The Formula One steering wheel is a difficult and complex piece of equipment. In addition to having to focus on the regular aspects of driving, F1 drivers also need to make split second adjustments on their steering wheels while going about 200 miles per hour in the midst of a Grand Prix race.
During the 2021 Formula One preseason testing in Bahrain, former Formula One driver and current motorsports analyst Jolyon Palmer helped explain the subtilties of the expensive gadget for the official YouTube channel of F1.
Palmer held the steering wheel of two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso – who will be returning to the series this season as a driver for the Alpine F1 Team – and pointed out the many different buttons: including the most often used team radio, pit lane speed limiter, DRS activation, and overtake buttons (deployment of energy in race conditions). The gear changing and clutch paddles are on the back of the wheel.
The main LED screen is used to display an array of different information – from speed and delta lap times to brake and tyre temperatures, as well as a number of team-specific parameters. Above the screen are indicating lights that let the driver know when to upshift to the next gear.
Additionally, the device has many switches that can even tune the car during a race. Drivers change certain settings multiple times for entries and exits of different corners or uphill and downhill sections of the track throughout a single lap. Many changes to the braking are also done mid-lap.
There are buttons and paddles which are left blank and get programmed by the teams differently in each race to the liking of whatever driver is using the wheel. These are usually pre-set changes for specific corners to make the desired changes while minimizing the driver’s need to manually adjust the many knobs in the middle of a lap.
Apart from the various performance buttons, drivers also have a menu rotary that provides the ability to change various parameters – this includes everything from volume of the team radio and brightness of the LED display screen to deleting electronic errors that may arise.
Back in 2018, the Mercedes team posted an image on Twitter detailing the functions of each button on their steering wheel.
The precise cost of one of these steering wheels is unknown because each team creates their own but it is generally believed that it approximately costs $90,000 (about 75 000 euros). Drivers use about 3 to 4 wheel per season.
Successfully figuring out the intricacies and getting used to the different dials on a Formula One steering wheel can significantly improve a lap time. The 2021 Formula One World Championship will have three rookies – Yuki Tsunoda, Nikita Mazepin, Mick Schumacher – and all of them will be challenged to combine their racing skills with the technical nuances of F1 from the beginning.