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Things aren’t always what you expect in a Formula 1 car. With everything designed and refined for the highest performance, car elements sometimes transform in amazing ways. For example, steering wheels are no longer wheels. And drivers can control aspects of their car’s movement through the steering wheel that everyday drivers would never imagine. As we start the second half of the season with the Belgian Grand Prix, let’s take a closer look at some of those unusual aspects of these incredible cars.


The evolution of the steering wheel has seen the device go from a simple spoke-and-wheel shape to a design that allows drivers the ability to access every adjustable mechanism on the race car. This may seem like it makes the driver’s life easier, but it actually adds tremendous complexity to the task of driving the race car. It’s no longer just gas, clutch, brakes and steering. Drivers must be able to memorize hundreds of functions on the steering wheel to get maximum efficiency and speed from the race car.


In racing’s earliest days, the race cars did not contain the electronics and analytic capture devices, or need the steering wheel to have any other shape. It didn’t do anything but turn the car. The teams made sure the steering wheel was light, as they’ve always looked to cut weight from anywhere they could. But today the steering wheel isn’t a wheel at all. It looks more like something you’d see in a “Star Wars” movie.




Just like the rest of the race car, the steering wheel has been meticulously engineered for top performance. Each team may have a different steering wheel layout and design, but they all contain the same functionalities. I won’t go into the entire list below, but to give you an idea of the magnitude of what the drivers have to deal with, I thought it would be fun to show a list of the functions on the steering wheel.


F1 Steering Wheel:


Pit Lane Speed Limiter

Brake Balance

Brake Shape

Team Radio

Gear Paddles

DRS (Drag Reduction System)

Overtake Button

Differential Entry

Differential Mid

Differential Exit

Recharge Button

Scenario Switch

Neutral Button

Clutch Paddle


Typically the steering wheel will also contain configurable buttons that the team can program for use when a driver feels that several adjustments need to be made at once. For example, there may be a turn where a lot of adjustments need to happen with the differential, and there is no way for the driver to make those adjustments quickly enough. The team sets that button to the exact settings desired, and then the driver doesn’t have to make those adjustments themselves.


Each team, and even sometimes each driver, has a different steering wheel. Each steering wheel is fitted to the driver's hands, so that they can have a comfortable grip, as well as reach the buttons and reels along the left and right sides of the steering wheel with their thumbs.


I wanted to hit on one aspect of the steering wheel and the driver’s abilities within the race that blows my mind, and I hope it does yours. 


This is the function of the differential. The differential controls the torque to the wheels. Your average car has what’s called an open differential, where an equal amount of torque is sent to the wheels, which creates an equal wheel spin rate. 


Sports cars and race cars have what’s called a limited slip differential. This allows for torque to be sent to the wheels at different rates. When a race car is going around a corner, the inside wheel has a shorter distance to go around the corner than the outside wheel does. The inside wheel also has less weight on it than the outside wheel. If that inside wheel has the same torque setting as the outside wheel, the inside wheel could wear out much faster, as the car doesn’t need that level of torque to that wheel. You’d also want to have the power to the wheel that is actually at full grip to the ground, so having the ability to move that torque around is important. 


This is why it’s critical for the driver to be able to make those adjustments around the track. As you can see in the list above, the driver can change the differential in the entry to the corner, at the mid corner, and at the exit of the corner. If the driver sets the differential incorrectly, the car can lose grip and time through the corners.


Hopefully you’re starting to see why Free Practice is such an important part of the Formula 1 driver’s ability to do well in the race. During those practice sessions, the teams are working through the telemetry from the car and helping the driver decide which settings will be best for certain areas of the track. The driver then needs to memorize those settings during practice, along with managing the other thoughts going through their head at 200 mph. 

Belgian Grand Prix

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps




Well, the drivers will have more time on the great Spa-Francorchamps track, as it’s the longest track on the F1 calendar. This track also has the legendary Eau Rouge section, which looks like the scariest corner on the planet! I would imagine the drivers are pulling quite the G-forces to make it through the turns. The track was built in 1979 and was actually much longer than the current track, which winds through the beautiful Ardennes Forest. It’s a bucket-list track for race car enthusiasts. It’s for sure on my list. 


Free Practice Recap

How to read: session#, best lap time, (time behind first place time) number of laps in session, best place finish in session.


Lando Norris #4

FP1 1m46.336s (+1.137s) 17 laps 8th

FP2 1m45.386s (+0.914s) 18 laps 9th

FP3 1m58.509s (+1.585s) 11 laps 4th


Daniel Ricciardo #3

FP1 1m46.683s (+1.484s) 20 laps 12th

FP2 1m46.118s (+1.646s) 14 laps 15th

FP3 2m00.456s (+3.532s) 13 laps 13th 



Qualifying Recap

How to Read: session#, fastest lap time, best place finish in session.


Lando Norris #4

Q1 1m58.301s (Intermediates) 1st

Q2 1m56.025s (Intermediates) 1st

Q3 No time set 10th


Daniel Ricciardo #3

Q1 2m01.583s (Intermediates) 12th

Q2 1m57.127s (Intermediates) 9th

Q3 2m00.864s (Intermediates) 4th


Race Recap:

All the technology in the world can’t stop mother nature from having an impact on a race. Unfortunately, the race this weekend was hampered by wet weather that created unsafe conditions for the drivers. Formula 1 did their due diligence to attempt to get the race underway by completing four laps under safety car to make an official race, but there was just no way with the weather forecast that they would get the race going within the regulated time limits Formula 1 has to complete a race.


There have been many grand prix races in the rain. In this case the visibility with the rain spray from the cars and standing water created an unsafe track. Formula 1 cars are extremely light and have wide wheel bases. Due to those two factors, aquaplaning is a real problem in these conditions.  We unfortunately saw this in qualifying when Lando Norris lost control of the car through Eau Rouge and crashed. Luckily he was okay, but as many drivers were heard across their radios, it was too wet to be out there.


I was really excited to see McLaren at this track as both Lando and Daniel Ricciardo looked amazing in qualifying until Lando had a crash on the rain soaked track in Q3. Amazing job by the McLaren team to get Lando’s car ready for the Grand Prix the next day. I’m sure they were disappointed to not see the race after their hard work. Daniel was able to qualify 4th and would have had a great chance at a podium if the race happened. Lando had an opportunity for pole position based on his first two rounds of qualifying, but had to fall back to 10th due to the crash, and then a five spot grid penalty due to having to install a new gearbox.


If McLaren comes out after the break like they did in Belgium, the other teams better watch out for Daniel and Lando. Can’t wait for the next race!






Belgium 2021 Podium


Drivers Championship Points


Constructor Championship Points


Max Verstappen


Max Verstappen




George Russell


Lewis Hamilton


Red Bull


Lewis Hamilton


Lando Norris




Full F1 results



Next Race: Dutch Grand Prix

Date: Sunday, September 5

Track: Circuit Zandvoort



Dan Menke
Community Analytics and Operations Manager

Dan is the Community Operations Manager at Alteryx. From optimizing moderation processes, to exploring new engagement techniques, Dan spends his days supporting clients by cultivating great Community experiences.

Dan is the Community Operations Manager at Alteryx. From optimizing moderation processes, to exploring new engagement techniques, Dan spends his days supporting clients by cultivating great Community experiences.