56 FALL 2016
nce a Formula 1 car leaves the garage,
the driver is far more autonomous than you
might think. The data being recorded from
its 100-plus sensors is sent to the pits and
the factory, but no data or commands can
be beamed back, aside from voice radio
messages. However, the driver does have
the ability to alter many things, from clearing
simple sensor errors to fundamentally
altering the cars handling and power.
All this is achieved through the steering
wheel – or, rather, the electronics embedded
in it. The number of buttons, dials and
paddles, and even the display panel are
restricted by regulation, but the number of
different settings that can be achieved with
20 buttons, nine dials and six paddles comes
out at over a thousand – way more than
even the most attentive driver can cope
with. Consider then that the nine dials each
have 10 positions, and the math goes wild
with the possible combinations. Of course,
the most important control sequences are
obvious, with primary functions given
coloured buttons and clearly labeled dials.
Every F1 steering wheel will have the
usual controls, including gearshift paddles,
clutch paddles, and buttons for DRS, reverse
gear, neutral gear, radio, drink, and pit-lane
speed limiter. The rotary dials, each with
10 positions, typically control powertrain
functions, such as engine power delivery,
energy recovery modes and gearbox modes.
With these, a driver can increase power (on
a qualifying lap, or racing for a position, for
example), or cut back to save on fuel.
But the ability to make the car handle
differently is possible, too. Oddly for such
a high-tech form of racing, an F1 driver
cannot alter the suspension or aero setup,
with no adjustment allowed to spring
packers, anti-roll bars or wing angles.
Much of this comes from the mid-1990s
clampdown on driver aids and active
technology. However, they do have access
to differential and brake-bias control. With
these, a car’s tendency to be tight or
push through corners can be adjusted.
Corner entry will, of course, be affected
by brake bias. Current F1 cars have a brake-by-wire system for the rear wheels. It works
in concert with the transient braking effect
from the energy recovery system to ensure
the driver gets a consistent braking feel and
effect. Although this doesn’t allow any
form of ABS or active bias control, it
means basic front-to-rear brake bias can
be quickly altered on the move, even
between turns, to optimize handling as
the car enters a turn on the brakes.
of an F1 steering
wheel. (ABOVE) Teams
with their drivers by
radio, but cannot send
data or commands to
the car itself.
By pressing a button or
clicking a dial, a Formula 1
driver can have a
significant effect on the
performance of the car.