The F1 steering wheel is one of the most complex parts in Formula 1. F1 drivers interact with more than a dozen buttons, knobs, rotary dials, menus, displays, and LEDs on the steering wheel. It has loads of features, from drivers communicating with the team through radio to the drink button to activate their drinks. The new drivers who graduate from Formula 2 and make their debut in Formula 1 have to get used to a more complex steering wheel. It has many different and new features compared to a Formula 2 car. We will now see what an F1 Steering Wheel looks like.
There are different types of race tracks in Formula 1. Some are downforce tracks, while others are power tracks. And few are balanced tracks, i.e., a combination of both downforce and power tracks. What this brings is different types of strategies for different race tracks. There can also be specific incidents during the race, which can change the driver’s strategy to approach the remaining race to finish higher. Here comes the use of the Strat rotary dial.
Engineers and drivers collect the data from the three practices on Friday and Saturday and form the most efficient strategies for the race. Drivers can use this dial to change their strategy to align it with the race conditions and help them finish better.
F1 drivers can do many things with the Menu rotary dial. They can use the rotary and +10 -1 button to make some software changes in the car. Drivers can control or delete their problems from the car using a few combinations of the Menu rotary dial and the +10 -1 button. The F1 drivers can tune their cars around the lap to give them better performance using the Menu rotary as well.
One of the most crucial features for a driver during an overtake is the DRS (Drag Reduction System). This feature opens up the car’s rear wing, which gives the driver extra speed and makes it easy to overtake the car in front of him. To enable the DRS, drivers have to simply press the button.
There is a speed limit of 60 kmph in the pit lane when drivers enter for changing tires or any damaged parts during the race. Keeping at this constant speed for drivers would be a tough ask when they already have loads of different things to manage during the pit lane entry and exit. So to make it easy for the drivers, the F1 steering wheel has a PIT button that keeps the car at a constant speed of 60 kmph.
Drivers and race engineers are always in contact throughout the race. The race engineers keep the driver updated with all the information necessary. Like which driver is ahead and which driver is behind him and by how many seconds, race conditions such as the weather if it is going to rain anytime soon, track temperature, race incidents, etc. On the other hand, the driver provides updates on the tire conditions, if he is facing any software issue, etc. They simply have to press the RADIO button on the F1 steering wheel to enable the radio.
RCH Button (Recharge Button)
Drivers can recharge their batteries according to the race conditions and use them during defending or the Qualifying laps. They use the RCH Button on the F1 steering wheel to recharge their batteries to use the charge as a boost during an appropriate moment.
Race Start Button
It is crucial to perform well in the Qualifying to be on the pole position for the race. However, the race winner is not decided on the Qualifying Day. The drivers have to give their best on Race Day, so a good start off the grid is crucial (Hamilton vs Verstappen Abu Dhabi GP 2021). The F1 steering wheels have a Race Start button, which helps give maximum power during the grid start to get the drivers off to a flying start.
Pit Entry Confirmation
During the race, the cars go at a speed of around 300 kmph. So crashing onto other cars or the barriers is inevitable. After the crash, the driver might need a change of the front wing or some adjustment in the car’s livery. The drivers have to come into the pit lane even during the strategic tire change. And trust me, drivers don’t want to lose their positions because of pit crew mistakes. To indicate that they are going to come in the pit, they have a Pit Entry Confirmation button so that by the time drivers come in; the crew is ready to change tires or front wing, etc.
Have you ever noticed F1 drivers been weighted after the race? This is because they lose average water weight of 2-3 kgs after each race. To keep themselves hydrated, they have a drinks system in the F1 car that pumps the fluid into the mouth of the drivers. For this, the drivers need to press the Drinks button on their F1 steering wheel.
As the name suggests, the driver uses the Overtake button when they are in an overtaking position. It deploys additional energy during the race conditions to get extra speed when the driver is going for an overtake. This button is used very often during the race; that’s why it is placed at a position that is easily accessible by the driver.
F1 cars are not automatic transmission cars, and the gears need to be changed manually. For this, they have paddle shifters on the steering wheel to shift the gears quickly. The right paddle shifter moves the gear up, whereas the left paddle shifter shifts the gear down.
RPM Indicator LEDs
Like every other car has an RPM indicator on its dashboard, F1 cars have this on their steering wheels. These LEDs indicate the PRM and let the driver change gears. The colors are different for high and low RPM.
The display on the F1 steering wheel has a critical role as it shows all the details of the car issues, the gear number, battery state. The drivers can also see the changes they make from the Menu Rotary displayed on the screen to make sure the changes made are correct.
The display can be on the steering wheel, or the steering wheel might consist only of buttons, dials, paddles, and no display, like in the case of Williams. The steering wheel is customized according to the constructor and how the drivers want the buttons placed to make them easily accessible during the race.
Although these features make it a lot easier for the drivers, they can now solve their problems with just a few rotations of the dials and press of buttons. However, doing as simple as it seems, this process during the race takes an enormous effort, especially when we are talking about the speed of 300 kmph.