1 James Allen

Joe Saward blog
- joesaward is the Joe Saward official blog about Formula 1 world. Joe is an journalist, who write primarily about politics in and around motorsport, specifically on the FIA Formula 1 World Championship

Vital F1
 - vitalf1.com/ is another great site for Motor Sports fan’s like me. Site is relatively new, but great fun, with great discussion forum, Formula 1 news and forum.

 GP update
- f1.gpupdate.net, Site with fresh news from Formula 1

Planet F1
 - planetf1, another site with many different articles, news and statistics. Biased toward British teams, but anyway good read.

Gurney flap
 - gurneyflap.com, Great history site. You can learn a lot from this site. Pictures, cars and many many more. Great.

4ormula1 is a database of Formula 1 history and statistics of drivers, teams, grand prix, and all results since 1950.

Missed Apex Podcast
Enjoy range of Podcasts and Articles on Motorsport. Every week a Formula one chat on Missed Apex F1 Podcast with F1 journalist Joe Saward and tech Analyst Matthew Somerfield as guests. Also the exciting all electric racing series formula E on eRadio Show and Bike Show Lean Angle Podcast.

Racecar engineering
-Racecar Engineering, an online magazine with a lot to learn from, a lot of technical information’s and explanations

 - fia.com, La Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, representing the interests of motoring organisations and motor car users. Head organisation and ruler in auto sport.

 - wikipedia.org, I don’t believe that I have to tell you anything about this site. It’s not about Formula 1 technology, but you can learn a lot about that too.

Sutton Images

grandprix photo

 - carbibles.com, a great site for normal car users. Here you can find explanations of almost everything about your car and how it works. Technical reviews and explanations of some in-car gadgets.

Dare To Be Different
- Daretobedifferent.org Susie Wolff and UK governing body of UK motorsport have joined forces to launch Dare To Be Different, a high-profile new initiative which is about increasing female participation, not just on the track but in all aspects of the sport.

Giorgio Piola web site