Part I: Overview
The steering wheel is the driver’s primary interface with his car. Apart from the obvious use of actually steering the car around the circuit, the wheel is a complex and highly technical piece of equipment which gives the driver the information that he needs to drive the car and the facility to tune the car for various situations as they arise out on track.
Although there is a constant stream of data from the car to the pits which allows the engineers to monitor the car’s health, only the driver can actually change any settings once the car is on the track. A few years ago, the regulations permitted ‘two-way telemetry’ which allowed data to be sent from the pit to the car, for example mixture modes changes or changes from dry to wet conditions, however this facility was subsequently removed for cost reasons. Now the driver himself has to make any required changes when the car is not in the pits.
Like most of the parts of the car, the main body of the steering wheel is made from carbon fibre. The hand grips can be trimmed in alcantara (a versatile composite material composed of 68% polyester and 32% polyurethane!) or rubber depending on the preference of the driver. The positioning of the switches is also down to driver choice and each driver will have his preferred layout.
At Grand Prix weekends, each driver will have a minimum of three steering wheels available so there is always a spare on hand should there be any issues.
The steering wheel is designed and manufactured in-house by the team. The only part which we do not produce is the display element which is part of the standard electronics package that all teams are required to use. If you see any onboard camera shots looking over a driver’s shoulder, you will recognise the same part in all of the cars. The display can be built into the steering wheel as we do or some teams prefer to mount it to the edge of the cockpit itself.
We are often asked that burning question… ‘just how much is the steering wheel worth?’ It’s a difficult question to answer as, like many parts on the car, the steering wheel is completely bespoke and you can’t just buy one ‘off the shelf’. But if you were to say £20,000 then you probably wouldn’t be too far from the mark!