Formula 1 cars are some of the most complex and expensive vehicles on the planet. They are the fastest cars around a lap, and they rely on some incredible technology, from the engines to the steering wheels. But you may wonder what all the buttons on an F1 steering wheel actually do.
Below, we take a closer look at 21 buttons, dials, and switches that you’ll find on an F1 steering wheel. While they’ll come in various shapes and sizes, and some teams may have some extra buttons, these are the most common ones you’ll see the drivers using.
21 F1 Steering Wheel Buttons Explained
The Drag Reduction System is a flap that opens in the rear wing of the car. This reduces the amount of drag on the car and allows it to gain a speed advantage down the straights. DRS can only be used when the driver is within one second of the car in front. If the driver is allowed to use DRS, they will hear a beep in their ear and can activate the flap using the DRS button on the steering wheel.
2. Gearbox Neutral
The gearbox and the clutch are mostly controlled from the back of the steering wheel. The paddles on the back allow the driver to shift up and down the gears, and the clutch is only used when moving from a stationary position.
But putting the gearbox in neutral is done with a button to prevent it from being selected accidentally while the car is in motion. Holding the neutral button down for a set amount of time will also often put the car into reverse, but exactly how this is done usually varies between the teams.
3. Pit Lane Speed Limiter
The pit lane always has a speed limit in Formula 1. Having cars speeding into an area where people are working and walking around is dangerous. The pit lane speed limiter acts sort of like a cruise control button.
While the pit lane limiter is activated, the car won’t be able to go over the pit lane speed limit, even if the driver goes full throttle. Drivers will be penalized or fined for speeding in the pit lane because of the risks they pose to the crew members working there, and a pit lane limiter button helps minimize the chances of this happening.
4. Pit Confirm
One of the most crucial parts of a Formula 1 race is a team’s pit stop strategy. There’s a massive amount of teamwork that goes into pit stops. Pulling off the perfect pit stop requires the crew members and the driver to synergize perfectly.
The pit confirm button sends an alert to the team and the crew members that the driver is coming into the pits. Oftentimes drivers and teams need to make unscheduled pit stops if there’s a change in the weather or if the safety car comes out, so this button informs the entire team that the car is heading into the pits.
5. Engine Braking
Engine braking plays a huge role in a Formula 1 car, helping the driver slow the car from 200 mph to almost a standstill in just 4 seconds. The engine braking settings adjust how much the engine will slow the car down when the driver is not on the throttle or on the brakes.
The driver will be adjusting this setting based on how much fuel they can use and how much they need the car to slow down when they lift their foot off the throttle.
The differential is used to adjust the amount of torque transfer between the rear wheels of the car. More lock on a differential will have the wheels spinning at a similar speed, whereas a more open differential will allow the rear wheels to spin more freely and independently from one another.
Formula 1 drivers have a multitude of differential settings they can adjust from their steering wheel. They may have a different switch for each phase of the corner – entry, mid, and exit. Each one can be adjusted individually, and the differential will react according to the settings the driver chooses.
7. Brake Balance
Brake balance is important in Formula 1 because the braking phase is one of the most crucial parts of the corner. Drivers can choose to have either more front brake bias or more rear brake bias, and this can be adjusted on the fly using their steering wheel.
Having more front brake bias will give the car more stopping power, but there’s a higher risk of locking the tires. Having more rear bias will give the car more oversteer and less stability. Drivers will adjust their brake bias in between corners to optimize the handling of the car for each unique corner.
When drivers gather data during practice sessions, they might experience something of interest. This can be anything from the point where the tires lose grip or a point where the driver is held up by traffic.
The mark button allows the driver to pinpoint a specific area in the data and telemetry. This allows the team and the driver to see when the significant event happened on a graph and timescale, which is helpful for debriefs and analysis.
The accept and cancel buttons are different from team to team. Some teams use these buttons as communication between the driver and the pits. Rather than having to push the radio button, the driver can confirm or deny any questions asked to them by their race engineers.
In other cars, the accept button is used in conjunction with some other settings. For example, if the rotary switches are placed in an area where they might accidentally be moved by the driver while out on track, the driver will need to press accept before the settings are applied.
10. Race Start
The race start button is used when the car lines up on the grid. Pressing this button will allow the car to deploy maximum battery power at the start of the race, which will give the driver the best possible start.
11. Drinks Button
Hydration is crucial in Formula 1. With the extreme temperatures inside a Formula 1 cockpit, drivers can often lose between 3 and 4 kilograms (6-8 lbs) during a Grand Prix purely through sweating.
Every Formula 1 car has a drink bottle built into it. The drink bottle is fed into the driver’s helmet using a long straw, but the bottle is activated using an electric pump. This means the driver has to press a button in order to drink while they are in the car.
12. Bite Point
When it comes to the clutch, the driver is able to set the bite point they feel most comfortable with. This is usually done during the practice sessions as the drivers conduct their practice starts.
The driver will hold their clutch in the position they want the bite point to be and then click the bite point button on the steering wheel to confirm it. This bite point will be set until it is changed by the driver or the team.
The team radio plays an important role in Formula 1. It’s the main way that drivers are able to communicate with their race engineers and their crew members back in the pit lane. Communication is important for strategy, informing the driver of the track conditions, and much more. This button is usually a toggle switch.
14. Strat Mode Rotary
Formula 1 engines are incredible machines, and they have different settings that the driver can use during a session based on what they need. You’ll often hear these strats being used if there is a safety car or virtual safety car, as during these periods drivers can change their engine settings to account for the slower speeds.
15. Menu Rotary
The menu rotary allows the driver to change various settings on the car. These are not necessarily performance-based settings, but they can affect the driver, and having these settings available in the car is important.
Drivers can adjust settings like the brightness of their LCD digital dashboard screens, change the volume of their radio, and much more. These might not be as important as other settings, but there are times when these settings need to be changed by the driver, and the menu rotary switch allows them to make any necessary tweaks.
16. HPP Rotary
The HPP rotary is most likely what the driver will be using during the Grand Prix to adjust their engine settings. This rotary allows the driver to adjust settings such as the ERS deployment and the MGU-K settings.
Oftentimes when there is an issue with the car, drivers will be instructed to change these settings in order to solve the problem. Drivers are usually instructed on how to do this by their race engineer from the pit wall, using words like ‘fail’ and ‘default,’ which usually correspond to different settings on these switches.
17. HPP Presets
There are two buttons that allow the drivers to quickly change their HPP settings and control sensors. There is a +10 button that allows the driver to skip through 10 settings at a time. This allows them to quickly get to a setting they need without having to focus on the rotary.
There’s also a +1 setting which allows the driver to move up through the settings one at a time. Drivers can use this if they need to adjust their engine settings with more precision rather than skipping through 10 or using the rotary switch.
The LEDs are at the top of the steering wheel. These run along the steering wheel and change color depending on how high the RPMs of the engine go. These LED lights essentially indicate to the driver when it’s time to change gear.
Each team and driver has their own preferred setup for these, with some running from left to right, others running from the middle of the steering wheel outwards, and others running from the outside of the steering wheel inwards. The colors can also vary between teams, and this largely comes down to personal preference.
19. Track Status Indicators
Safety is incredibly important in Formula 1, and one of the most crucial parts of keeping drivers safe is ensuring that they know what’s happening on the track in front of them. This is why the driver’s steering wheel can inform them of the track status.
Drivers will either have track status lights on their steering wheel or indicators on their digital dashboard. These indicators will inform the drivers of yellow flags, blue flags, and green flags. The digital dashboard is more versatile with track status and can be used to inform the driver of red flags and safety cars too (more on that shortly).
20. State Of Charge
The state of charge (SOC) refers to how much battery is left at any given time. Some of the cars have a SOC rotary that allows the driver to adjust their battery deployment and how aggressively they want to use their ERS.
Higher deployment will cause the battery to provide more power but also deplete faster, which means that the car will need to recharge its battery over the next lap or two. The driver can also choose to be more conservative with their battery deployment to keep a more consistent pace.
21. Overtake Button
The overtake button will essentially give the driver the maximum possible amount of power they can get from their car. The hybrid system will fully engage to deploy the battery and give the car a power boost.
The overtake button will override the state of charge and deploy the battery aggressively to give the driver the power they need to overtake or defend against another car on the straight.
What Is Shown On The Screens Of Formula 1 Steering Wheels?
A variety of information is shown on the screens of Formula 1 steering wheels. This includes information like RPM, the gear the car is in, its speed, alongside more crucial information like the tire temperatures, ERS charge, and brake bias settings. The driver can also see their lap delta.
The digital dashboard is a relatively new concept in Formula 1. But this small LCD screen can feed the driver some crucial information about what’s going on inside their car and out on the track.
Lots Of Information
The LCD screen might be small, but it’s packed with some incredibly useful information. Each driver has their own preferences when it comes to the layout of their digital dashboard, but the majority of them will be displaying much of the same information. Each dashboard might display different information based on what the driver needs to know at the time as well.
The digital dashboard also has different menus and settings that the driver can scroll through. This means that they can choose to only view their car information or only view the session information, and this can be changed on the fly.
The digital dashboard can give the drivers some incredibly important information about the car, from their current speed to whether the car is going into anti-stall. Everything is monitored using sensors, and the driver can see several different pieces of critical information that will affect the car’s performance while it’s out on track.
The digital dashboard can also give the drivers other critical information. For example, the LCD screen can give the drivers an indication of what their tire temperatures are. Drivers can also see their delta to their ideal tire temperatures for each tire, giving them a good indication of which specific tire might be overheating or not hot enough to provide optimal grip.
The digital dashboard also shows the driver the amount of charge left in the ERS. The brake bias settings are also displayed on the LCD screen, which gives the driver an idea of which way they need to adjust their brake bias and prevent them from pushing their bias too much to one end of the car (although they’ll usually do this as if on autopilot without looking at the screen).
The digital dashboard also gives the driver some important information about the current session they are taking part in. For many years, there was no way for drivers to see the amount of time that was left in the session or the number of laps that were left for them in the race, for example. Often drivers didn’t even know what position they were in during the race.
However, the digital dashboard changed this and allowed the drivers to have a good understanding of how the session was progressing. The driver can see the total elapsed time in the current session, or the amount of time left. This is especially helpful in qualifying when drivers need to race against the clock to get their final laps in toward the end of the session.
Other Session Information
The digital dashboard also allows drivers to see their most recent lap time and the delta to their reference lap. The reference lap is usually their own personal best or the best lap of the session.
Drivers can also set the reference lap to be something else entirely, such as the Q1 cut-off target, for example. This allows the driver to track whether they are improving against their reference lap time or not.
F1 steering wheels are incredibly complex, and they are packed with buttons and switches. Each of these serves an important purpose, whether it’s to allow the driver to change various settings on the car like brake bias or energy deployment, or simply to get a drink!
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