As testing for the 2019 season got underway yesterday, the FIA was issuing an invitation to tender for a standard gearbox from 2021, as the sport's powers-that-be move forward with their grand plan for F1 post-2021.
"The FIA's objective is to select an exclusive supplier of the gearbox cassette (hereafter "the gearbox") whose task it will be to ensure the production, delivery and maintenance of the Gearbox for the 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons of the FIA Formula One World Championship (hereafter "the Championship")," reads the invitation.
All tenderers are invited to complete the technical form and provide all relevant technical and financial documents demonstrating that they are capable of supplying the gearbox to the competitors under the conditions referred to in the draft contract," it adds.
"The FIA reserves the right to request any additional information from and to organise meetings with tenderers who have submitted the most interesting bids. The FIA reserves the right not to select any supplier if no offer is finally deemed capable of being beneficial for the Championship and its competitors.
"Should a tenderer be selected, it will be invited to enter into a contract with the FIA that will establish the terms of the tenderer's appointment as exclusive supplier."
Incredibly, tenders have to be submitted by March 15, which gives potential suppliers less than a month, with a decision due from the FIA in mid-to-late April.
Explaining the move, the invitation states that: "The aim of single source supply is to retain current levels of Formula One gear change performance for all cars at a much reduced cost to the competitors while also removing the requirement for teams to design or source their own gearboxes. The unit can be carried over between seasons so removing the need for costly continual performance development.
"In order to retain competitor's own freedoms for suspension and for the gearbox aero surfaces, the outer housing will remain team specific (designed and produced by the competitor) with the common, self-contained gearbox cassette mounted inside.
"The gearbox cassette will include 7 forward ratios, 1 reverse ratio and the differential/final drive in a unit that also includes its own oil system (excluding the team-provided cooler) and the hydraulics necessary for its own operation as well as some other car functions.
"The unit is intended to replace all the functionality of a current F1 gearbox in a similar package and close to typical current weights.
"New units supplied to teams or PU suppliers will be sealed and tested to ensure functionality, performance and that they are fluid-tight. Any units used at races will be sealed by the FIA and become one of the four designated race gearboxes. If problems are identified during the life of the gearbox, new parts may be substituted providing they are identical (or latest issue equivalent) parts from the selected provider. The four race gearbox cassettes will form a pool and can be used at any time during the season."
The invitation also reveals plans for a more powerful MGU-K.
"Other than conforming to regulations (including any restricted areas necessary for the 2021 aero package - TBD), every team will push on packaging, wanting minimum length, width and height and every team will push on weight and centre of gravity. It is anticipated that significant effort should be applied to achieving a minimum size and weight for the unit, but it is also acknowledged that there are some factors that will make this difficult: Firstly, we need to achieve excellent reliability in the face of a life requirement of around 5000km. Secondly, there will be an average input speed increase of around 14% from today. Thirdly, there should be some power increase for 2021 relative to today, not just because of natural development, but also because of a 30kW increase in the MGUK output.
"With the removal of competition, it is anticipated that some of the most complex machining saving the last few grams can be replaced with more cost effective machining.
"Despite these negative factors, best endeavours should still be applied to optimise these conflicting requirements, but as a guide, it is anticipated that the gearbox cassette will be around 1.5kg heavier than an equivalent cassette-style F1 gearbox today."
Other than a standard gearbox, the invitation suggests that more 'common parts' are to be introduced for 2021.
"Although all teams will be free to design their own driveshafts, it is anticipated that as part of the 2021 technical regulations, the design of the driveshaft inner will be prescribed. The selected provider will be included in the detail definition of this interface, but in principle the gearbox cassette responsibility will end at the output flanges to the driveshafts."
Currently, Ferrari supplies both Haas and Alfa Romeo, while Mercedes provides gearboxes for Racing Point and Red Bull for Toro Rosso.
In addition to the fact a dedicated casing will make it difficult for teams, such as Red Bull and Toro Rosso to share suspension components, the move to a sole supplier will hit those teams/manufacturers already facing a financial hit when (if) the prize money distribution is agreed.
As if to rub salt in the wound, the invitation states that the winning supplier will need to work with the teams, a move which could prove particularly problematic if it is one of the teams that is vying for the contract in the same way that McLaren won the bid to supply the sport's common ECU.
In addition to the fact a dedicated casing will make it difficult for teams, such as Red Bull and Toro Rosso to share suspension components, the move to a sole supplier will hit those teams/manufacturers already facing a financial hit when (if) the prize money allocation is agreed.
The unit will need to be designed in conjunction with all the existing competitors and PU suppliers to ensure it can function as well as possible in all cars and best endeavours should be made to satisfy as many competitors and PU supplier requests as practical in a unit for everyone.
"Clearly, the competitors that currently produce their own gearboxes will have knowledge built up that should be sought and taken account of if possible. In particular, their best design practices should be sought and a coherent set of design practice actioned during the process. The FIA will help arbitrate if any of these practices are contradictory to each other."