All the most important buttons explained.
Have you ever wondered what all the buttons on an F1 steering wheel do? Wonder no longer, as the latest episode of the F1 Explains podcast has done a deep dive on the topic. The regular hosts of the show, Katie Osborne and Christian Hewgill, were joined by Jose Manuel Lopez (principal race engineer at McLaren) and Jolyon Palmer (former GP2 champion and Renault F1 driver) to explain how it all works.
A steering wheel was once just for turning, but thanks to the setup of the current hybrid V6 engines, complex aerodynamics, diagnostics tools, and open-line communication, modern F1 wheels have more buttons than the center console of a '90s Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
We're going to keep this concise, as we don't want to steal Lopez and Palmer's thunder. We'll start with a basic visual comparison between the Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19's steering wheel and the wheel you'll find in the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse. The third image below is of the RB7's steering wheel to show how much has changed from the screaming V8 to the hybrid era.
As you can see, the Ford's steering wheel is already loaded, but it's nothing compared to the RB19's many functions. The layout also changes yearly, as shown in the image block below. It shows the current layout compared to the wheel used in 2018.
We'll cover the most basic functions a racer uses during a race. The designs of the wheels might differ, and the names of the buttons may differ, but they all have the same basic functions.
We'll start with the most important functions first. There are shift lights located above the screen, while the shift paddles and clutch are located on the back. The screen is there so Max Verstappen can watch Netflix when he's 30 seconds ahead of the pack. The drivers get access to the most critical information, but oddly, not speed.
Mercedes-Benz also shared an interesting breakdown of its steering wheel a while ago, showing what most controls do.
Below the screen are three rotary switches. The center one controls various functions and in-car settings like the volume of the radio or the screen's brightness. To the left, you have the power modes programmed before the race. That's what the race engineer refers to when they ask a driver to change to strat five, for example. The HPP dial to the right changes the hybrid settings. As you might know, an F1 engine is a complex power unit, as explained in the 2026 regulations. Expect even more buttons to be added once Red Bull starts using Ford-developed power units using 50% electricity.
To the left of the screen, we have the severity of the engine braking or, rather, the strength of the regenerative harvesting. To the right, we have the brake balance setup, controlling the braking bias of the car. The buttons marked +1 and x10 allow the drivers to make adjustments in either small or larger increments. The orange PL button is essential because it holds the car within the pit lane speed limit.
The PC button is not there to keep drivers from getting canceled; drivers press this button to confirm that they're coming in to pit. The talk button allows Verstappen to swear at Lambiase, and the mark button is important because it red flags a specific stamp in the telemetry. Drivers usually use this button to let the engineers know they want to discuss something the car was doing at a particular point during the race. The large N on the wheel is neutral and is separated from the other gear functions operated by the paddles to prevent accidental selection.
The interesting thing about the Red Bull wheel is the lack of an obvious DRS button. On most F1 steering wheels, it's a large red button, but it's not on RBR's wheel. F1 is known for secrecy, so not every feature is explained, even in Merc's illustration. RBR's activator is likely behind the wheel.
If you want even more insight, former F1 driver Romain Grosjean's explanation below is even more comprehensive, detailing shortcut, charge, and puncture buttons, and more.