Earlier today, the Mercedes F1 team tweeted a video of Valtteri Bottas giving a walkthrough of a 2019 F1 steering wheel. According to Mercedes’ Trackside Electronic Development Systems Head, Evan Short, the drivers are completely involved in the creation of the wheel. All that entails, the shape, the buttons and the correlation to the complex systems installed in the car.
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) March 15, 2019
Short stressed on the importance of the driver’s input as they are the ones using the wheel at the end of the day. The buttons and switches are similar to those used on aircrafts and are designed to withstand accidental brushes of the hand especially when there is a vibration in the car.
The first and most important thing is that the driver is able to reach the buttons without taking his hands off the wheel. In essence, the driver can reach the buttons ad switches with just his thumbs.
Bottas then went on to explain all the various switches and buttons on the wheel. The first order of business was a button labelled ‘Strat’. Bottas described it was the various engine modes in the car. He goofed slightly by revealing his favourite Strat mode, which was cleverly bleeped out. But he was able to mention that it provided full power. He explained that there are different modes, for attacking cars ahead, defending from cars behind and for conserving the engine when necessary.
The next button is called PL, which brings the car’s speed down to match the pit lane speed limit. Then came the rubber handles which are custom built for the driver’s comfort.
Short then took over the explanation and revealed that three wheels are supplied to each driver prior to a race. Drivers will run all three, known as the primary, backup and experimental wheel respectively. Through the course of the weekend, the wheel setup is tweaked as per the driver requirements. These tweaks and changes vary from circuit to circuit and driver use as well.
Short took the Australian GP as an example where last year, drivers made as much as 50 gearshifts during one qualifying lap. Especially on a circuit that has 17 corners, they make a number of changes at the wheel and relaying information back to the team.
Short admitted that the engineers are there to help in the case of any issues or to make suggestions. But, when it comes to making changes on the car, it is all down to the driver to do it for them. He also said that the steering wheel varies from circuit to circuit. So a track like Melbourne gives a driver time to think about their changes, a circuit like Monaco does not allow that luxury.
Next, Bottas spoke about the ‘Talk’ button, which is basically the car-to-pit radio. Then the Mercedes driver spoke of the differentials which are normally used to adjust the balance of the car in corners. The ‘N’ button, or neutral button is only pressed when the car needs to be stopped. There are also chances that reverse gear can be selected, though it is rare for a driver to use it.
In conclusion, the Mercedes driver admitted that on the outside, it sounds complicated. But once you get to know it, it’s easy.