McLaren has said that it is confident that it has solved the gearbox problem that sidelined Lewis Hamilton
- and threatened to stop team-mate Jenson Button
- in the Singapore Grand Prix.
Hamilton was on his way to a third win in four races when the gearbox on his MP4-27 gave up the ghost, handing victory to title rival Sebastian Vettel
and promoting team-mate Button and points leader Fernando Alonso
to second and third. The team later revealed, however, that Button's second place could easily have been lost as well, as a similar problem was found with the gearbox on the #3 machine, resulting in a post-race change that leaves the 2009 world champion with a five-place grid penalty for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.
Discovery of the problem on Button's car has now allowed the team to understand the cause of Hamilton's retirement, which the rumour mill had initially linked to Hamilton brushing the wall on his qualifying run on Saturday, and technical director Paddy Lowe is confident that there will be no repeat of the issue.
"It was a quality problem that unfortunately affected both of those gearboxes," he told ESPN
, "It was the same on both cars, just more extreme in Lewis's case - and obviously terminal. Jenson was, to be honest, lucky to finish and the gearbox was not in a good state at the end, which is why we've had to change it. But we completely understand [the problem] now and it won't crop up again, [as] it had affected a certain batch."
Lowe admitted that he was not surprised to see so many gearbox issues in modern F1, given the short lead time on new designs each season.
"It's very difficult, as you can appreciate, to build a new gearbox each year in a very limited amount of time, type approve it to run five races uninterrupted and, in our case, committing to that across two teams," he explained, noting McLaren's technical commitment to Force India, "It's a big pressure on the system.
"With the engine, they're doing a similar thing in terms of endurance but, with the design, it's far more stable. That engine has been running for over five years now but, [with] the gearbox, we are doing a new one every winter. It's tough. What is making it tough these days in F1 is the programme demand and the timing in relation to the high endurance that is needed. It's quite an unforgiving set of rules in relation to penalties."
Having retired in Singapore, Hamilton will not be hit with a penalty for changing his gearbox prior to Suzuka this weekend.