WAY MORE THAN STEERING...
As well as the dials and switches, the steering wheel also
houses a multi-function LCD display and the “change up”
lights that tell the driver the optimum time to gearshift. Race
control can also communicate with the driver via a compulsory,
steering-wheel mounted GPS system that displays colored
warning lights corresponding to approaching hazards.
Also on corner entry, but at mid corner
and corner exit, too, the differential
becomes an additional tuning tool. By
altering its tightness for the different
cornering phases, push can be tuned in or
out, and traction can be modified as tires
wear. Which settings are changed, and by
how much, is often decided in coordination
with a driver’s race engineer via the radio.
Often, rotary dials are used to convey
information in a more covert way than over
the radio. One common way is for the driver
to describe tire condition during a stint by
setting the dial position, with each notch
equating to a level of wear or grip. A request
or suggestion by the driver for a specific tire
choice or wing adjustment at the next pit
stop can be made via dial position, too.
With so many key functions emanating
from it, the term “steering wheel” seems
wholly inadequate for the device at the
driver’s finger tips. But, bottom line,
regardless of the range of gizmos on it
and their capabilities, the “steering” bit
remains crucial to the outcome...
Before steering wheels morphed
into command and control centers,
they were round and they steered
the car. Gear-change paddles first
appeared in 1989, on Ferrari’s 640.
Stirling Moss’s Maserati 250F wheel is as
large a diameter as possible, maximizing
leverage for the car’s heavy steering.
By the early ’70s, aerodynamics dictated
tighter packaging and smaller wheels,
as seen on Clay Regazzoni’s BRM.
Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari 126C wheel nods
to ergonomics with its fatter rim, but is
otherwise little changed from the 1970s.
STEERING...AND THAT’S IT
THEY USED TO BE ROUND