Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 team have rethought the steering wheel. It’s designed like this for a reason: all the critical controls need to be within reach of Hamilton’s thumbs so he doesn’t have to move his hand from the custom grips while taking a corner. Those at the bottom are for when he’s on a straight.

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F1 steering wheels have been getting smaller and less circular for several years – it’s more efficient and safer for a driver not to turn through 360° or go overhand. Losing sections of the wheel saves weight without sacrificing stiffness, thanks to advances in carbon fibre.

Mercedes’ drive to lighten the load extends to the thinness of the rubber coating – which is relatively heavy – on the myriad buttons. The material cost of the wheel is estimated to be £40,000.

The wheel has to be removable in case of mechanical failure and for safety reasons. Most settings are stored in the computers in the vehicle – although a backup has to be programmed. Every driver has preferences, meaning each steering wheel is set up as a bespoke piece of kit.

1. Differential
Differential is used to adjust torque during turns. Hamilton adjusts this a lot in a race because the car’s balance alters due to tyre wear and fuel load.

2. Overtake
Like hitting the nitrous oxide button in The Fast and the Furious, this button on the back of the steering wheel pushes the power unit into its most dynamic mode when top acceleration is needed.

3. Skip 1/10 preset
This allows Hamilton to interact with the car’s 100 control sensors, either to switch off a faulty one or turn another on for strategic reasons.

4. Gearbox Neutral
To avoid accidentally putting the car into neutral at speed, it is located on the front of the wheel, rather than on the gearshift paddles at the back.

5. Pit-lane speed; 6. Pit confirm
This limits speed to 80kph for the protection of the pit crew, and alerts them to prepare for a stop without requiring radio notification.

7. Torque
This is used to select throttle “maps”: if Hamilton puts his foot down he’ll get all the torque; at halfway he may get more or less than half, depending on whether he wants it aggressive or gradual.

8. Accept
This confirms the modes selected by the Skip 1/10 buttons. It also triggers the clutch biting-point finder. Many of the buttons are multiplexed to save space – increasing the number of permutations to several billions.

9. DRS
The Drag Reduction System is an adjustable rear wing that delivers an aerodynamic speed boost of 10-12kph. It’s only permitted within certain zones, and within one second of the car in front.

10. Strategy Rotary
Rather than having individual levels, this “go-faster” switch enables Hamilton to flick between a high-performance setting for an all-out qualifying lap and a more energy-conserving one.

11. Menu Rotary; 12. HPP Rotary
Controlling settings for the chassis and power respectively, these switches have 16 positions that each correspond to a different menu of options – that is, they’re equivalent to 16 other rotaries.

13. Mark
Hamilton can flag a point in the data – for instance, a sub-optimal corner or a harsh-sounding gear change, for later analysis.

14. Radio
A crucial piece of kit for Hamilton to communicate with the team. New rules limit what data can be broadcast, thus increasing what’s displayed on the wheel.

Article via Wired

 

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