Why is a Formula 1 steering wheel a complex equipment?
Up to the early 1990s, the Formula 1 steering wheel was very simplistic, with only a few extra functions to be performed as compared to an ordinary car’s steering wheel. But as technical development progressed, so did the advancement of the steering wheel. The current complex steering wheel with numerous functions is the result of this continuous technical development in the sport.
In the 1950s and 60s, steering wheels were made as large as possible in order to make turning the car easy for the drivers. In the 1970s, the height of the cars and the space inside the cockpit were considerably reduced. This necessitated the use of smaller steering wheels. These smaller steering wheels remained unchanged for a long period of time.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was the introduction of traction control, semi-automatic gearbox and several other driver aids which made driving the car easy. In 1991 legendary Formula 1 engineer John Barnard came up with a new steering wheel, in which gear changing was incorporated into the wheel, thus doing away with the requirement of the driver to remove his hand from the wheel.
Besides the incorporation of functions like gear-changing and clutch on the steering wheel, now it also includes functions like limiting the speed in the pit-lane, regulating the working of ERS and DRS, controlling under-steer and over-steer, etc. Having most of the functions on the steering wheel makes things convenient and time-saving for the drivers, who can now concentrate more on driving the car instead of finding and using different levers and equipment inside the cockpit.
In 2014, several radical technical changes have been introduced, due to which the steering wheel has become even more complicated. For in-depth knowledge about it, the Sauber F1 team’s detail analysis of the steering wheel can be referred to below (click to enlarge the image).
So we see that today the steering wheel of a Formula 1 car is in no way similar to how it was at the time of inception of the sport. It is now capable of performing several complex functions, which has aided a lot in making the car easier and smoother to drive than its previous counterparts.