The steering wheel on an F1 car is insanely complicated and the amount of data that a driver can get is humongous. Also, the drivers can control large number of parameters while driving at speeds of over 300 kph. So, how do they do that? Let’s take an in-depth look into a modern F1 steering wheel.
For this article, I will be using the steering wheel used on the Mercedes as the reference.Different teams have their own layout and the settings may vary but they are basically the same.Also, the steering wheel layout may be different from driver to driver as they are made according to driver preferences.
The first thing that strikes out is a big display screen.New generation formula 1 cars use an OLED display screen which can display up to 100 pages of information. The drivers have access to various data such as their speed,lap time, difference to the leader,Battery energy status etc. All of this information can be displayed in a colourful manner on the screen and thus makes it easy for the driver to know the status of the car. Also, the team can notify the driver via the screen immediately if something is safety critical.
Just above the OLED display there is the presence of gear shift lights which aid the driver in optimising their gear shift times. Also, there are 2 pairs of lights(Yellow and white) which indicate a Yellow flag and danger zone respectively.
Pressing this button opens the DRS flap present on the rear wing thus reducing drag on the straights.
The gear shift levers which are mounted at the back cannot engage reverse and neutral gears. So, there’s a dedicated button for this purpose. Both, neutral and reverse can be engaged by the “N” button, by either just one press or a long press.
X Button:This is the confirm button which is used to acknowledge any instruction coming from the pit wall.
OT(Overtake) Button: Pressing the overtake button dials the car into a state of hyperdrive giving maximum boost from the engine and the ERS system.
PC(Pit-Confirm) Button:The driver can signal the pit crew that he is about to enter the pits by pressing PC button thus allowing the pit crew to be ready with the tyres.
PL Button:Pit-lane speed limiter button is used to limit the speed of the car to the designated pit-lane speed limit.
Talk Button:This is used by the driver to talk via the radio to the pit wall.
RS(Race Start) Button:This is used during the start of the race, pressing it accesses a pre-defined launch map which includes optimal clutch and ERS settings.
Mark Button:Used to identify a point of interest in the data as indicated by the driver.
ROTARY THUMB DIALS:
There are 6 rotary thumb dials which allow the driver to change the settings with just the usage of the thumb while his hand stays on the wheel.
ENTRY and EXIT Thumb Dial: These two rotaries are used to adjust the differential settings during corner entry and exit. Ad differential basically regulates the speed of the wheel of one side in respect to the wheel on other side. Say the driver is taking a left turn so the wheel on the left has to cover lesser distance than the wheel on the right to negotiate the turn.So, in order to prevent the dragging of the tyres the differential instructs the right wheel to be rotated at a higher speed compared to the left. This setting is very important to get optimum balance.
MID and HI SPEED Thumb dial:These two dials also adjust the differential. One is for mid-corner while other is for Hi-speed turn. These are relatively less used compared to ENTRY and EXIT differentials.
Brake Balance thumb dial: This is denoted as BB+ and BMIG. These are extensions of the mechanically operated brake bias lever which is present inside the cockpit.Using these dials the driver can shift the brake bias either to the front or back depending on his preference.
With the introduction of ERS system, adjusting brake balance has become ever so critical,the braking action is done by mechanically operated brakes plus the MGU-K(Regenerative braking). And, so there’s the usage of term “Brake-by-wire”.
The computer splits the rear and front brake bias according to the energy harvest settings and so getting optimum brake balance has become tougher. Now, the driver has to adjust brake balance in conjunction with energy harvest and boost settings to find the optimum performance.
There are 3 rotary dials, which are present near the bottom.
STRAT(Left Rotary):This is the strategy dial, and is mainly used to control ERS harvest and boost settings i.evia this dial the driver can adjust the balance between energy recovery and energy boost, so say at the start of the race you will usually see drivers in mode “STRAT3” in which there is preference to the boost side of the settings. So, the amount of harvest will be less compared to the boost supplied.
Multi-Function Rotary(Centre Rotary): This dial is used to control an array of settings such as BITE (clutch bite point find), TRQ (torque), BBW (Brake-By-Wire) and TYRE.
HPP(High powertrain Rotary-Right Dial): This is used to control engine settings i.e of the V6 Internal combustion engine. By using different modes indicated by the number, the fuel mixtures and ignition timings can be adjusted. So, say a driver is engaged in a battle with another car, so he wants maximum power, the driver will adjust settings such that rich fuel mixture is supplied to the engine thus giving him more power.