What RPM Do F1 Drivers Shift At?

What RPM Do F1 Drivers Shift At
What RPM Do F1 Drivers Shift At

What RPM do F1 drivers shift at? Formula 1 is the pinnacle of racing and the most advanced technology is used in these cars to make seemingly impossible things possible. Among one of these many miracles is how fast an F1 car can switch gears. Formula 1 cars use a semi-automatic gear system which does most of the work associated with shifting gears. The driver has only to indicate his intent and it is done in a few milliseconds.

Expert drivers in a manual gear system car take between 500ms to 1 second to shift between vertical gears. The time taken to shift between horizontal gears is 1 to 2 seconds. An F1 car driver may execute more than 3800 gears shifts during a Grand Prix race. That is less time than 0.5 seconds for each gear shift in a maximum 2 hour-long race. It is made possible by the semi-automatic sequential gear system controlled by an onboard computer mounted in F1 cars.

This article will take a look at how a Formula 1 car driver can change gears so frequently and at such a great speed. The sequence of the events of a gear change will also be outlined. Why the engine RPM is of no concern to the driver when shifting gears will also be studied.

What is the difference between a sedan and an F1 car gear system?

A petrol-fuelled sedan’s engine runs at a maximum rpm of 6000-9000 RPM. Formula 1 regulation stipulates that the rpm of an F1 car’s engine should not exceed 15000 RPM. An expert sedan driver will take 500ms to 1s to change between vertical gears. The time taken to change between horizontal gears will be 1s to 2s. F1 drivers change gears more than once every two seconds. He has very little time to shift gears manually before he proceeds to the next shift.

Formula 1 cars are mounted with a semi-automatic, sequential gear system. This restricts the driver from shifting from 4th to 2nd gear. He has to go through the third gear before he engages the second. Sedan cars use either H type gear systems or stick shift gear systems. The time taken to switch gears in sedans is too great for an F1 car. Here is where the onboard computer comes in. It helps facilitate a faster switch.

Because of the frequency of gear changes, a lot of heat is generated in the gearbox of an F1 car. To facilitate heat dissipation F1 gearboxes are made from carbon titanium. Carbon titanium is both lighter and a better conductor of heat than cast steel. The transmission system of an F1 car is costly. Each gearbox can cost upwards of $600,000. Teams make sure that a gearbox lasts at least five races. The FIA also levies a penalty for those that change gearboxes before five races.

How does a computer control gear shifting in an F1 car?

A sedan gear system has the main and the layshaft, a clutch and a selector mechanism. The gears engage directly with the main shaft and are changed by human intervention. A semi-automatic, sequential gear system has some additional parts. It consists of two paddles, a sequential selector and selector forks. A dog collar engages with the selected gear and selector pins engages the gear with the main shaft.

An F1 driver only indicates his intention of shifting gears using two paddles. Immediately on receipt of the signal, the onboard computer takes over the shifting of gears. It switches gears in just 50ms. A human being takes 300ms to blink eyes. An F1 driver does not have to worry about the rpm of the engine. This enables the F1 driver to quickly shift between gears. It would be impossible for an F1 driver to shift gears at the right RPM with the required rapidity.

A Formula 1 car has eight forward gears and one reverse gear. The engine rotates at a maximum of 15,000 RPM and changing gears becomes dicey at such high rotational speeds. The steering wheel of the F1 car has two paddles on the underside. The left paddle shifts one gear up and the right paddle a gear down. Once the driver indicates his intention of switching gears, the onboard computer takes over.

A formula 1 car does have a clutch which is used only to engage the first gear when at a standstill. All gear changes when the car is moving are handled by the computer. There are various sensors and actuators mounted on the car engine and the gearbox. The electronic throttle completes the equipment used by the computer to change gears. The computer analyses the signals from the sensors and sends signals to the actuators to complete the process.

A shift of a paddle initiates the movement of the selector fork which prompts the collar to engage the selected gear. The gear selector and the selector pins then engage the appropriate gear to the main shaft. The gear shift is complete while the driver still has his foot on the throttle.

The computer completes the gear shift in an incredible 50ms from the time the driver moves the gear change paddle. That is six times faster than the blink of an eye. The same sequence of events will take place for every gear change. The speed with which the computer changes gears enables the driver to change three or four gears within a second.


Formula 1 cars use a semi-automatic sequential gearbox transmission. A driver can only switch one gear up or down in such a transmission system. But the use of an on-board computer to control the switch greatly increases the speed of the operation. The switch is so fast that the driver can change several gears within a second. So many gear shifts in such a short period are impossible in a sedan.

A Formula 1 car pushes the limit of automation to the extent allowed by the FIA. The speed with which an F1 driver can switch gears indicates the level of advanced technology used in F1 cars. Most of the technology and components will become cheaper as years go by and will percolate down to streetcars.


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