F1 steering wheel: How difficult can it be?
10 August, 2011
Aug.10 (McLaren) A Formula 1 steering wheel is a substantial bit of kit, especially when taking into account all the things the driver has to do and think about in his car’s cockpit other than driving at full pelt for up to two solid hours in searing heat!
A plethora of knobs, buttons, levers and toggles to change settings, activate the radio, the drinks bottle, and all-sorts else fill the oval form of each £20,000 wheel , which is FIA-homologated and made up exclusively of carbon fibre.
So let’s talk you through everything going on in Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button’s respective offices, going through the buttons and dials labelled A to H first… Phew.
The A dial is wine-coloured and is situated in the top left-hand corner of the wheel. This adjusts the car’s differential mid-corner. If that isn’t enough, then there’s also the D switch which is the farthest left in a bank of three in the centre of the wheel, which is for adjusting braking and turn-in sharpeness
Yet another switch used to adjust the car’s differential is E, which is located in the bottom right-hand corner of the wheel. This doubles up as an “on power” differential and is also used for wet tyres.
But why is a Formula 1 car’s differential so important? Why does it need to be so adjustable? Essentially a differential, as on a road car, is the key part for putting engine power through to the driveshafts and in turn, in the case of a Formula 1 car, to the rear wheels.
Therefore it helps define a car’s “driveability” – how easy or difficult a car is to drive depending on many variables such as weather conditions, grip levels, steering response, balance, tyre wear, fuel loads and traction.
But enough differential talk – back to the steering wheel. The next switch to talk about is the C switch. Also known as the “Multi-Function” switch, it’s coloured purple and is located on the lower left-hand corner of the inner wheel.
This has about 50 different settings which allow adjustments to all manner of things. Just one example is the ability to adjust how the readouts on the steering’s display are laid out.
In order to flick through so many settings efficiently, the steering wheel features +10 and +1 buttons, which are coloured green and are located on either side in the top corners. These allow the driver to flick to the setting which the pit wall has instructed him to as quickly as possible, for example to get to setting 43, a driver would have to press the +10 button four times, then press the +1 button three times.
Next up is the F switch, known as the F1 Hybrid (KERS) harvest switch. The F1 Hybrid system recovers kinetic energy which would otherwise be wasted under braking to be re-used for a short power boost every lap.
With six different settings, the switch adjusts how much energy is being harvested from the system on each lap. The need to adjust this arises from the fact that energy harvesting can affect the car under braking – for instance the level of energy being harvested is much different when the car is sat behind a Safety Car, as opposed to running on the limit during a dry race.
The G dial, the farthest right of the bank of three switches in the centre of the wheel, coloured yellow, controls the engine settings, in other words the air-to-fuel mixture can be adjusted for reducing fuel consumption.
Another adjustment that can be made using the G switch is to the engine’s rev limit. If, for example, a car is far in front of all opposition during a race, the pit wall can instruct the driver to turn down the engine’s redline in order to give him the best shot possible of making it over the finish line.
The H dial, coloured blue and sitting between the D and G dials in the centre of the wheel, is used to dial in various levels of engine braking, meaning that the severity of a driver downshifting through his gearbox to reduce engine speed prior to corner entry can be adjusted.
A bright orange button, with “FLAP” written on it, engages the new-for-2011 adjustable rear wing. The device is deployed on straights in order to reduce drag and therefore increase top speed.
Further above that is a big green N button, which is used to engage neutral or the car’s reverse gears. On the opposite side of the steering wheel, a similar button resides, however this one (P) is bright yellow and is used to engage the pit lane speed limiter. The N and P buttons respectively reside next to the aforementioned +10 and +1 buttons.
Either side of the bank of three dials in the centre of the steering wheel, there are two toggle switches. The one to the left of the switches is red, and is used to turn the car-to-pit radio on and off, whereas the one to the right of them is blue, and is used to engage the launch map selection for the start of the race.
Below the blue toggle switch is a big blue button labelled “T”, which is assigned to a setting used regularly at a given race. To the right of this is a yellow OT button, used to maximise revs when the car has a good slipstream behind another and has an opportunity to attempt an overtake.
Further below the OT button is the obviously-named DRINKS button, coloured grey, which takes care of rehydrating a driver on demand when he is out on the circuit. With modern Formula 1 telemetry being so extensive, team staff on the pit wall will actually known when a driver has taken a drink.
On the rear side of the wheel, there’s a spring-loaded F1 Hybrid (KERS) activation button, a paddle for each of the car’s two clutches (which are only used at the start), as well as paddles for shifting up and down its gearbox.
Do you think you could remember all that AND drive at 300km/h without taking your eyes off the tarmac..?