From Stirling Moss' simple three-spoke wheel used in 1957 to modern wheels packed with buttons and knobs.
Formula 1 race cars have certainly come a long way since the competition's early days back in the 1950s, and the steering wheel is a prime example of the remarkable evolution. Brought to you by the talented folks at Donut Media, the attached clip perfectly illustrates the massive progress engineers have made since the basic aluminum three-spoke wheel with a wood rim used by Stirling Moss back in 1957.
But it wasn’t until the late 1980s when radical changes started being implemented as a result of the massive technological advancements the cars went through. Buttons and knobs began to appear, along with shift paddles and lights, hand clutch, and a digital display. The steering wheel became even more complex in the 2000s with the addition of multiple controls for engine mapping, brake bias, differential settings, radio communication, as well as for traction control, and a pit speed limiter. Recent additions include controls for the drag reduction system (DRS) on the rear wing and the energy recovery system (ERS).
In addition, today’s Formula 1 cars are fitted with a pouch filled with water (or a different liquid) linked through a tube to the driver’s helmet. There’s a “Drink” button mounted on the steering wheel allowing the driver to stay hydrated at all times over the course of a grueling race.
Besides modifying its shape and gaining a plethora of functions, the steering wheel has also changed its construction, with today’s wheels being made from carbon fiber to reduce weight to as low as 1.3 kilograms (2.86 pounds), despite having a digital display and a multitude of buttons and knobs.
If you're wondering about how much a modern F1 steering wheel costs, it's somewhere in the region of $50,000, so about as much as a brand new Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan.
As a final note, the same guys from Donut Media released a similar video some months ago showing the evolution of racing helmets, which you can check out below.