Valtteri Bottas Explains 2019 Mercedes F1 Steering Wheel

This is my 2019 steering wheel The drivers are involved right from the very first stages of the design of the steering wheel for a new car or for a new season. And that involves everything from the physical shape of the wheel, the layout of the buttons and also the interaction with all the complex systems onboard. Their input is critical to what we do, and of course they are the ones who will be using it day in and day out. The wheel is designed around switches that are quite robust, used in aircraft as well. Robust against accidental actions under vibration. You imagine, of course, the driver using that wheel in a high vibration environment wearing gloves. Designed again around first order retrievability. The idea that the driver can get to anything he needs while keeping his hands on the wheel and reaching with his thumbs. This one is called the Strat switch. That’s the engine modes. My favourite is Strat ***. That’s full beans. All the power from the engine and depending on the racing situation, we have many different modes for either defending another car or attacking or saving the engine when we can or having a bit more deployment from the MGU-K if needed. The Pit Lane Speed Limiter is normally set-up to either 80 or 60 kph depending on the limit the track has for the pit lane. The rubber moulds are made with my hand, so it is a very good fit. We go to the first race of the season with three wheels for each driver, and the drivers will run all three of those over the course of a weekend. They might be the primary wheel, their backup wheel and then an experimental wheel, with any sort of systems that we are working on that may develop in future races. Over the course of a given race weekend we do change the setup of a wheel based on the driver’s requirements. There are requirements of course for specific circuits but also the way they use the car develops during the year. Around that first track of the in Melbourne, the drivers are both going to be immensely busy. If I look at a Qualifying lap from last year, they are making something along the lines of 50 gearshifts over the course of a Qualifying laps, they are steering through 17 corners, they are making seven or eight changes on rotary switches over the course of the lap and of course they are feeding back the information they see on the dash to us as well. Our only way of interacting with the Car once it is on track is via the driver. We can make suggestions and the car itself will try and recover any sort of failure that it encounters, but if we want to physically change something on the wheel, we need to do that through the driver. Here is the radio button, it says Talk. So, while I press it, I can talk to the guys, have a chat and when I press it again then the line is cut. The use to which the drivers put the steering wheel changes from circuit to circuit throughout the course of the racing season. Melbourne on the one hand is the first track of the year, it is a street circuit so offers some unique challenges from that point of view. But, when we compare it to a circuit like Monaco, for instance, we see it’s a street circuit as well but radically different in the way they use the wheel. So, while at Melbourne they have time to be thinking about their changes and being very precise on their downshifts for instance, under the reasonably rough braking conditions, in Monaco everything is tight, there are no run-off areas, the gearshifts are much closer together. They have to react much more on instinct. Over here we have some rotaries, this is for the diff entry. Over here we have the diff for the mid-corner. So, when the car is going around the corner, in the middle of the corner it changes the car balance quite quickly. You can either gain understeer or oversteer with adjusting this. Here is the Neutral button. We select Neutral when we stop the car after the session or after the race, and actually if we hold it for long we get a reverse gear. I think I have never used it with a car, but you never know. In Monaco or somewhere, you might get stuck and reverse could be the only way to save you. The modern Formula One car is a pretty complex bit of machinery and we really ask the drivers to operate in two modes. We want them to be intuitive creatures who interact with the car the way they would’ve done with a go-kart when they were kids. But, we also want them to understand a complex bit of electronics and systems that it really takes an engineer to understand. If you have a first look it might look complex but with practice, I know it
by heart.

About the Author: Michael Flood

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