A modern F1 car is the most technologically sophisticated race car on the planet, so naturally it’s got an equally complex steering wheel that jammed with enough switches and dials to make an airline pilot cross-eyed. Here’s a breakdown of the controls F1 drivers constantly adjust—while battling other cars at 200 mph.
01. BOOST »
F1 cars have an electric-hybrid system known as KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) that regenerates braking energy, then boosts acceleration—at the push of a button—via an 80-hp electric motor. Another feature that increases speed is the movable rear wing that flattens to reduce drag. The wing is controlled by a foot pedal.
02. LAP TIME
03. HARVEST »
Regulates the amount of energy "harvested" during braking. The regen system can alter the feel of the brakes, and because these guys drive with exacting precision, they're picky about tactile feedback. This knob lets them customize.
04. DOWNSHIFT PADDLE
05. MIX »
Adjusts the engine's air—fuel mixture to balance power and fuel economy. F1 cars don't refuel during a race, but economy is still vital—fuel adds weight.
06. BITE POINT »
The race start is critical because the cars begin from a stop and the initial sprint is a prime overtaking opportunity. The bite point adjusts how the clutch engages as the drivers release the paddle, so they can execute a perfect launch.
07. BPF »
During practice starts, the driver uses the "bite point find" to record the clutch behavior. Engineers use the data to instruct the driver where to set the bite point dial.
08. CLUTCH PADDLE
09. BBAL »
Displays the front—rear brake balance, a critical adjustment that drivers make to fine-tune the braking performance. Most passes are done in the braking zones.
10. REVERSE GEAR
11. SHIFT LIGHTS
12. LIMITER »
Restricts the car's speed to the pit-lane limit, 62 mph.
13. ENGINE PARAMETERS
14. UPSHIFT PADDLE
15. TORQUE »
The 2.4-liter V8 revs to 18,000 rpm and delivers north of 700 hp. That's a handful in a 1400-pound car, so the drivers use this knob to adjust the engine's torque curve, depending on track conditions.
16. TYRE »
Teams use roughly half a dozen different tires that vary in construction and diameter. This dial tells the computer which tires are fitted so it can calculate wheel speed.
17. CLUTCH PADDLE
18. DIFFERENTIAL »
Thanks to electronic controls, the characteristics of the rear differential can be tailored for corner entry, midpoint and exit—each with 12 settings. Frankly, we're amazed that the drivers can detect such minute rear-end differences during cornering events that last for maybe a few seconds. But that's why they're paid millions.