The history of the 'paddle shift'

The history of the 'paddle shift'


Photo : - Ferrari

Banned in the old GT2 class, gear shifting paddles are now allowed in GTE, giving us an excuse for a brief history.

1901, Le Mans (France) - The brilliant inventor Amedé Bollée (son of the Amédée-Ernest Bollée) developed a novel method of driving assistance; a circle of aluminum at the centre of the steering wheel to shift up and down four gears without a clutch. This entirely mechanical system can be seen in the Bollée Type F Torpédo of 1912 on display at the "Musée Automobile de la Sarthe".

1989, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) - After major diffiulties in testing, Ferrari gained victory with the semi-automatic gearbox designed by John Barnard. The electro-hydraulic system allowed drivers Nigel Mansell and Gerhard Berger to shift gears by manipulating two paddles behind the steering wheel. Gradually, this invention has revolutionized the world of motorsport.

1997, Maranello (Italy) - The Ferrari 355 was fitted with the box called "F1". It was the first production car to use the technique developed by the manufacturer in competition. Thereafter, BMW and Alfa Romeo produced similar systems, reducing shifting delays for each new model.

Today, all manufacturers have their own 'robotic' gearboxs, which can shift in less than a tenth of a second. These systems significantly increase the lifespan of mechanical components and although speeds are passed "on the fly" (without manipulation of the clutch), the gearing is protected by precise computer management.

See and listen to explanation from Doug Fehan (Corvette endurance racing programme manager) and Dan Binks (engineer) on this video: click HERE.

Julien Hergault

MARANELLO (Italy) FERRARI F355 PRESENTATION, 1997. Demonstrating the complexity of the system; it took eight years for Ferrari to adapt a semi-automatic transmission for road use.  

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