Working the wheel in Monaco
In times past, Formula One drivers negotiated the Circuit de Monaco practically one-handed, their right palms rubbed raw by the thousands of gear changes required during up to 100 laps of the tortuous track in the Principality. Today's drivers may have a slightly easier time of it, in that they can at least keep both hands on the wheel, but those hands are also significantly busier in 2011. The modern Formula One steering wheel also fulfils the function of dashboard, gear lever and clutch pedal, and the drivers have up to 32 individual controls that can be adjusted. With the increased in-cockpit workload for 2011 generated by KERS and the DRS, Monaco will present an even greater challenge for the drivers aiming to extract every last ounce of performance.
We are used to seeing the drivers' hands as a blur in Monaco as they make constant corrections to the car. How many steering inputs are made per lap?
The steering wheel is in almost constant motion in Monaco - from major steering inputs for tight corners to the tiny corrections that they are making all the time. At the hairpin, for example, the wheel is turned through more than 180 degrees, and special front suspension is needed to generate the required turning circle. The circuit comprises 19 numbered corners but the drivers make a significant change to the steering angle approximately 130 times per lap.
How much of the lap is spent with no steering input?
The wheel is relatively centered for around ten seconds per lap - which equates to 13.5 per cent of last year's pole time.
How has the pole position speed evolved over the past decades?
In 1980, Didier Pironi's pole lap was set at an average speed of 140.582 kph; last year, Mark Webber did so in 162.869 kph. Pironi's lap was 14 per cent slower than Webber's, while even Mika Hakkinen’s 2000 pole speed of 152.651 kph was over six per cent slower.
How many controls are there on the steering wheel?
Including the rotary switches, buttons and paddles, there are approximately 32 individual controls on the wheel - although this can vary from driver to driver according to how certain switch positions are configured. The MERCEDES GP PETRONAS drivers control DRS activation with a foot pedal, rather than from the wheel. In terms of the dashboard display, the team has approximately ten options for displays which include parameters such as car speed, KERS boost or split times. The drivers generally display the available KERS boost to precisely time its deployment, and split times relative to their best lap so far.
Which controls are used most frequently?
By far the most frequently used are the gear change paddles. At Monaco, the average number of gear changes per lap is 55 - which equates to over 4,300 changes over the 78-lap race distance. Next most used is the DRS foot pedal, then the KERS button. The rotary wheels to tune the differential are also in frequent use, but not every lap.
How has the workload in the cockpit changed in 2011 compared to 2010?
On their Monaco qualifying laps in 2010, the drivers made approximately 50 control inputs on the steering wheel. The systems for 2011 have added around 20 inputs per lap, between DRS activation (with the foot) and precisely timed KERS boosts. That represents an increase of up to 40 per cent in the driver's workload. Similarly, on in- and out-laps, the drivers also have up to ten additional operations to perform including setting engine torque and mixture modes, charging the KERS battery and talking to the engineers on the radio.
For 2011, what will a qualifying lap be like in the cockpit for the drivers?
When one calculates the total number of inputs the driver is likely to have to make, the total is impressive. 130 significant changes of steering direction; 55 gear changes; and up to 20 further inputs for DRS, KERS and any other adjustments. That gives the driver a predicted workload of over 200 different inputs per lap - and that's before we even consider the balletic dance on the throttle and brake pedals.