Flow Racers is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission.

Why Do F1 Drivers Remove The Steering Wheel?

The F1 steering wheel is one of the most complex systems within the cars. It does much more than turn the front wheels, as it controls various elements of the car through the ECU. You’ll often see F1 drivers removing the steering wheel when they get out of the car, and you may wonder why that is.

F1 drivers remove the steering wheel to create more space for them to get in and out of the car. There is limited space in the cockpit as the car is built to save weight and keep the driver seated tightly in the car, so the only way for drivers to easily get out of the car is to remove the wheel.

The steering wheel of a Formula 1 car is extremely expensive, and there are some important rules that the drivers need to follow when they get out of the car. Below, we go into just how important the Formula 1 car’s steering wheel is to racing.

Overview Of F1 Steering Wheels

Removable steering wheels have been a part of Formula 1 cars as far back as the 1990s. However, back then, the steering wheels were somewhat simplistic. The steering wheels only had three buttons: one to put the car into neutral, one to power the driver’s drinks bottle, and another for the radio.

It didn’t take long for Formula 1 steering wheels to become incredibly complex, with the first “paddle-shift” steering wheel coming in 1989, introduced by Ferrari. Ever since the early 90s, teams have been adding more and more buttons and controls onto the steering wheels of Formula 1 cars.

From changing engine mapping to adjusting the brake bias of the cars, drivers could soon do it all on the fly. Modern-day Formula 1 steering wheels are complex pieces of kit, with hundreds of different settings available to the drivers along with a digital dashboard that will inform them of everything that is happening in their car.

Formula 1 steering wheels can cost between $70,000 and $100,000 each. Drivers will use between three and four of these steering wheels per season, and they will always have at least one backup steering wheel ready in case their main steering wheel fails.

Why Are F1 Steering Wheels So Expensive?

Formula 1 steering wheels cost an outrageous amount of money, but there’s a good reason for that, being that the steering wheel is essentially the key to the car. Without this small piece of the puzzle, the entire multi-million dollar car won’t even fire up the engine. The steering wheel is sort of a master switch for the entire car.

Formula 1 steering wheels are incredibly complex, as they are essentially the onboard ECU that is in control of much of what the car does. If the steering wheel is faulty, there’s a good chance that some components on the car could fail too, or at least start giving the team some issues.

Formula 1 steering wheels have around 30 buttons and switches on them – although this varies from team to team. Each of these buttons and switches changes different settings on the car and some of them can activate multiple settings that require the driver to scroll through various menus.

We often see the drivers adjusting settings while driving around corners at 170+ miles per hour. In addition to this, drivers are often seen adjusting settings on their cars to fix issues that they might be experiencing, such as a loss of power or strange braking behavior.

How Are F1 Steering Wheels Attached To The Cars?

Formula 1 steering wheels are attached to their car with a collar which locks into the steering column. When the steering wheel is attached properly, the collar locks it into place. It can be unlocked from its place by being pulled back towards the driver from the steering column.

The system has worked for many years, and although there have been some incidents, these steering wheels do not come off when the car is out on track. The locking mechanism is extremely secure and it holds the steering wheel in place at all times.

Drivers can reach the collar from their seated position which allows them to remove or attach the steering wheel from inside the car. However, there are usually crew members that will attach the steering wheel to the car for them. This is because it’s easier to attach the steering wheel to the steering column from a standing position.

Once the steering wheel is properly attached to the steering column of the car it will be locked in place by the collar. This will allow the car’s engine to start and the ECU to be activated, and the driver will then have full control over the car.

Why Do F1 Drivers Take Their Steering Wheel Out?

F1 drivers remove their steering wheel in order to get into and out of their cars. The cockpit of a Formula 1 car is designed to be deliberately cramped in order to make the car safer for the drivers, and to allow for a more aerodynamic shape when driving the car.

Formula 1 drivers need to remove their steering wheels to get into and get out of their cars. We often see the drivers with their steering wheels when getting out of the cars, and when getting into the cars it’s often a crew member that hands them their steering wheel to attach to the steering column.

There’s a good reason for this though, being that the cockpit of a Formula 1 car is extremely cramped. It isn’t cramped without reason, as there are two main purposes for having such a small space for the driver. The main reason is safety, as with less space in the cockpit, the driver is more secure and there is less room for them to move around with the G forces they will be experiencing.

The cars have also just been designed to be deliberately cramped. Formula 1 cars are designed to be as small as possible to create the best aerodynamic shape. The driver in the cockpit is not the most aerodynamic-friendly part of the car, so the engineers try to minimize this effect as much as possible by creating a smaller cockpit opening.

Why Do F1 Drivers Have To Put The Steering Wheel Back On?

F1 drivers are required to put the steering wheel back on the cars because they’re some of the only ones on the track who have the knowledge to do so. Marshals are volunteers who have not received the proper training in order to put the steering wheels back into place.

Oftentimes, when we see Formula 1 cars breaking down or having to stop on the side of the road due to a mechanical issue, we see the drivers get out of their cars. However, before they walk off to vent their frustrations, they always put the steering wheel back onto the steering column and make sure that it is secure.

Drivers are required to put their steering wheels back on their cars and secure them in place so that the marshals are able to move the car to a safe location. The marshals don’t always use their cranes or tractors to move the cars, and they sometimes need to push the car and steer using the steering wheel.

It’s vital that the drivers put the steering wheels back onto the steering column rather than just leaving the steering wheel with the car. Marshals are not trained on how to attach or remove the steering wheel of the car, and if they manage to break something they will be held responsible for the damage caused to the steering wheel.

Receiving a $70,000 bill for damaging a Formula 1 car’s steering wheel would not be a great experience for a marshal, especially while volunteering. To avoid any difficult situations, the drivers must reattach the steering wheels themselves. When the cars are in the pits or in parc ferme after the race, the crew members often reattach the steering wheels themselves.

Can F1 Drivers Change Steering Wheel During A Race?

F1 drivers can change their steering wheels during a race. They need to drive into the pits, take their steering wheel off, and hand it to a crew member waiting at the side of their car. Another crew member will put a new steering wheel in place and ensure that it is locked in properly.

Teams often practice this to make it as quick and seamless as possible. That’s because there is a genuine possibility that the team might need to do a steering wheel change during a race. As we have seen, the steering wheel is an integral part of the car, and some of the main issues in the car can sometimes stem from a fault in the steering wheel.

A quick swap of steering wheels is extremely crucial, as we have seen before with Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren at the 2012 Indian Grand Prix. The McLaren team changed all four tires on the car as well as the steering wheel in an incredible 3.1 seconds. A simple routine pit stop is difficult enough to do in that time, but throw in a steering wheel change and it’s nearly impossible.

Hamilton had been experiencing difficulties with his steering wheel throughout the race, and the team had no choice but to make the swap. As the McLaren lined up with the pit box, Hamilton had already begun the process of pulling the quick release and removing his steering wheel. As the car came to a stop he simply had to hand it over to his crew member who was waiting to catch it.

Final Thoughts

F1 drivers remove their steering wheel in order to get in and out of cars as there isn’t much space to do so. They have to be put back on by the drivers to allow the cars to be easily moved by marshals or mechanics when required. The steering wheels can even be replaced mid-race.