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How they work, what the buttons do and extra

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F1 vehicles are extremely complicated machines which take a number of years plus hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to design and construct earlier than heading to a observe.

A key element of that’s the steering wheel. In fact, it’s important for each automobile, however the F1 steering wheel is in contrast to any that’s seen on the street.

Through the years F1 steering wheels have modified and developed from easy circles into the modern-day model, which seems prefer it has come straight from a rocket ship. So right here is all the things concerning the F1 steering wheel, its evolution, the way it works and extra.

Evolution of the F1 steering wheel

An F1 steering wheel has not at all times appeared prefer it does within the current day. Again within the championship’s early years, it held distinct similarities to the common steering wheel of a street automobile.

It is because when Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss and co raced within the Nineteen Fifties, F1’s know-how was not that superior. A primary steering wheel comprised of wooden and aluminium was all they needed to management the automobile with however, because the years glided by, adjustments inevitably occurred.

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Within the Sixties, whereas know-how remained fairly primary, the picket wheel rim grew to become leather-based wrapped for extra grip. Little adjustments have been then made to the Sixties spec till halfway by means of the Seventies when the primary button appeared.

This was an emergency ignition-kill swap. On the time, F1 engines have been fitted with throttle sliders which tended to open if dust grew to become caught within the mechanism, so the swap allowed drivers to rapidly flip the engine off earlier than hitting a barrier.

It kickstarted main adjustments over the approaching years, and the Eighties additionally noticed suede substitute the leather-based rim which acquired quite a lot of plaudits. Stefan Johansson, F1 driver throughout two stints between 1980 and 1991, stated it was the primary “actual enchancment” as a result of it gave him extra of a really feel within the automobile by means of improved grip.

Drivers then began requesting steering wheels particular to their driving type. Nigel Mansell usually put quite a lot of pressure by means of the wheel, so he opted for a a lot thicker grip, whereas Ayrton Senna did the alternative as a result of the triple world champion was smoother in his method.

Photograph by: Ercole Colombo

Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4-8 Ford

Steering wheels additionally took on extra duty within the Eighties as devices began to look. One was a quick-release mechanism, so steering wheels grew to become simply removable which was necessary when cockpits began to get smaller.

It meant the steering wheel was now not a big impediment when exiting the automobile, which has particularly helped in an emergency. At any time when a automobile caught fireplace, a driver wanted to rapidly get out and a quick-release mechanism was important to that.

The radio button was additionally launched in order that groups and drivers may talk higher mid-race, whereas some steering wheels had a ‘increase’ button which aided overtaking. Nevertheless, these adjustments have been minuscule in comparison with what occurred in 1989 as Ferrari grew to become the primary group to make use of a semi-automatic gearbox.

That is the place two paddle shifts behind the wheel changed the clutch pedal. Drivers went quicker consequently and it helped to avoid wasting house which due to this fact lowered weight.

It was a revolution. Different groups adopted swimsuit within the Nineteen Nineties, which brought on the following massive change the place the wheel’s form grew to become rectangular somewhat than spherical.

As this occurred, extra buttons appeared like a pitlane velocity limiter and rotary dials the place drivers may select totally different settings for his or her automobile. The flip of the century noticed an evolution to this as rubber changed suede, whereas drivers started to mould the steering wheel round their fingers which in flip helped to extend the texture of the automobile.

Know-how continued to enhance, and buttons stored being added, in order that drivers might be extra particular with every setting. It meant F1 drivers needed to develop an engineering thoughts as a result of there was now a lot extra to simply driving the automobile.

Little tweaks continued till 2014 when one other massive change was launched. At the beginning of the turbo-hybrid period, an LCD display was added to the steering wheel in order that drivers may flick by means of plenty of information to make choices mid-race.

In 2020, Mercedes then brought on a stir with the introduction of Dual Axis Steering. When Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas pushed and pulled on the steering column throughout that championship- successful marketing campaign, the alignment of the entrance wheels moved inwards or outwards, which modified the angle of the toe and meant the drivers have been capable of alter the steering alignment for both elevated high velocity or improved tyre warming.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W11, pit stop

Photograph by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W11, pit cease

Groups questioned its legality, however Mercedes acted inside the guidelines and the DAS system was allowed to remain for 2020. That rapidly modified although, as DAS was banned for 2021 and past; nonetheless, it supplied one other indication that steering wheels can be utilized for extra than simply turning an F1 automobile.

What are the buttons on an F1 steering wheel?

As buttons started to appear on an F1 steering wheel all the things grew to become very complicated. Drivers are juggling plenty of issues mid-race the place the press of 1 improper button may have a detrimental affect.

On the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, for instance, Lewis Hamilton had a dramatic Flip 1 lock-up on the lap 50 restart which put him to the again of the sphere. It got here after the Mercedes driver by accident hit the ‘magic’ button on the again of his steering wheel which is there to generate warmth rapidly to the entrance tyres, so it’s helpful for the formation lap.

However not in race situations. By by accident flicking the swap within the method to Flip 1, Hamilton shifted the brake stability to roughly 90% for the entrance axle when it’s normally round 55-60%, so his tyres locked up and the seven-time world champion went off.

Regardless of groups’ greatest efforts, urgent the improper button does generally occur. When George Russell made his debut for Mercedes on the 2020 Sakhir GP, he continuously pressed the wrong buttons so there’s a lot to get used to. That’s additional highlighted within the desk beneath which lists lots of the buttons on an F1 steering wheel.

Drag Discount System (DRS)

Operates DRS, which opens the rear wing to scale back drag and improve high velocity

Skip 1/10 Preset

Manages the essential management sensors on the automobile and energy unit

Gearbox Impartial

Places the automobile in impartial which permits it to cease

Pitlane Velocity Limiter

When engaged, the automobile can not transcend the velocity the automobile was at when the button was pressed even when the motive force goes full throttle

Pit Verify

Tells the group to prepare for a pitstop as a result of the motive force is about to return in


Controls the differential – quantity of torque switch between the rear wheels – for a nook’s entry, apex and exit

Engine Braking 

Adjusts how a lot the engine slows the automobile down when the motive force will not be on both their throttle or brakes 

Brake Steadiness

Modifications brake stability of the automobile to both the entrance or rear


Identifies a focal point within the information as indicated by the motive force

Settle for

Accepts default modes chosen by Skip 1/10

Race Begin

Units the automobile up for a race begin the place most energy is used


Will get pressed when the motive force desires to speak to the pitwall

Strat Mode Rotary

A rotary dial which is used to manage energy unit modes like efficiency of the interior combustion engine

Menu Rotary

Permits the motive force to vary varied parameters on the automobile like radio quantity or brightness of the steering wheel’s digital display

HPP Rotary

Additionally controls energy unit settings like vitality administration


LED lights point out when to shift, whereas some additionally present what color flag marshals are waving

Paddle Shifts

There are two paddle shifts behind the steering wheel that are used to vary gear. Normally, the left paddle is for downshifts, whereas the appropriate one is for upshifts

Do F1 groups all use the identical form of steering wheel?

Every F1 group has its personal distinctive steering wheel as a result of it is without doubt one of the issues a driver can management, so they need one thing which fits their particular wants.

Plenty of effort and time due to this fact goes into the design so {that a} driver can really feel snug as soon as sat within the automobile. Alpine, for instance, has a steering wheel that’s rounder than its rivals whereas Williams is the one group to not have a digital display.

Alpine A523 steering detail

Photograph by: Uncredited

Alpine A523 steering element

This was completed in an effort to avoid wasting weight, so its wheel is far smaller than others. On the flip aspect, Ferrari has a big steering wheel which options as much as six rotary dials versus three for Mercedes.

Nevertheless, each groups nonetheless have a steering wheel that’s filled with buttons however the identical can’t be stated for Purple Bull. Purple Bull is somewhat extra relaxed in that regard, which maybe makes it simpler for its drivers to navigate every button and removes the chance of urgent the improper one.

However no matter what number of buttons a steering wheel has, each can be positioned in a special location relying on the group. Due to this fact, nobody steering wheel is identical so groups design one which is particular to their wants.

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