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Why F1 Steering Wheels Have Over 20 Buttons - And What They All Do (f1fanatic.co.uk)
345 points by Arjuna 2108 days ago | hide | past | web | 154 comments | favorite

I am surprised that there are not more F1 fans here on HN. It is the best sport to follow if you are a techie or geek - there is so much advanced technology involved in the cars and racing that make what happens off the track and in development just as exciting as the actual races.

These guys are on the cutting edge in a number of fields: materials science, aerodynamics, computer aided design (there is a car this year that was designed and tested all in software with no wind-tunnel), energy recovery systems, fuel performance, tyre compounds, telemetry, computing power and machine learning with strategy, etc. etc. etc.

I was going to say the exact same thing. This is nothing like NASCAR, or even rival open-wheel racing like Indie Car.

The amount of cloud computing the teams use is staggering too - during race weekends they'll compute the model of changing every potential setting on the car (physical, mechanical, software) and then play out the race to work out the impact. As the race weekend progresses they'll continue to lock down setting and begin to extrapolate to the permutations of every rival car in order to work out strategies.

Even during the race its not just the team's two cars and some guys on the pit wall... McLaren, perhaps the most technically advanced team in F1, has a whole "Space launch style" mission control room back in the UK where 10+ people monitor every piece of data from the car and works out strategic changes on the fly by feeding the data in the computer models.

Which explains how McLaren's strategy calls can vary between brilliance - when the models get it right - and stupefyingly bizarre when the simulation diverges from reality.

It also depends how much they steal from Ferrari during the current year as well :-).

I've been a huge fan of Formula 1 since the sixties. As a young boy in Detroit I would call the Detroit News sports desk to have them read the results off the news wire to me to see who won. Otherwise I'd have to wait a week for the magazines to come from Europe. Sure makes you appreciate real time information!

I am absolutely a fan of the technology, but much less so of the sport. I suppose my issue/question is: how do you enjoy all that just watching it on TV? (This is actually a serious question; are there for example real-time websites that give you an information overlay on what's happening, or do you just enjoy watching knowing how complicated it is underneath the surface?)

Sorry, on re-reading you do talk about off-track being just as exciting; so I suppose I'd rephrase the question as: where do you follow all this information?

I do both. Enjoy just watching it but also follow on an iPad app that provides a lot of detail. Its actually really exciting this year with the DRS (http://www.ozracingwrap.com.au/news/formula-1/2537-the-f1-mo...). A lot passing and attempted passing. I couldn't move from the Turkey GP and Webber's drive from 18th to Podium in China was awesome. You do need to like cars and speed to get into it but as the lights countdown for the takeoff my heart definitely beats faster. Being friends with a Renault wind tunnel model designer and former F3 driver helps also :)

I really like f1fanatic.co.uk for pretty good analysis and updates (and, of course, gossip and drama! :). There is a pretty good forum on there for people to chat too, and it has a lot of very knowledgeable people who hang around.

... I just realised that this article was on f1fanatic, DUH. But yeah, it's definitely the best site I've seen for F1 news.

the watching on TV is only part of it - I follow websites and blogs, the team sites, etc.

and good TV coverage will spend the saturday talking about tech, strategy etc.

If anyone is interested, McLaren is looking for an embedded software engineer: http://www.mclarenelectronics.com/Jobs/ ("Embedded C Software Engineer - Engine Control - Data Acquisition")

My friend works there and loves it.

It's in Surrey, England (in this place: http://www.e-architect.co.uk/england/mclaren_technology_cent...)

Rabid F1 fan here. What do you think about the introduction of DRS? (DRS is a "drag reduction system" which allows drivers to move the rear wing to reduce drag when passing.)

I like that it's making the race more exciting with more passing, but it doesn't really seem like a fair race at the end. For example, a driver could lead the whole race and then get passed in the last lap due to the unfair advantage of the DRS.

I know this will probably sound heretical, but I think that there's no such thing as an "unfair advantage". If we really wanted to see technical innovation in F1, there would be virtually no restrictions on the cars - just some basic safety stuff for the drivers.

that would be boring since it would basically mean the biggest wallet always wins. by limiting the cost and finding ways to equalize the cars, we get more exciting races.

as for innovation: there is constant innovation. unfortunately teams are not in the habit of telling the world about parts you don't see.

btw, the other day I learned that they use 3D printers to manufacture parts for the gearboxes. 3D printers that can can print metal parts. (I'm not sure if they use titanium parts, but according to a guy from Cloudfab, the titanium 3D printing process produces results that are superior to casting)

Well the problem with that is that most of the best innovations come in the face of these restrictions. Nearly every advancement we have in cars today come from F1 in some for or another and many of them due to some restriction (e.g. restriction on motor size leading to much more efficient motors than we had before).

But the DRS does have a lot of rules which may deem it unfair. For example, if one car is leading and another following, the following car is allowed to use DRS, but the leading car isn't.

well, that's the whole point.

due to the aerodynamics you generally need a 1 to 1.5 second per lap speed advantage to pass a car. as soon as you get close to the car in front you lose a lot of downforce. this would not be a problem if the cars were always moving in a straight line.

to even out the playing field DRS is activated if you are closer to the guy in front than 1 second at a certain point on the track. once activated the DRS system can be deployed beyond a certain point.

the alternative is to keep the wings and have parades with almost no overtaking. or no wings, which would mean no more exciting 5.5g seventh gear turns. which would kinda suck.

I can't imagine how many drivers would be killed each year if there were no restrictions. Safety measures can only do so much good with the amount of energy that would be thrown around.

This is the story of the 60s and 70s in F1. The BBC recently aired a brilliant documentary about that era and the abysmal safety record. Drivers were dying every few races.

Sure, but it would be so awful to watch that it wouldn't survive longer than five years. Schumacher's Ferrari domination years were just terrible for fans.

And soon to be Vettel :)

Not really, the car behind still needs to get in the one second window to have the advantage of DRS.

They still need to tweak it so that passing isn't too easy but thats just a case of trial and error, they'll get it right eventually. If you compare this with last year (and particularly 2009) when cars could be up to three seconds a lap faster but still not be able to pass the car in front, it was obvious that something needed to be done.

I am surprised they would use something like this. Formula one has experimented with variable geometry before, and the conclusion was that it is very dangerous, because a fault with the variable geometry can cause nasty crashes. If this thing gets stuck in drag reduction mode and the driver does not realize that it is stuck, the car will not have enough down force to take the turns at the speed the driver is used to, so it will slam into the wall in the first turn.

So we will see how it works, but it is very dangerous.

I think there is a noticeable slowdown when the wing goes back into normal position so the driver will know if something doesn't work. It may still be a problem.

given the forces involved I'd be surprised if a driver at this level would fail to notice that the flap hasn't closed just by the feel of the car.

however, if the flap were to open while the car is grip-limited due to lateral load...that would be unfortunate.

(actually, this has already happened a couple of races ago but I have forgotten to which driver)

They had driver-adjustable front wings last year.

I don't think the last race did the DRS right, but the first few races used the DRS better. The point is the DRS should bring a driver almost along side, so if you have the advantage in terms of grip, you'd be able to pass. Before the DRS, you can be catching a car 1+ seconds a lap, but can't get close enough because you start hitting the turbulent air from the car in front. The whole point is to get rid of this problem without making passing too easy.

I am still undecided. I think they should make 'the zone' shorter so that it isn't as easy - but that is all up to working it out for each track.

i am partial to ALMS currently. less restrictions, more creativity for car design and strategy, widely varying cars on the track at the same time (traffic creates passing opportunities/blocking), and the planning and strategy involved in winning (or just finishing) 12- and 24-hour endurance races.

The problem with F1: It's boring.

Have you seen any race of this season? There has been more overtaking than MotoGP!

You don't watch it for the racing, you watch it for the strategy. That's why Murray Walker was the best all-time F1 commentator - it was the way he explained the strategies.

I guess that could make it enjoyable. I even enjoyed watching football (i.e. soccer) when I did so with a knowledgeable friend.

I'd be more interested if they do an electric cars race, that's the future, and that's where need most innovation.

While there are currently no fully-electric racecars in F1, some teams are attempting to innovate in the area of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). According to the current F1 sporting regulations, teams have the option of implementing KERS via electrical or mechanical means. http://www.formula1.com/inside_f1/understanding_the_sport/87...

This year all teams are supposed to have it. Williams, who experimented with a fly-wheel design two years ago, switched to electrical system this year - which means all teams that use KERS now have battery-orientated systems.

Just to provide clarification, KERS is optional for the 2011 F1 season.

According to http://www.formula1.com/inside_f1/understanding_the_sport/87... (Under the "Do teams have to use it?" question):

"The use of KERS is not compulsory."

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F1_2011#Rule_changes :

"KERS units will be optional for all teams, after not being utilized in 2010 following a team agreement banning the devices [...]"

If a team does decide to deploy a KERS package, these are the technical implementation details that must be followed:


Maybe San Francisco can host the world's first Prius Grand Prix - that would be real fun!

Here's a video about the all-CFD car and their simulator (from last year): http://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2010/09/video-behind-the-scene...

F1 is too much a parade. Give me prototype moto racing any day.

A case in point that experts can handle complex interfaces, as long as they provide more control.

It depends. At least one plane has crashed because the pilot thought the plane was in "decent angle" mode instead of "vertical speed" mode:


The key UI problem is that "-3.3" on the display can mean both "3.3 degree descent angle" and "3,300 feet per minute descent speed".

Good UI design is important even for trained professionals. If the computer is configured incorrectly, it may take too long to realize that there is a problem, and that's bad.

no, not really.

an F1 car has fewer controls than a ordinary car. different controls yes, but fewer. most people would not consider the controls on their cars "complex". because they are familiar. What sort of familiarity do you think you'd develop if this was what you did for a living?

next, most controls are sort of "modal". for instane, the clutch bite, and the two clutch paddles, are only really relevant during the start (the clutch will be used if the car spins and needs to get going again, but that is a completely different, less demanding, situation). the mix buttons and a few of the other buttons are not really worried about by the driver. the engineers tell the driver what to dial in. the reason those buttons are there is because they are not allowed to be remote controlled.

for the most part the driver will only routinely fiddle with the brake bias (not on the steering wheel), the diff and the KERS controls.

of course, if you have spent all of your teens and your adult life in race cars none of the above will be "complex" to you.

in fact, my TV and its remote is arguably much, much more complex than the user interface of a an F1 car.

Perhaps you could state that a bit more definitively - experts require a complex interface to perform optimally.

This violates every principle of mass-market user interface design - I love it!

No they don't. They require a powerful interface. Complexity just comes with more power, but there's nothing to suggest that an expert would perform better with a more complex interface than with a simpler one, if both offered the same functionality.

I think there probably is a principle at work to suggest that one of the properties of an expert-friendly 'powerful' interface is that it will be perceived as 'complex' by newbies.

Experts will need to have access to a large set of features (e.g. 10 different types of tire/track conditions) that newbies don't. Experts will also need ways to override interface logic which is in place to guide users automatically to the right settings (e.g. wizards, DWIMminess).

I think you're confusing "complicated" with "complex". The former is to be avoided, while the latter is sometimes unavoidable, and in some cases (as here) desired.

This also is a basic tenet of software design as well. I don't mind complexity, if it's necessary and clearly documented. Complicated code on the other hand is the hallmark of a broken development process or a lack of developer skills.

And as long as they are properly trained. None of us would be able to simply get into an F1 car and figure out what even half of these buttons do.

Likely, none of us would be able to simply get into an F1 car and even drive it anywhere at all.

There was a Top Gear episode where Richard Hammond tried to drive an F1 car. I figured with his experience he could make a decent go at it, but apparently the cars are so specifically tuned for going fast that it's all-out, or nothing.


Specifically, the problem is braking.

In normal use, a F1 car will never be driven gently. It will be driven very, very quickly by a professional, racing against other professionals who are also driving hard. So the tires have a lot less traction when they're cold, and the brakes don't work enormously well either.

Hammond needed to be going much faster, just so the car could work properly; but alas, he's a television show host, not a driver.

You can't get into any car and drive if you have not been properly trained.

I beg to differ on this...

Haha, did you pick your nickname just so you can post stuff like that?

At first the "Drink bottle" button seemed pretty ridiculous to me. Then I remembered that driving 200mph and having to negotiate a water bottle by hand would probably be impossible.

some perspective on how fast f1 cars are:

mostly road-going race cars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUhu13qp8Oc

f1 cars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seget3zOj_8&feature=playe...

Being at a race in person gives you a very different impression than TV. For one thing, video doesn't convey the incredibly ability of an F1 car to change direction.

But maybe the best illustration of your point is obvious at a race. When the pace car is out -- and mind you, this is a top-of-the-line Mercedes sports coupe -- it's going around the track just as fast as it can, tires squealing and the whole works. And the parade of F1 cars is following as if it's a walk in the park, swerving left-and-right in an effort to keep their tires warm at such "slow" speeds.

The swerving left and right actually does not keep their tires warm, especially at those lower speeds since they aren't generating enough downforce. What it can do is communicate to the driver what the tires can do right now and provide the confidence when they need it. Accelerating/braking is how they generally put heat into the tires.

> The swerving left and right actually does not keep their tires warm, especially at those lower speeds since they aren't generating enough downforce.

You're mostly correct. However, I believe the main reason for weaving is to prevent too much buildup (various debris from the track) getting on the tyres. Weaving helps to get some of the debris off the tyres.

I'm not so sure about that. There is a lot of stuff on track outside the racing line. Especially at the end of the race. The amount of rubber that ends up on the track is just ridiculous.


Yes but the cars dont weave enough to actually go on the rubber debris, besides the debris is only that bad on the corners.

It's been a LOT worse this year with the Pirelli tires compared to the Bridgestones of last year.

Upvoted because you're right about the actual heating effect, or lack thereof. However, that doesn't change the fact that heat is the stated reason that drivers are doing it, even if that's (a) only part of the reason, and (b) a superstition. Drivers, as with other sportsmen, can be very superstitious.

the current top crop of F1 drivers are remarkably un-superstitious. in particular the "playstation generation" which are remarkably competent professionals who have usually been extremely focused on performance since their early teens.

I would tend to believe that the swerving is mostly to feel the tyres and the car.

I think it is to keep mentally active (aka boredom)

Kinda like when you are waiting for a FPS game to load and you just make circles with your mouse pointer.

no no no, that's to warm up my arm and get my accuracy up. Same as why I mash buttons right before starting to play SC2. It's all science no superstitions.

Just FYI, the lens used in each of the shots are different. The F1 shot uses a wider angled lens which makes the car look faster in the background of the shot.

Having said that, the F1 car is still substantially faster especially through a high speed corner like Eau Rouge.

That's unreal!

I'm an F1 fan but even that surprised me.

Mind. Blown. I had to restart the second clip to confirm there was a car going through! The speed is simply mind boggling.

Silverstone - BMW M5 vs Williams F1, from 2007 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkC70iFcJ04&feature=fvwre... lap starts at 3:30

Ha - the turbo boost button is Z, not B (but you have to pick up a mushroom first).

Michael Schumacher was the king of the 'extra controls' on the steering wheel when back at Ferrari, supposedly changing many of the parameters controlling car setup while going round a corner. (Insert 'had them before everyone else' hipster joke here). I'm sure this must have influenced this setup.

However, think of the other side of the coin. Consider the UI design problem of too much information in an emergency for safety critical systems, particularly in the context of this article: http://en.espnf1.com/williams/motorsport/story/39747.html

To be honest, Barrichello isn't someone you should pay that much attention to on such topics. I think he's the only F1 driver that still uses his right foot for braking when it's proven that left foot braking provides a clear advantage.

Also, F1 highly depends on passive safety systems instead of ones that require driver input, because when things go wrong, there usually isn't much a driver can do to fix it anyways.

Do you have a pointer to good info on the left foot braking thing? I wonder if it's applicable to normal driving as well. I remember thinking that right-footed braking seemed dumb when I was learning to drive. The best explanation anyone could give me was that in a panic you might slam on both pedals, which didn't seem like a great argument.

When driving a stick shift, you'll frequently need to shift gears while either accelerating or braking, meaning your left foot must always be free to operate the clutch while the right foot is either on the throttle or the brakes.

If you get into the habit of braking with your left foot while driving an automatic, you'll have real problems whenever the need arises to drive a manual. I think that's a much better reason.

Actually you do want to slam on two pedals, let me explain:

You slam the clutch pedal with the left foot, and the brake pedal with the right foot. While the clutch is pressed, you shift to neutral.

Depending on the speed, you can make the wheels stop rotating while the car is still moving, something that damages the tire. ABS brakes mitigate the risk of this happening.

So the correct technique involves that the strength applied to the brake pedal is more or less proportional to the speed, braking very lightly when the speed is low. This will make the car slow very quickly, in an emergency situation.

Other possibility is when negotiating a corner where you know you don't need to shift speeds. Therefore you can brake a little with the left foot while having the right foot on the throttle and simply accelerating on the corner exit.

This is in contrast with heel toe down-shifting, where you need to use the left foot to control the clutch pedal, and the right foot to control BOTH brake and throttle pedals.

Finally, the nice thing is that you could be doing all three techniques in a single lap in a track.

Edit: linky http://flyingpigpedia.wetpaint.com/page/Driving+Techniques

Left foot braking can be done for very different reasons. First of all, you're probably driving an automatic. It's much trickier to use your left foot to brake when it's also on the clutch. ;)

In the context of F1, it allows for less time between being on the gas and getting on the brakes. Not sure if these are used in F1, but I also remember reading about funky techniques where you can use the gas and brakes at the same time to mess with the balance of the car.

that is not a straight forward question since it depends a lot on the car and how you are driving. for instane, is it an automatic, is it a manual, is it an electrohydraulic with automatic clutch, double clutch, dog-shift gearbox, how responsive is the throttle etc. also, are you driving on a loose surface, tarmac, icy conditions? what does the torque curve of the engine look like (for instance, does your car have a whopping big turbo that has to be kept above a certain RPM to have power on tap?)

in an ordinary car: use your right foot. it is likely that this is what you are used to so your right-foot motor skills (pun intended) will be significantly better. if you have tried to brake with your left foot, and you are not used to it, you have no doubt experienced that you will tend to apply too much brake too quickly. and at the other end: if you have a braking system that takes a lot of force and you have grippy tyres, your left foot will probably significantly weaker as well.

if you want to play around with it a bit I can recommend gokarting. gokarting is brilliant for practicing braking with your left foot as most rental gokarts have crap tyres that are real easy to lock up at even modest brake inputs :)


However he reportedly learned left foot braking, and at least in 2011 he should have an updated technique.

It's the Emacs of driving!

Doesn't seem to use chording.

Exactly. vi4life!

It's not too modal, either.

Looks like a vi to me :)

I don't see any modes!

Interesting to note that the steering wheel alone costs in the region of $40k.

Probably because they're not mass-produced. For some enterprise-level prototype printers at Lexmark, it costs around 40-50k to produce one, but once they reach production, the consumer only pays a few thousand for one.

I wonder how many backup units they have to keep on hand? :-)

They show the wheel clicking into place after the driver is in. How many contacts do you think they have between wheel and car? Is it some kind of serial protocol where they only need 2 wires? RS-485 maybe

The physical connecter may be a slip ring.

This place has pretty graphics of slip rings: http://www.rotarysystems-sr.com/

There are lots of few-wire protocols and something that critical probably uses several methods. My guess is that there's backup battery power in the wheel and an inductively coupled data channel (like NFC and some RFID).

Should be no more complex than a laptop dock connector which also clicks in place.

except for, you know, the part where it has to fit onto the end of the steering column between the drivers' knees, withstand strong forces without malfunctioning or becoming dangerous, and operate in all weather conditions.

An example of the forces involved on the steering wheel - Petrov's crash earlier this year where he jumped the car and the steering column broke: http://videos.larioja.com/informaciondecontenido.php?con=343...

The display alone looks like it has well over 100 discrete segments. Has to be serial something-or-other.

The biggest surprise was when he alluded to the fact that when going through a corner you have to change differential settings three times ... I imagine just taking a corner at those speeds would be hard enough, let alone playing around with buttons while doing it.

I didn't interpret it like that. I think that while they may fiddle for balance (for example as the fuel burns off, and the weight comes down, or as the tyres wear etc), I'm not sure they change it for each corner. He mentioned there was a setting for "high speed" corners so I think it's a case of getting the optimum setup for a lap, and then running with that for a while.

While there are a lot of switches, it's noticable that the ones they'd want to use a lot, like the KERS, are very close to the fingers in their normal position, whereas the ones which are more "setup" or "fiddle" are closer to the centre of the wheel. I don't think they go through a corner with one hand on the wheel and the other adjusting something in the middle of the steering wheel.

Still I suppose when the xBox "F1 Controller" of "tomorrow" comes out, we'll all find out. (Alas without the G-Forces...)

while they may fiddle for balance (for example as the fuel burns off, and the weight comes down, or as the tyres wear etc), I'm not sure they change it for each corner.

Actually, the setup of the car is not active at all, except for brake bias (which is set via a mechanical lever on the cockpit wall). There is no way to change ride height, stiffness, etc., dynamically.

About 20 years ago there was a period in which everything about the cars were dynamic (culminating in the Williams FW-14B [1]). The ride height and other suspension settings, etc., were all under electronic control, so that the setup could be altered for every corner. And thanks to bidirectional telemetry, these settings were actually controlled remotely from the pits without the driver needing to intervene. However, the arms race of complexity and cost led teams to agree to a ban on this technology. It's a bit of a shame, because the engineering had become every bit as interesting as the racing itself.

[1] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Williams_FW14

Let's just cut it to 500cc and cap engineering costs and see what they come up with - could be interesting!

This is typically the case in most types of auto racing. In some cases (the WRC comes to mind), it was pushing manufacturers out of the sport because they couldn't keep up with the costs.

In some cases (the WRC comes to mind), it was pushing manufacturers out of the sport because they couldn't keep up with the costs.

Not that I disagree with your point, but there's another factor in WRC: Sebastian Loeb.

If sponsors want to be associated with winning teams, then there's really no point in sponsoring any team besides Citroen. There's very little chance of anyone other than Loeb winning the championship, and good luck waiting for a podium that he's not standing on.

I think you can see this (albeit less clearly) after late 80s F1. A McLaren team-up of Senna and Prost delivered the best two drivers, plus Honda and McLaren's engineering skill; there was little opportunity for anyone else to compete. The result was a decade of competitive wasteland as the sport recovered (giving such lame drivers as, imho, Damon Hill, an opportunity to win a World Driving Championship). It wasn't until a combination of Schumacher's skill and Ferrari resurgence that things got at all interesting again.

Sort of, but I'm not sure I'd quite agree with your history.

Prost and Senna were alone toe-to-toe for 3 years, 1988-90. Senna wasn't a realistic threat before then (neither was Prost in '87), while '86-87 the dominant battle was between Mansell and Piquet at Williams. But, yes, 1988-90, Senna and Prost carved things up between them. After that...

1991, Ferrari (Prost's team) were nowhere, there was a late season challenge to Senna from Mansell's Williams but they'd had too much early season unreliability

1992, Ferrari were worse than nowhere, McLaren were comprehensively trounced too. Mansell walked it for Williams

1993, Prost wins relatively comfortably from Senna with a major car advantage.

1994, Prost retires and Senna dies.

There were then:

* 2 years of Benetton & Schumacher

* 2 years of Williams, Hill then Villeneuve

* 2 years of McLaren & Hakkinen

and we're now a) out of the 10 year window and b) into the Schumacher & Ferrari juggernaut.

Now, I've heard a number of expert commentators suggest that Schumacher's record is flattered by the opposition he faced, I wouldn't disagree that Hakkinen, Hill and in particular Villeneuve are perhaps not the strongest champions F1 ever saw and I'm not sure this period of F1 was necessarily the most competitive. BUT - I definitely don't agree with your characterisation of F1 history there.

I don't think that's how it works. The driver is setting three different aspects of the car, which come into play at different stages of a corner. He sets all three of them well before a corner, and then focuses on braking, shifting, steering and throttling. Most onboard footage I watched seems to confirm this.

Indeed that's the case. But then you may ask why don't he set it up once for the track and be with it? The track would have to be wildly disparate to need a periodic change at certain points in a lap. Such tweaks are mostly to cope more efficiently with varying situations: for example you don't take the same line when you're basically alone or when you want to overtake, which you precisely do at corner entrance or exit - since such cars are not wildly different in power from one another - and that's something the driver plans in advance of actually doing it.

Monaco, compare the Grand Hotel hairpin with the tunnel; very different performance characteristics and diff requirements, I'd suspect.

Silverstone, look at the Becketts complex and compare it to Luffield.

Spa Francorchamps, compare the requirements of Eau Rouge with La Source.

That's just three straight off the top of my head. Circuits are pretty varied; I don't know for sure that they are doing that with diff settings as they lap but anecdotally they alter brake bias pretty regularly so it wouldn't surprise me particularly.

Which is precisely what I meant by 'disparate' :) There can be long-winded corners, and then a tight chicane in another area. A different diff setting would allow to maximize stability vs agility by balancing (forward+braking) power on left/right wheels.

> Indeed that's the case. But then you may ask why don't he set it up once for the track and be with it?

A race track is a living thing - the profile of it changes with each lap, with each race and over the course of a race weekend. There is a lot less grip at the beginning of a race weekend, a lot more later on.

The slightest changes in temperature, atmospheric pressure, etc. have a very large bearing on car performance and how the car has to be setup and adjusted for each corner.

> "There is a lot less grip at the beginning of a race weekend"

It can also be the opposite during a race, as tyre residue accumulates on the track, lessening grip in the most critical areas, often requiring drivers to change their line.

(To be clear, my question was a rhetorical one. I began to write a paragraph about that, and then another one... and then work brought me back from procrastination, so I deleted the incomplete stuff)

marbles (pieces of tyre) do not build up on the racing line. they build up off the racing line and thus are not a factor in "most critical areas". they are a factor if the driver has to go off the racing line. to defend, pass or avoid.

Remember that they're fighting for hundreds, sometimes thousands of a second, in laps that usually take 90-100 seconds. Anything that can be done to improve things ever slightly, even if it means having to do extra work for some of the corners, is worth it.

During the race, when they have the video from above the cockpit you can clearly see the drivers changing configuration all the time during the race.

no, he was talking about there being three different settings for the three different phases of the corner.

during friday and saturday sessions they will gather data to find optimum diff settings for the different corners. then during the race all three settings will be controled by a single knob. you can sometimes see drivers fiddle with the diff knob during in-car shots in the race. (you also sometimes see them letting go of the wheel with one hand to adjust the brake bias setting -- which for some reason is often not on the wheel)

Why can't he show us the back?

Teams try not to show anything they don't absolutely have to, whether they have secrets there or not. It's just how they roll.

Mercedes, however, do have something called a "magic paddle". So they do have an actual reason for keeping the back of the steering wheel away from prying eyes.

Here is a short video clip of a reporter attempting to get Mercedes GP's team principal Ross Brawn to disclose the details of the "Magic Paddle": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luWuJx2Ukik

There was speculation that the call was related to Schumacher's use of the DRS. We'll probably never know for sure.

Because since it's hidden they don't want to disclose that information to other teams. I recall DLR(McLaren's driver) being asked about it after explaining their steering wheel's controls. Anyway, IIRC the interviewer "guessed" that it was another way of activating the DRS, so in practice it's not really so secret, but F1 its like this...

Maybe there's a Ferrari sticker there.

The stickers that scare me the most are the Microsoft stickers on the ECU's...

It is interesting to note how F1 technology makes its way into consumer cars.

Take Ferrari, for example. Although first introduced in the F430, the 458 Italia features a steering wheel-mounted manettino dial that allows the driver to configure settings that directly impact the speed of gearbox changes, traction control settings and differential settings.

Starting at about 1:05, this video demonstrates how the various manettino settings are utilized on the 458 Italia, and how they modify the vehicle's driving profile.


Video discussing lotus's steering wheel - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58Zkbbfygjw

and one with Lewis Hamilton discussing his - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcMvt0rO20g - though he does get talked over in Italian (I think it is).

So how does this compare to a NASCAR wheel? ;)

A NSACAR wheel is pretty simple. A radio button and that's about it. They put the controls on the dash. Remember a NASCAR car and F1 car have different requirements. An F1 car's goal is to go as fast as possible and nothing else. A NASCAR car's goal is to go pretty fast, but take a beating while doing it.

F1 cars tend to go round a few different types of corner as well ;-)

And F1 drivers need a special button so they don't speed on pit road. What's your point? They're different types of racing.

F1 cars also cost a couple million dollars while a Nascar costs around 150k total. Another difference is that F1 cars are electronically limited to 18k RPM (they can easily go to 20k) and they have 7 gears. Nascar cars have 4 gears and top out at 9-10k RPM. There are so many other little details about F1 that make it technically marvelous. There are no vehicles in the world that can top the overall performance of an F1 car. (I'm also a fan, so I'm a little biased)

> There are no vehicles in the world that can top the overall performance of an F1 car.

The dragster folks might disagree.

I'm curious why you think that the number of gears is significant. My Crossfire has 6 - does that make it "better" than a Nascar COT? How about the cars with CVT (effectively infinite) - are they "better" than F1?

CVT is banned from F1, IIRC. Performance would definitely improve given CVTs.

Nonetheless, you're correct. It's just different. Each just has different requirements.

It is likely that the CoT actually costs around $250k but the R&D budget is reduced. NASCAR teams also build a lot of cars for a year.

The point was that NASCAR only turns left, or so the joke goes.

Except that they don't. NASCAR has had road courses for as long as I can remember.

There is also an engine kill switch (safety add)

Is this considered ugly by minimalist (say Apple like) oriented designers? Could an UI like this, to be used by experts most efficiently, be redesigned with a minimalistic mindset, or the complexity of the underlying system has to appear?

This is designed to be used by experts most efficiently. This is already minimalist. Single function (non-modal) buttons are the fastest, most fail-proof way of controlling state. Peek into the cockpit next time you get into a plane. I was actually a bit surprised that there is a "Multifunctional Rotary Switch" which appears to be modal.

Don't confuse visual minimalism with actual simplicity. I believe BMW did that with their iDrive system.

It is.

And lots of soccer moms would complain if a car for sale had that kind of wheel.

However this wheel is not for the mass market, it is for a very small group of professional drivers that make a living using it, so it is totally irrelevant if a designer likes it or not.

  B      : Activates Kinetic Energy Recovery System
  Oil    : Activates supplementary oil tank for engine
  PL     : Turn pit lane speed limiter on/off
  Tyre   : Adjust electronics to suit different tyres
Any idea why those aren't automatic? I'd think you'd have some computer-detectable indication for when oil would be useful, pit-lanes are identifiable by detecting location, and send the tire type over wirelessly when changed. And why wouldn't you want KERS running?

Seriously, I'm asking. I'm not an F1 buff.

When you have that much on the wheel, I'd think removing what you can would be important. Especially given the very-early line:

>This year designers have had to squeeze in buttons for [KERS] and Drag Reduction Systems along with the usual array of toggles, switches and levers.

Removing 4 buttons would seem to be an improvement, though a bit of a drop in a bucket.

1. The radios on these cars go bad all the time - saw the number of backup buttons for when that happens?

2. KERS - you are limited to use it only for 6.6 seconds per lap - and, the driver gets to decide when to use it. Thus, it has to be a button.

3. PL: PL ensures that you don't go above or below the 75 KPH or whatever speed limit each track has. This zone is marked by a well defined line at the start and the end of the zone. I don't think that GPS is that accurate to turn this on/off automatically - especially considering the importance hundredths of seconds makes in this sport. Second, you don't want a car suddenly braking automatically or find the accelerator free automatically when the driver's not really prepared for the exact moment.

4. Oil: I believe this is in place for a 'what-if' scenario.

5. Tyre: Again, I am sure that this is in place because of the 'what-if-radio-does-not-work' scenario.

There isn't really any space to have levers anywhere else on the car like the hidden bonnet/boot switch and the backups also find their way to the steering wheel! ;-)

I love the user interface design work that goes into the F1 wheels - and they're all completely custom by each team, for each driver. Great website as well.

D - Drink Bottle - Perhaps the most important button? Performance and concentration does increase quite a bit when you're properly hydrated.

They've mentioned it breaking in hot muggy countries, I think Coulthard said he lost a few kilos.

So how many more seasons before the drivers become obsolete and the engineer in the pits controls the entire car?

The limiting factor in F1 these days is the driver, there was a great article in Popular Science about it. Without worrying about keeping a driver alive (and conscious), the cars would be substantially faster. They also talked about how physically demanding driving an F1 car is, and how a driver is basically an athlete in prime condition. In keeping their heads upright through turns they develop some ridiculous muscle in their necks. There's a funny video on youtube of an F1 driver crushing a walnut with his neck.

If it was legal, there would be two or three engineers remotely controlling all those knobs and buttons. F1 rules ban any aspect of the car from being controlled remotely or automatically and mandate a spec ECU.

It's unlikely that they would drive by remote control as feel is so important - a racing driver relies on his backside as much as his eyes. Drivers use physical sensation to feel the limit of grip and the balance of the car, something that would be very different to control remotely.

You could potentially go much faster without drivers, as cornering speeds are artificially limited by the rules to maintain driver safety. The severest corners in F1 induce 5G of lateral force. Inexperienced drivers often spend later laps of a race resting their head against the side of the cockpit, as their neck muscles are exhausted.

In a completely free racing formula, cars would have vast amounts of mechanical grip and downforce, weigh next to nothing and corner so fast that no human could survive a lap.

I don't see how this makes sense. As demonstrated the drivers have a lot of controls that are traditionally pre-set BY the engineers. The engineer is moving into the car, if anything.

I don't think you can make the driver obsolete. Perhaps some day they won't be physically sitting in the car, but I don't think logics alone can win a race. You need someone in control with a good mix of instincts, timing, and brashness to win a race.

Could probably do it now, but no one would watch.

F1 robo series maybe?

I agree the driver still has a lot of influence. But, if drones can fly around in the skies then a pilotless F1 car is not so unrealistic. Fans liking robo F1 cars no one really knows for certain but it would be very interesting to see.

One activates the buzzsaw blades, one activates the jump, one sends a robotic messenger bird...

(Yes, I know Speed Racer was rallying and not F1.)

I watch F1 regularly, but to hear him speak of getting a gain of "tenths of a second" as a huge thing is still astonishing to me. Must be a frustrating life. Specially speaking as a software developer, where we're getting a free doubling of the speed every 18 months. I'm sure Moore's Law will run out at some point, but I can never quite appreciate exactly how much that helps us. The helps give a little perspective.

An F1 car going 200mph; that's about 293 feet/sec. So a tenth of a second is around 29 feet, which is about two car lengths.

So a few tenths of a second is around 6 car lengths, per lap.

That's one way to think about it...

Just be glad you don't work on high-frequency trading systems if "tenths of a second" seems like a frustratingly small gain. Our office erupts into cheers when we shave a microsecond or even 500 nanoseconds off our loop times. :)

Ditto for when I worked on improving the speed of Google web search. Shaving 100ms off of page load time was (and is) a major accomplishment.

Loop of what, some kind of numerical iteration? Sounds like fun, what kind of platform is this on. I assume any kind of OS or HLL is out of the question.

    I assume any kind of OS or HLL is out of the question.
Not really, computers are fast! Per message costs of a few microseconds are pretty standard even in Java/C# stuff.

I think I understand what you are saying.

It's a competitive sport, so given the current resources and technology, how much performance can you eke out is really what I should have been thinking about. In an adversarial environment like you describe, I'm sure every bit of time you gain is a huge plus. So yes, our speed doubles every 2 years, but so do our competitors'.

Someone from Apple needs to visit them. Create the iF1 with one button, capacitive touch screen, and GESTURES!

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