2014 marks the beginning of a new era in Formula 1 through a number of ways, including the evolution of the modern steering wheel. F1 has been left behind in this area over the past decade, with many other forms of motorsport adopting new displays and making various performance factors easier to adjust from the cockpit. From this year onwards, however, the pinnacle of motorsport is set to become the trend setter in vehicle electronic systems via an upgrade to the steering wheel and, more obviously, the ERS. For this analysis I will be drawing particular reference from the Mercedes W05 steering wheel although many of the features will be identical to those found on the other cars.
At the hub of all the switches, buttons and dials, for most teams, is the McLaren Electronics PCU-8D dashboard, although some (Williams, Red Bull and Lotus) have chosen to continue with the older PCU-6D.
The 6D has limited capabilities due to its single LED strip (rev lights) and three, small alphanumeric LED windows (one of which is occupied by gear number) but takes up far less room on the already-cluttered modern steering wheel. On the other hand, the 8D (4.3″ backlit LCD) offers a vast amount of information including the charging and discharging state of the Energy Store (ES – the ERS battery), an important element when considering set up and in-car changes as a race unfolds. Although both displays can show similar amounts of information, the 8D is more visually accessible to the driver which can be customised to their liking.
Let’s break down Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes steering wheel for this year. I’ve always found the differences between Rosberg and teammate Lewis Hamilton’s quite interesting although this year they have more or less the same amount of “adjustables”, the latter driver choosing a more colour friendly layout to help him navigate the wheel more quickly under pressure.
Numbers 1 and 2 indicate two of the four differential controls available to the driver: ENTRY and EXIT. These two wheels are easily accessed by thumb and it is this that indicates their importance. Entry and exit slip are two parameters that are paramount for driver confidence and ones that need changing throughout the race as the car’s fuel goes down and the tyre life degrades across a stint.
The buttons that lie above the two aforementioned wheels vary even between teammates. For this example, Rosberg has chosen to activate the DRS via a yellow button (3) on the wheel (Hamilton used a paddle on the back of the wheel in 2013).
4 and 7 are colour coordinated to the multi-function rotary dial, suggesting that the two are linked together. Some functions only need adjusting by +1 at a time, whereas others need adjustments of +10.
5 is the neutral button (the driver can only downshift as far as first gear – they can never reach neutral/reverse via the paddles) which can be pressed in conjunction with another switch (or just held down for a few seconds) to engage reverse gear if necessary.
A driver can confirm a instruction from the pitwall using the Pit Confirm (6) button and the pitlane speed limit of 80km/h is activated via the Pit Limiter (8). The white and yellow LEDs indicate an FIA instruction and yellow flag/danger zone respectively.
The two wheels of 9 and 10 are linked to Brake Balance (BB), the ‘+’ sign indicating that it is an extension of the mechanically operated brake bias lever inside the cockpit. BBAL (9) represents further adjustment to the Brake-By-Wire (BBW) rear braking system, which works in conjunction with the MGU-K’s harvest adjuster and engine braking, BMIG (10). I would imagine that the two are simultaneously adjusted to create an optimal braking feel, as an imbalance between the two could upset the rear of the car.
11 is the confirm button, which is used to confirm an instruction from the pitwall or even as a code message when pressed multiple times. This is especially useful when the in-car radio fails.
The other two differential settings are MID (mid-corner) (12) and HI SPEED (high-speed) (13). Although all the settings surrounding the differential are important, these two are of least importance – relatively speaking.
14 indicates the Overtake (OT) button which gives the driver additional performance from both the Internal Combustion Engine and ERS.
The driver and team can communicate to eachother by radio. The driver can either press and hold the radio button (15) to talk to the team, or press once to speak before pressing again to turn it off.
At the beginning of the race the driver will select a mode for the launch phase – Race Start (RS), which is marked as 16. This button accesses a pre-defined launch map which will include optimal rev, clutch and ERS boost settings.
The lower regions of the wheel are often occupied by larger dials, out of the way of the LED/LCD display. Two further buttons flank the three dials present on Rosberg’s steering wheel: reset (17) and MARK (21). The reset button works in conjunction with the multi-function dial (19) and confirm button described above. MARK is used to mark a display mode so that the driver can cycle through menus whilst retaining one particular aspect of their choice.
Number 19 is the multi-function dial. Looking closely at the dial you can see various options such as BITE (bite point find), TRQ (torque), BBW (Brake-By-Wire) and TYRE.
Dial 18 has been dubbed as the ‘Strategy Rotary’ by Mercedes. The team have stated that it’s mainly used for the ERS’s harvest and boost settings. This dial will see a lot of use this year as a lot of reliance is placed on the two MGUs that make up the power unit due to the new fuel flow limit.
Finally, 20 shows the HPP (High Performance Powertrain) dial. Each number on the dial represents a different combination of fuel mixtures and ignition timings to suit any given scenario, including wet conditions.
For more information regarding McLaren Electronics/Applied Technologies, follow the link here. Apologies for the ludicrous amount of acronyms, but engineers like them (and so do I…).
Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team