The wheel still steers the car – not everything has changed! – but this simple function to direct the car has been added to time and again.

In essence, F1 reinvented the wheel’s usage, and it has undergone incredible development across the last 35 years.

F1 steering wheels now also provides the driver and their engineers with a wealth of information that can lead to better decisions, while also offering an interface with which to control key functions for the power unit and chassis.

For those reasons, let alone the ergonomic alterations that are also made, a steering wheel is customised on an individual level for each driver.

If we take Ferrari as an example, there’s one significant difference in the layout of Charles Leclerc’s and Carlos Sainz’s steering wheels, with both drivers having a different preference when it comes to the layout of their clutch paddle(s).

Steering wheel of Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Steering wheel of Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Steering wheel of Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Steering wheel of Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Leclerc prefers a single, wishbone-style paddle, with a left-hand hinge that allows him to use his right hand to modulate the clutch. Meanwhile, Sainz has a twin paddle layout, which gives him the option of using either hand to operate the clutch.

This may seem like a subtle difference but there’s obviously a very different ratio in the movement of each paddle, which clearly works better for how they feel and activate the clutch.

Sainz arrived at Ferrari having already used a similar layout on his McLaren steering wheel in 2020 and retained it, whereas Leclerc had previously operated a twin-paddle layout at Sauber and made the switch to the wishbone-style layout that Ferrari had become familiar with, having worked with the same design during Sebastian Vettel’s and Kimi Raikkonen’s tenure.

In a sea of buttons, switches and rotaries, all of which have dominion over certain aspects of the chassis and power unit, each driver further explores what works best for them, with some of the thumb rotaries in the upper half of the wheel providing different functionality for each driver, while buttons can also be moved to better suit each driver’s needs.

Steering wheel of Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Steering wheel of Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Ferrari

This is one aspect of Ollie Bearman’s debut, in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, that shows how impressive a job the Brit did at such short notice. He used Carlos Sainz’s steering wheel, rather than the specification used by Charles Leclerc, which is what he’d become accustomed to when driving in the simulator.

It’s understood that Bearman had asked to use Leclerc’s spare wheel but the request was denied, as this could have jeopardised both drivers if a failure on one was to occur.

This meant that Bearman had to adapt, not only to the change in clutch paddle position but also in the position of some of the buttons, with the DRS button on Leclerc’s wheel swapped out for a brake balance adjustment on Sainz’s, for example.


Williams FW46 steering wheel

Williams FW46 steering wheel

Photo by: Williams

Williams has made significant changes to its steering wheel for 2024, which comes a decade on from the arrival of the hybrid power unit and the introduction of a larger display, known as a PCU-8D.

Supplied to the teams by McLaren Applied Technologies, it can have up to 100 user customisable pages, which makes it an incredibly useful resource for both the driver and engineers.

But not all teams made the switch to this new display in 2014, as no fewer than five of the 11 teams continued to use the smaller PCU-6D display that teams had been using for years. Of those five, Lotus, Caterham and Force India all incorporated theirs within the steering wheel, whereas Williams and Red Bull opted to mount it on the cockpit’s dashboard, which allowed them to utilise a butterfly-style steering wheel design.

All these teams made the leap to the larger display in 2015, with the PCU-6D simply unable to display as much information as its successor. While all of their rivals switched to a steering wheel mounted display, Williams did not, as they forged on with a dash mounted position (below).

Display comparison (Older PCU6D upper, Newer PCU8D lower)

Display comparison (Older PCU6D upper, Newer PCU8D lower)

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Williams FW36 steering wheel (butterfly design) using older PCU6D display screen (arrowed)

Williams FW36 steering wheel (butterfly design) using older PCU6D display screen (arrowed)

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Finally making the decision to mount the display within its wheel has resulted in a new shape steering wheel for Williams too, one which still has a slightly stylistic approach in order to save weight and reduce inertia, as the half forms a triangle, rather than being squared-off like its rivals are.