Car Culture / Racing / Tech

Explained: Formula 1 Steering Wheel Controls

Are Formula 1 drivers moving too fast to looking all the way to a dash for information? Perhaps… this explains why pertinent information and vehicle controls are coming from steering wheel-mounted displays. These things can be disconnected, carried around like a lap top… heck they have more computing power than laptops, and programmed like a laptop. It begs the question… Are we talking about steering wheels with computers or a computer that steers?

To illustrate this point let’s dissect the wheel out of a Mercedes AMG W09 Formula 1 car. The wheel features 25 LEDs, 12 buttons, 6 thumb dials, 4 paddles, 3 knobs, and 2 grips. This technical marvel is the conduit between driver and machine and it’s critical to completing a successful lap… also a bit intimidating. Per Mercedes, “On a “regular” race lap around Silverstone, a driver will typically do around 40 gearshifts (the quickest sequence in about 1.2 seconds for five downshifts going into Turn 3), two brake balance adjustments, two changes of display page, and three differential adjustments – all of that in addition to the actual steering, of course.”

1) Shift Lights – See too many red LEDs and you’re hurting your 900-horsepower turbo V6.

2) Warning/Caution Lights – Can be programmed to specific parameters and specific thresholds.

3) Drag Reduction System – Adjusts the rear wing’s angle of attack for greater straightaway speed.

4) Scroll – Jumps the Multi-Function Display menu.

5) Neutral – Holds the transmission in neutral during pit stops.

6) Pit Lane Speed Limiter – Electronically maintains the programmed legal pit speed.

7) Scroll – Navigates the Multi-Function Display menu in single-item increments.

8) Pit Confirm – Announces that the car is heading to the pits.

9) Differential Setting – Controls differential bias when entering a corner.

10) Differential Setting – Controls differential bias when exiting a corner.

11) Shift Paddle – Changes gears in the transmission. Note twin on the opposite side of wheel.

12) Brake Migration – Controls the energy harvested during braking.

13) Brake Balance Sets the baseline for front-to-rear brake bias.

14) Differential Setting – Controls differential bias in mid-corner.

15) Mark – Captures data points on a given lap for future review with a team engineer.

16) Race Start Mode – Sets the engine and drivetrain up for the launch at the beginning of a race.

17) Engine Braking – Adjusts the amount of engine compression braking.

18) Clutch – Used to get car moving from a standstill. Note twin on the opposite side of wheel.

19) Default Access – Displays and default or error codes.

20) Talk – Radio control for communicating with pits.

21) Brake Balance, Retard – Fine tunes front-to-rear brake bias.

22) Strategy Mode – Controls engine power output, energy recovery system.

23) Multi-Function Display Control – adjusts what parameters are displayed on main screen.

24) Engine Setting – More detailed engine settings that are programmed for each track.

25) Brake Balance, Advance – Fine tunes front-to-rear brake bias.


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