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Secrets of an F1 Steering Wheel
Secrets of an F1 Steering Wheel
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 May 2010   |  12:37 pm GMT  |  65 comments

When Rubens Barrichello threw his steering wheel out of the car in Monaco on Sunday, the electronics engineers and the accountants at Williams will have screamed. Those things are packed full of incredibly complex electronics and are expensive – over £40,000 a piece!

If you want to know more, I’ve done a behind the scenes video on the secrets contained in an F1 steering wheel and now seems like the perfect time to show it.

The drivers are very busy at the wheel nowadays during a Grand Prix. In addition to the clutch and gear change functions on the back of the wheel, there are many settings to change, to trim the car and look after the tyres.

I was surprised to learn how much a driver can do by adjusting the differential. There are three separate dials to adjust its behaviour on the corner entry, the mid corner and the corner exit.

So if a car is suffering from understeer, for example, he can trim the corner entry dial to help that. It is also in use during the race as a driver tries to manage his tyre wear, particularly on the super soft tyre here in Monaco.

The video also goes into the precise steps a driver takes when preparing for a race start. I found it fascinating and I hope you will too.

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Here’s a presentation of the Indy500 steering wheel:


Rubens should donate £40000 to charity. Or at least pay that steering wheel to the team.


Great insight – thanks! But one thing not mentioned … does it turn left and right?


What advantage do Redbull see in not having the display on the wheel like the other teams?


As always, top notch. Thanks James

Jose Arellano

hey james.. does CLOSE THE DIFF. means that the diff locks sooner in the corner or later in the corner ???

locks meaning the two tyres are pushing forward with the same strenght….


Locking a diff has nothing to do with the amount of power each wheel transmits! When a diff is locked it means that both wheels rotate exactly the same amount. If the car is cornering with a locked diff it means one wheel must be losing grip. The reason for locking a diff (or limiting the differential speed) is to prevent the complete loss of power when the suspension can no longer keep both wheels on the ground. With no diff control a wheel losing grip will spin much faster and stop all power going to the other wheel. By locking the diff a wheel can lose all grip but will still only turn at the same speed as the one wheel that is still transmitting power to the track.

Presumably an F1 diff is a variable limited slip diff – worked on electro-magnetic clutches. The steering wheel controls are simply variable potentiometers (like volume control dials) that alter the timing points for other inputs to control the lock / unlock points for the diff.

To claim these steering wheels cost £40k is laughable – they are not much more than a Wii controller in a special mounting. A few pounds worth of switches in a mounting costing a few hundred pounds to produce.

It may well cost £40k to cover all the overheads and new moulds to change to a new layout but I doubt it costs much more than £1k to then reproduce each usable wheel.


Amazing, it’s like using a laptop as a steering wheel. With the speed they carry I still can’t believe they’ve got time to think/choose what to what setting to change especially on corners. Also I’ve always wondered when do drivers choose it’s the appropriate time to speak to their teams and vice versa, do they wait until they get to a straight line or their super instinct allows them to communicate from anywhere on the circuit?

When Martin Brundel took you for a spin around the new Sylverstone I notice he was commenting throughout the track? Was it that easy for him?


…and it’s waterproof, too! 😀


This a fascinating video.

I can’t help feeling though that the racing would be better if they just had a plain old steering wheel and stick shift.

Leave the drinks button though, I’ll allow them that, Lol.

Overtaking because the guy in front passed out might be a step too far :o)


Top video, thanks James


Hey James

This is like premium stuff and i learn more and more each day from this site, i would like to know if you have any plans for these F1 videos to have a channel on places like Youtube or maybe create a video collection on this site we can view videos etc. If im taking a business break i like to pop here several times a day and I make sure i have lots of spare time to read comments, it just shows how well informed these great fans are.


Wow, what a peice of kit. So not only do the drivers drive they also do a bit of computer programming at the same time. Not bad to fall back on if they ever hit hard times

Great article James.


Great stuff again! Thanks James


Out of curiosity, was it Rubens who reported a lifted manhole cover as causing his spin?

Cameron Isles

How much of Rubens throwing the steering wheel out was the fact he was stationary in the middle of the track facing the wrong way just beyond the blind crest into 150mph massenet and about to turn his fruit-of-the-looms into a fudge factory?


Great video James! I love seeing the technical side and it’s amazing how complex these steering wheels are.

No wonder (for example) Fisichella struggled last season when thrown into a Ferrari. I’m sure that the steering wheel layouts are very different, and possibly even with different functions.

Going back to Ruebens, I read elsewhere on the web (and posted above) that the stewards were thinking of punishing him but, in the end, got sidetracked by the Schumacher issue, so didn’t follow it up. If that’s true, then I am quite shocked. Surely it could have been investigated after the race, not just ignored.

Unfortunately, Ruebens’ explanation that he had to throw the steering wheel to jump out of his burning wreck, strikes me personally as “blah blah blah” and I’m not buying it; it looked liked another fit of petulance to me.

Anyway, great post – thanks.


Enjoyed the video, very clear – thanks!

These steering wheels are pretty tough – in case you haven’t seen Karun’s message from a couple of days ago:

My good mate Jonathan Williams has just text me to say Rubens’ steering still works despite 2 HRTF1 cars running over it – Impressive !!!


Perfect – that’s the steering wheel Rubens should get for Turkey.


Hi james a great video!! could you explain a bit about how the diff is changed on corner entry or exit. how does the car know where it is in the corner ect. and how does changing it affect turn it and exit. seems so complex



In the article it says limited slip differentials have three input torque states: over run, no load, and load.

I believe it translates to:

Corner entry = over run

In Corner = no load

Corner exit = load

I believe these labels makes much more sense to the driver than having a dial that says “over run.”


Normally for racing cars it’s power (on throttle), coast (off power), and preload (transition between the two).

You can be accelerating into the corner, and if you are, you are using the power lock.

All the diff does is slow down the inside wheel while both rear wheels are turning. It’s not an ideal way to get traction, and it’s all about a comprimise.

However, with parc ferme rules, everything is locked except tyre pressures and front wing etc. So having this to be adjusted on the fly from corner to corner would be invaluable, you’d imagine. It’s not going to fix an ill handling car though. It’s fine tuning. The key parts of the suspension like handling the bumps properly and getting good traction on exits needs to be taken care of before quali.


For example, if the tyre wear is high and the rears are sliding around and overheating and the car is suffering oversteer, you can tighten up the power (corner exit) lock.

That will stop the sliding around, but it’s not an optimum solution, because by doing that you are also hinding your rear tyres ability to get power down onto the road. But since you are bottlenecked by the worn tyres, it doesn’t really matter.


Presumably, if the wheel knows how far it’s been turned, wouldn’t that just be as follows:

Normal – wheel straight up

Corner entry – wheel turning

In corner – wheel not turning, not straight

Corner exit – wheel turning back towards straight.

It doesn’t need to actually know anything about the corner, or the car’s position on the corner. Of course, the answer is bound to be much more complex than this by the time a qualified F1 engineer has got involved 😉

Jose Arellano

When a car is going around a corner the diff “opens” and lets the outside tyre advance more than the inside tyre.. making the car turn in a closer radio…. and depending on the diff setting.. in a moment of the turn, the diff “locks” and makes both tyres push equally launching the car out of the corner more quickly..

thats how they change it on corner, entry or exit…. defining how long does the dif takes to “open” in a turn and how soon or late “locks”.

michael grievson

How many streering wheels are used in a year? It would be interesting to see the drivers with a standard wheel


A couple of weeks ago, Alonso showed on spanish TV how the ferrari steering-wheel works. This is the video (in spanish, sorry):

With those two videos I’m amazed by the level of focus that would be necessary to handle these things while driving.


Its really good to see an in depth piece on the car such as the steering wheel. Its crazy to think how much they have to adjust within the car during a single lap or stint. There must be no time to do it around places like monaco.


I’ve always been in the “bring back the stick and the heel-and-toe” school — but today’s drivers are busier than the old-timers ever were.


Sorry should have mentioned that this is a steering wheel functions manual and runs to over 100 pages.


Williams have a driver manual that all new drivers, even the ones who do the straight line aero testing on airfields have to be totally familiar with, they get tested on it before they driver the car. If they fail the test they are not allowed to drive.

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