return of KERS and the new movable rear wing is set to offer more overtaking
this year - but with more new controls in an already hectic F1 cockpit is this
'push button racing' now a bit too much?
increasing complexity of current F1 cars has seen the job of a driver change
dramatically, with more and more buttons and levers on the steering wheel and
more to think about throughout every single lap.
2000, a cutting-edge F1 steering wheel, like the one used by Ferrari, already
had eight buttons, two gear change paddles and six dials controlling everything
from the drinks bottle and pits-to-car radio to fuel mix and brake balance,
with one LED screen and a couple of indicator lights for important information.
recent years Ferrari's steering wheel has had around 16 buttons, seven toggle
switches, two knobs, eight dials and four clutch/gear paddles, plus a large
electronic information screen with full number display and scrolling menu and
21 indicator LEDs!
demands on a driver have expanded from simple brake, accelerate, change gear
and steer to constantly changing the car's brake bias, the performance of the
differential through corners, the throttle response and engine maps and the
fuel mix as well as talking to the engineers on the radio.
also have to activate the movable rear wing (apart from on the first two laps)
and, in some cases, manage the use of KERS throughout each lap. On top of that,
the driver's brain will have to cope with the likely additional complication of
managing quickly degrading tyres.
by Williams technical chief Sam Michael last week, this could be most crucial
in qualifying, as on a short stint the importance of warming tyres up, changing
brake bias to quickly warm then manage the brake temperatures, as well as
maximising the benefit of KERS and the rear wing is a lot to take in - and any
mistakes could cost not just tenths of a second but whole chunks of time.
something we're discussing at technical working group level at the moment,
whether there's too much load on the driver," Michael said recently,
explaining that in testing Pastor Maldonado pressed the wing button then got
confused and instead of pressing the KERS button pressed the wing button again,
so had no KERS and had returned the wing to full drag configuration -
effectively losing half a second on the straight alone.
course, should only be a case of teething troubles as the modern driver is used
to button pressing (many learn from simulators and PlayStation, after all!) -
but Michael aired concerns that the balance between pure driving talent and
cognitive skills has maybe now become too skewed towards the latter.
Barrichello, one of the sport's most experienced racers who made his F1 debut
in 1993, admitted the number of buttons is now distracting and said although
not "dangerous" it is "a concern" - but he expects concerns to lessen as
drivers get used to the new controls.
will be design evolutions as teams get used to the effect of the additional
buttons on steering wheel ergonomics - indeed, Ferrari has already changed
thumb-operated buttons at the top of the steering wheel for finger-operated
paddles at the bottom - but the fundamentals remain the same: there are now two
more controls to deal with.
it is safe, however, that itself could lead to more on-track excitement.
the days of manual gearboxes, drivers had to actually take one hand completely
off the steering wheel to move the hand-operated gear stick and even the best
would often fumble and miss a gear. When that happened, chasing cars could
days of metronomic reliability and intense driver focus, then, perhaps the
addition of more buttons is positive - as any chance to replace machine-like
precision with a bit of human error can only be a good thing for racing.