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How does a 2016 F1 steering wheel work?

Formula One is known for its use of technology in sport.

01 May 2016, 15:25 IST
F1 steering wheel
The steering wheel of an F1 car is complex

Honda Racing F1 recently tweeted several pictures of McLaren’s steering wheel pointing out various functions of each button. So, let’s take an in-depth look into the functioning of the new generation F1 steering wheel.

Here is the tweet by the Honda Racing F1 account:

In the centre, there's an LCD Screen which is capable of displaying more than 100 pages of information to the driver. The driver can use the +/- buttons to access various pages of information regarding lap time, engine status, ERS harvest etc. Also, all the warning messages are also displayed on the screen in the event of a component failure.

Above the LCD screen, there are gear lights which aid the driver in gear change.

Energy recovery harvest dial: This is used to control the harvest, that is the amount of energy to be harvested by the MGU-K (Motor Generator unit-Kinetic) under braking which then ultimately gets stored in the battery. But, the way this works isn't so simple.

Say as the driver goes into a corner and he starts braking, two simultaneous processes occur, one is the routine action of the mechanical brakes which is obvious, the second is that the kinetic energy instead of it flowing to the wheels is shunted away towards rotating the MGU-K. So, the car slows down due to the combined action of the brakes and due to shunting away of the kinetic energy from the wheels to the MGU-K. This changes the balance of the car significantly under braking, depending on the harvest status.

And, so comes the usage of the term "Brake-by-wire".

Radio button: As the name suggest, the driver presses this button to talk with his engineer on the pit wall.

Neutral button: The gear change levers are mounted on the back of the steering wheel but the driver can’t engage neutral or reverse using those levers. So, there’s a separate button for the purpose. Depending on how many times it is pressed the car is engaged into neutral or reverse.

The role is merely protective, as during a lap when the driver is downshifting if neutral/reverse is engaged via the gear levers mounted on the back it would lead to significant loss of time and also puts lot of load on the gearbox.

Also read: Russian GP: Nico Rosberg satisfied after securing pole position in qualifying 

Overtake button: This button basically puts all the settings into “Max Mode”, that is the engine would have Rich fuel mixture plus the ERS would be operating at its maximum capacity giving the driver additional boost.

Message OK “X” button: This button is used to acknowledge a request made via the radio or pit board. Having this button has become ever more important with restrictions on radio communications being in place for the 2016 season.

Differential Settings dial: This dial is used to control the power output to the wheels, that is it basically controls the speed at which a wheel is rotating corresponding with the wheel of opposite side.

Say the driver goes into a left-hander, then the right wheel has to cover a greater distance than the left wheel so the differential instructs the right wheel to rotate at a higher speed than the left.

By changing differential entry and exit setting the driver can dial out understeer or oversteer based on his preference

Also read: Russian GP: Lewis Hamilton says Nico Rosberg's championship lead is a steep climb 

Brake Balance dial: This dial is used to adjust the front and rear brake bias, that is the amount of braking energy that is to be transferred to the front and rear brakes. So, it is used to control the splitting of the brake energy. This dial is used in conjunction with ERS harvest dial as with the brake-by-wire in place, the ECU checks the amount of harvest before splitting the bias.

Launch Map switch: This blue switch is used to adjust launch settings that are mainly related to clutch such as the clutch bite point.

Pit-Lane speed limit button: As the name indicates this button is used by the driver to maintain the speed to the restricted limit while he is in the pits.

Engine Map dial: Using this dial the driver can put the engine either into “rich mode” or “lean mode”. These are well-defined presents which can be used by the driver depending on the situation he currently is in.

Say if he is engaged in a wheel to wheel battle he can fine tune the settings so that he gets maximum power from the engine, or say if the safety car is deployed he can conserve the fuel and energy by putting the engine into a lean mode.

DRS button: Pressing this button opens the wing flap at the rear thus maximising top speed while reducing drag. This is used by the driver in the DRZ zone which are designated for each track. During a race if a driver is within 1 second of the car ahead he can engage DRS in the DRS zone to get a top speed advantage thus allowing him to overtake the car.

Drink: Hydration is very important for an F1 driver particularly when racing in hot and humid environmental conditions, so by pressing this button the fluid is delivered to the driver via the pipe.

Now, coming to the various rotators:

The central rotator is used for changing tyre settings. Say if the driver changes from a dry tyre to wet tyre then the circumference of the wet tyre is different so to adjust the suspension and other settings the rotatory dial is used.  

By changing the settings on the rotator the driver can adjust the performance based on the tyre in use, also, the rotator can be used by the driver to indicate the state of tyre degradation to his pit crew. This is particularly important following the introduction of radio restrictions for 2016 season.

There is also a preset “puncture setting” which adjusts the engine power in such a way that the driver doesn’t exceed a particular speed thus preventing damage to the rim and other suspension components.

The other two rotators are multi-functional for the chassis and the power unit and are used to adjust an array of functions which do not have a dedicated button, like air-fuel ratio , turbo-compressor, MGU-K recovery limits , MGU-K boost limits, dashboard options etc.

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