If you ever wondered what the buttons on the steering wheel of the Porsche 919 Hybrid are for in the World Endurance Championship, then you will have the answer ...
This steering wheel is not round; is a flat rectangle. The shape is a consequence of the space required during driver changes. It has a large central screen that shows a multitude of information. Among other things, it includes speed, gear engaged, current engine management and lithium-ion battery charge status that indicates, for example, how much electrical power the car has available for the driver to send to the axle Forward. The control button on the upper left (called DISP) is used to select the information that the pilot wants to appear on the screen.
The most frequently used buttons are located along the outer top edge so that they are easier to reach with the thumb. The blue button in the upper right is used constantly, because they are the bursts of light used by the fast prototypes to warn the slowest vehicles in the championship before being overtaken. A single press makes the main beams blink three times. While there is daylight the pilots keep their thumb on it almost permanently because, as is normal, the gust signal is more difficult to perceive at those times.
The red button located in the upper left is also frequently used. It is used to request electrical power from the battery, which is known as a “boost”. Drivers can use it to overtake, but they must be smart about power rationing, because the amount of power per lap is limited.
The rotary controls on the left and right below the display (TC / CON and TC R) are for calibrating the traction control. To fine-tune the set-up with various engine and hybrid system configurations, the buttons on the two upper levels are used, TF- and TF + with yellow light, MI- and MI + with blue light. Below them are the pink 'plus' and 'minus' buttons, with which the braking distribution (BR) is distributed between the front and rear axles.
Of the green buttons, the one on the left is for the radio (RAD) and the one on the right is to confirm that the driver has made the configuration changes requested through the pit radio (OK). Multidirectional telemetry is prohibited, so engineers cannot actively interfere, although they can give information and orders to the pilot based on the data they receive.
The orange buttons, on the next level down, act on the liquid bottle (left, DRINK) and, on the right, on the sailing mode (SAIL), that is, by inertia, a driving mode designed to save fuel without acceleration by the combustion engine.
The gold colored PIT button on the left side activates the speed limiter for the pit lane (60 km / h). Its equivalent on the right side is labeled FCY and is another speed limiter used in neutralization periods, such as when there is a “Full Yellow Flag” phase in which all cars must go 80 km / h.
The central rotary knob, called MULTI, is associated with the two controls on the upper outer part of the steering wheel. When the race engineer, for example, asks for the “Alpha 21” setting, the pilot chooses “A” with the rotary knob, then selects the number 2 using the red controller on the left and finally the digit 1 using the dark green knob on the right, before pressing the OK button. Programs for engine or fuel management are designed through these combinations. The green rotary knob (RECUP) is to manage energy recovery.
In the center of the lowest level is an on / off switch for the combustion engine (Start / Stop). The two remaining rotary controllers, positioned halfway up the steering wheel towards the outside, define, on the one hand, the amount of extra power (B - gold on the left) and, on the other, the strategy chosen for the combustion engine ( S - blue on the right).
To make it easier to recognize these controls at night, their colors are fluorescent and stand out thanks to a black light bulb that is placed on top of the pilot's helmet.
The steering wheel is made of carbon and the grip areas are covered with non-slip rubber. Thanks to the power steering system, drivers can turn without any difficulty, even in relatively tight curves. At the rear of the steering wheel there are six paddles that are operated with the fingers. The central ones are to change gears (the right to go up and the left to go down). The cams positioned at the lowest point act on the clutch, while those at the top are to claim the extra power. The use of these cams or the extra power button that we had referred to before can be done indistinctly and is a matter of preference.
The steering wheel cannot be bigger, and as there is no room for more functions, the pilots have to access some of them that have been located on the dashboard. Here is the one to dim the screen light at night, the one to adjust the speed of the windshield wiper and the volume of the radio. Also the “N” button, which places the gearbox in the neutral position.