An F1 Car’s Steering Wheel Is as Complex as the Rest of It

It is hard to believe that the F1 drivers have to experience the same physical challenges that we face every single day, like the ones that they face in their road cars. Before each race, the drivers have to sit in their cars for hours, in order to allow the tires to cool down and get a feel for the grip of the track.

Autonomous vehicles are nothing new, but where things get interesting is how they could be used at the track during a Formula One race. The drive is always reliant on drivers, which can be costly and time-consuming. So, what if the ‘race car’ was autonomous? It could provide a so-called ‘driverless’ experience, and cut out the need for human drivers. Could a race car be safer if that meant there was no driver to worry about?

From the engine to the wheels and tires, every aspect of a Formula One race car is designed for high speeds and high intensity. The quest for an edge over the competition defines everything, including the wheel of a Formula One car. And if you thought the steering wheels on normal cars were cumbersome, that’s nothing compared to what a Formula One driver wields.

A Formula 1 steering wheel is different from a classic steering wheel

The steering wheel of the 2017 Mercedes F1 | Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images

There are a few key differences between a Formula One steering wheel and the steering wheel of your regular car. And the list begins with their forms and methods of construction.

Despite Tesla’s potentially dangerous support, the steering wheels on most road vehicles are shaped like a wheel. That is, they are rounded or rounded. Originally, steering wheels were usually made of metal with a wooden handle. However, modern car steering wheels are usually made of plastic and covered in fabric or leather. And if two-spoke wheels are occasional, three-spoke are the most common.

However, the steering wheels of modern Formula 1 cars are significantly different. For example, instead of a round knob connected by spokes, a Formula One steering wheel looks more like a series of connected knobs. In terms of design, it probably looks more like a Tesla steering wheel than, say, a Miata. But, as we quickly learn, there are far fewer buttons, switches and knobs on the Tesla’s steering wheel.

Second: Instead of plastic, the F1 steering wheel is largely made of carbon fiber. The Mercedes wheel also uses titanium, copper, silicon and fiberglass. According to HotCar, some are even made of gold, probably due to the built-in electronics. And instead of fabric, the handles are rubber, notes The Drive. Moreover, these wheels are handmade.

Like road cars, Formula 1 cars are subject to safety regulations, which include requirements for the steering wheel. And just like wheels for race cars, F1 wheels are tortured to test their strength. However, the forces and tests to which the cars are subjected are more extreme than those of cars on the road, according to The Drive. To test a steering wheel in Formula 1, it has to be submerged under water for several hours, crash tests have to be performed, and it has to be driven several times on simulators and shakers.

The strength tests are not only related to the wheel itself, but also to what is inside the wheel.

A Formula 1 steering wheel does much more than turn a car

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 Steering wheel with AMG drive unit | Matthew Skwarczek

Although the steering wheel of a Formula One car is nothing like that of a road car, its shape and design are not always obvious. Usually you will see a multitude of knobs, switches, buttons, bulbs and screens. To say that this is a significant improvement over the steering wheel-mounted audio controls is almost an understatement.

Of course, F1 steering wheels didn’t originally have all these controls. But over the years, race cars have become less analog and more digital, with more and more electronic gadgets. More technology means more control and customization options. And the only way to do that and control the car is to bring the controls back to the steering wheel, Road & Track explains.

Some of the things on the F1 motorcycle might be recognizable. For example, many modern cars are equipped with shift paddles. Some aftermarket wheels, especially racing wheels, are equipped with quick release hubs. And modern Ferraris have F1-style steering wheels.

However, real F1 steering wheels contain even more controls. This allows the driver to adjust engine mapping, telemetry recording, differential and brake balance and energy recovery. There are buttons for pit lane speed control, radio, drink system, DRS and push-to-pass system. Also status indicators and LED display. Plus, each team has its own extra secret controls, as The Drive notes.

Imagine having to keep an eye on all this while driving down the highway at triple speed.

Design changes and evolves constantly

Spare parts for Formula 1 cars are expensive, as is the steering wheel. The exact cost varies from team to team, but Mercedes estimates it at $36,000, reports The Drive. And that’s just for one wheel.

But the teams only have one wheel per car. Each driver gets a custom steering wheel with different grips, a custom display, enlarged or reduced shift paddles, etc. And as race cars gain new features or driver preferences change, so do the steering wheels. But even if nothing changes, teams could use three to eight wheels per season, according to The Drive.

To go fast, you need the right tools. And that’s why the Formula 1 wheel looks the way it does.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How complex is a F1 car?

A Formula One car is a very complex machine. It has many moving parts and requires a lot of maintenance.

What is an F1 steering wheel?

An F1 steering wheel is a type of racing wheel that is used in Formula One.

How does a F1 steering wheel work?

The F1 steering wheel is a racing car steering wheel that has been modified for use in Formula One. The F1 steering wheel is made of carbon fiber and features a paddle shift system, which allows the driver to change gears without taking their hands off the wheel.

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