In a modern automobile, a steering wheel can be a pretty complex object. Gone are the days when the steering wheel was simply used to change direction and house the horn; today, it can control everything from a driver’s paired phone to cruise control and even infotainment settings.
That’s nothing compared to the steering wheel of a modern Formula 1 car, which serves as a driver’s control panel, information display and communication hub. In addition to obvious features like paddle shifters, an F1 steering wheel can be used to change everything from engine torque through differential settings and fuel mixture.
There are buttons for neutral and for the pit lane speed limiter, essential since a speedometer isn’t needed in a race car. Other buttons confirm a driver’s unscheduled entry into the pits or add a momentary boost of up to 80 horsepower, via the car’s Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS).
The obligatory blue button is for reverse, a function that drivers hope to never need. Rotary switches can be used to vary clutch settings, accommodate tire diameters or change between multiple display menus.
At highway speeds, the dizzying array of functions and information would be distracting enough, and we can’t imagine what it would be like to pilot an F1 car at speed while scrolling through multiple menus, adjusting the fuel mixture and signaling to the pits that you need an unexpected service.
We can’t help but wonder what the early F1 greats would have thought about all this technology. We’re pretty sure that Juan Manuel Fangio’s response would have been along the lines of, “If you’re paying that much attention to your steering wheel, you’re simply not driving fast enough.”