Pirelli Tyre Test

Pirelli has been the exclusive tyre supplier to F1 since 2011.

During the season, Pirelli runs a series of special tyre tests to meet the ever-changing demands of the circuits (surface, temperature, downforce level) and ensure the tyres are fit for the coming year. 

This is usually held for 30 minutes, added to a free practice session. During this period, teams must run the tyres Pirelli supplies and the run plan they specify. The tyre walls are blank, and the teams do not know what compounds they are running. 

This data will be used to develop the prototype tyres that are tested in further tyre test sessions, post-season. 

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High degradation track

Power and downforce aren’t the only things that dictate how well cars will perform at a track. Teams also have to account for degradation, which is what causes a tyre to lose grip when it gets too hot.

The circuits all use different types of material in the construction of the track surface, so the degradation varies. This requires the team to set the right downforce and the driver to adpt their style to manage the tyres. A fine balance of speed and longevity to maximise the teams tyre strategy.

Degredation, not to be confused with wear, it is the gradual erosion of the tyre tread as a result of friction caused by the track surface. Street circuits like Baku and Monaco are generally considered to the be low degredation tracks and Baharain is considered to be a high-deg track.  

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High power track

A power track is more or less the opposite of a high downforce track.

Most of a car’s performance is tied to the power, acceleration and top speed made possible by the power unit. Long straights and short, slow corners are typical features of power tracks. 

Teams will adopt a specific set-up with less downforce to reduce resistance and maximise speed. 

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High downforce track

A high downforce track is a circuit where most of a car’s performance throughout a lap can be attributed to the aerodynamic downforce it produces rather than the power of its engine.

High downforce tracks will have fewer and shorter straights, with more of an emphasis on corners. Teams will adopt a specific set-up with a larger rear wing to maximise performance through the corners.

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F1 Steering Wheel buttons, lights and rotary dials

The steering wheel in an F1 car is an insanely technical device that allows the driver to select predetermined modes and make small tweaks throughout the lap. This is a custom bit of kit, custom-designed for each team with subtle differences between drivers.  

So what does it do? Way too much for us to cover in this post, but here are some of the key functions. 

Quick-Release Hub

The cockpit in an F1 car is extremely tight so to assist the driver in getting in and out of the car, the steering wheel is removable through the use of a quick-release hub. The rules require the drivers to return the wheel to the steering column after they exit the car and they are not allowed to throw the wheel if they are annoyed.


The part the driver hangs onto to steer the car and access all of the settings. Some are close and can be activated without taking a hand off the wheels, some of the others require a split second for the driver to make the adjustment. The handles are moulded to the driver’s hands and can be made out of hard or soft materials.


The steering wheel display provides the driver with a myriad of data including RPM Leds, current gear, lap times, various deltas (car in front, car behind, sector splits), battery charge status, and insight into their car’s performance and issues and access to various menus. The display can also be located on the chassis as is favoured by Williams

RPM-Indicator LEDs

A series of progressive LEDs that show the driver where the Revs are at and go from green to red when a gear change is needed.


Similar to the menu on any one of the digital devices we use in our lives. The driver can scroll through a series of menus to select the telemetry data to be displayed or go deeper into engine mode options. And yes, there is an Accept, or Enter, button.


The link between the driver and his engineer on the pit wall. A critical tool for the driver to feedback observations to the team and for the engineer to give guidance on engine modes, when to push or not, and when to box the car. Drivers can’t talk to each other. 


The same as our road cars, F1 cars have neutral. Neutral will be activated by the anti-stall system to keep the car running when the revs drop to stalling point. 


F1 cars have reverse, but it is not easy to find. You will often see a driver stuck in a precarious position, searching for reverse to try and recover the car. 

Race Start

The Race Start button sets the limiter to a specific speed to allow the car to launch at its optimum, with maximum acceleration and no wheelspin. 

Strat Settings

Every race is different with factors like altitude, track surface, high speed vs slow corners, track temperature and weather conditions. And then there are all of the scenarios, puncture, safety car, a spin or teammate position. All of the computations are figured out, and possible options are mapped out on the steering wheel’s rotary-knob strategy settings.

MGU-K Settings

An F1 car’s hybrid powertrain is a highly complex system and the teams need to plan for every possible scenario – including Qualifying mode, race phase, wet weather, low fule loads, engine failures or safety cars – so the team’s engineers design custom engine maps the driver can control through a rotary knob on the wheel. 


This function does as the word states. When the driver experiences something that needs to be reviewed at a later date, like wheelspin, missed gear or unexpected engine behaviour, the driver can push the mark button and record to a precise moment so the team can go back and review it. 

Differential Balance

The differential balance is used to adjust the setting through a corner., shifting the balance left or right. Controlled via a single scroll knob or a set of scroll knobs allow the driver to change the setup in small increments to maximise the balance for every corner.

Brake Balance

Like differential balance, the brake balance is also controlled through a scroll knob that can adjust the setup in small increments. Drivers can change the balance during the race, ensuring that they have the right balance for each corner.

Energy Recovery

Energy recovery, or harvesting, allows the driver to recovering energy from teh MGU-H or MGU-K and store it in the battery for deployment when needed. The red lights at the rear of the car flash to signal when the car is harvesting power. So in qualifying, for example, a driver might do two preparation laps to get teh tires up to temprature, but also to get maximum charge in the batteries. 

Pit-Lane Speed

Given that pit crews consist of humans who are, let’s just say, fragile in their construction, you don’t really want race cars coming into the pits at 200 mph. That’s a recipe for disaster. Instead, F1’s rules set maximum pit-lane speed at 50.5 mph. There’s a button that limits the car’s speed as it enters pit lane so the driver doesn’t have to worry about delicately balancing the right foot on the throttle pedal to maintain that specific speed. 

Pit Confirm

After hearing in comms to “box”, the drivers confirm manually that they heard the communication and that they will be pitting on that specific lap. This is important to ensure the pit crew is ready for the right car when it comes in. 


The Overtake button gives the driver a short boost in engine and hybrid power and can be deployed to assist in a pass. Also known to some as push-to-pass. 


DRS (Drag-reduction system) activation. The button opens the rear wing to reduce drownforce and therefore drag, giving the car around 12 – 15 kph of extra speed. The DRS is closed automatically as soon as the driver brakes, returning the downforce to the car for the rapidly approaching corner.


F1 steering wheels have at least two sets of paddles and sometimes three. The frst two are for the clutch and gear shifting. Where you see a third set they may be set to give the driver quick access to specific strategic settings, engine setups, overtake mode, DRS, etc.


F1 drivers lose several kilos during a race so hydration is important. A button on the steering wheel activates a pump that supplies fluids through a drinks hose.

Dealers choice

Drivers have the ability to have their own unique setup mapped and associated with a button. This may be a starting sequence, a set-up for a particular corner or anything you can imagine.

Other Secret Buttons

All sport is driven by competition so therefore innovation and advances in technology. F1 is at the cutting edge when it comes to pushing the limits and finding an edge, so it is reasonable to expect that there are functions within the steering wheel that are closely guarded secrets.


DAS or Dual Access Steering was a Mercedes AMG innovation introduced in 2020 (and banned at the end of that year) that allowed the driver to change the toe of the front wheels by sliding the steering column in or out. 




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Grip – all that technology and it comes down to four small contact patches…

Grip is the magic that holds the $15M car on the road as it accelerates, turns and brakes at extreme levels. Loss of grip is loss of control and the effect will range from a snap of the steering wheel to a tow truck ride.

Grip is a partnership between the tyre compound and the track surface, within a very small area referred to as the contact patch. When the stresses between the tyre and the track are exceeded the car will go into a slide or a skid. Pirelli selected tyres for the weekend based on many factors, one being the track surface.

The skill of the driver is the ability to push the car’s grip to the absolute maximum, without it letting go, through every turnover every lap of the session. The driver needs to know when the tyre is at its optimum and when it is starting to fade away. Referred to as degradation, graining, or simply, “I’ve got no grip”.

Grip is managed through generating heat in the tyres, increasing downforce and driving to preserve the tyres (not pushing when not necessary).

And of course, grip is substantially compromised when the track is wet, has oil spilled on it or where the marbles collect off the racing line.

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How F1 Car Steering Wheels differ

An F1 car steering wheel is a highly technical part of the car, providing the driver with data and an incredible number of setting combinations.

Each team custom designs and fabricates its own steering wheel and there are even driver specific preferences within the team. 

I found this cool graphic of 2021 team steering wheels on @F1inthe2010s1 and the feature image above is by Giorgio Piola

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F1 Fuel Cells

The fuel cell, or fuel tank, in an f1 car is located directly behind the driver’s seat and holds up to 110 litres of fuel.

The cell has been developed to be as safe as possible, with baffles to prevent the fuel from moving during acceleration, retardation and cornering. Complex fire-rated materials are used to protect the driver in an incident.

Today’s F1 cars are fueled once, in the garage, and they do not receive fuel during pit stops. The car must have a specified amount of fuel in the tank at the end of the race for testing by the stewards. Failure to meet this requirement will result in disqualification. As happened to Sebastian Vettel in the Hungarian GP in 2021 – losing his second-place standing and a first 1 -2 for the Aston Martin.

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