Steering wheels have become vastly more complicated in recent years. But racing demands simplicity.
As a sports car manufacturer with a long, proud history in motorsports, Porsche has always enjoyed an elevated level of technology transfer between its road and race cars. For the marque, racing has long been the means to uncover potential shortcomings in its vehicles, so that they can be dialed out promptly.
As the esteemed Ferdinand "Ferry" Porsche put it: "The extreme demands we face on the racetrack very quickly highlight any weak points and encourage engineers to look for new and better solutions."
That tradition carries on into the modern day, with Porsche drawing heavily from its racing experiences and the expertise of its works drivers to create efficient and ergonomic steering wheel controls fit for a Le Mans racer.
If you've ever seen a modern race car's steering wheel, you know that there's an abundance of controls - knobs, buttons, switches, and the like, affecting countless parameters. The latest Porsche 911 RSR has a total of 30 steering wheel functions.
Yet amazingly, as recently as 1999, Porsche race cars had no buttons or other controls on the steering. When Porsche did start adding wheel controls on its race cars, layout was hardly a concern, but as the controls continued to multiply, and works drivers were made to navigate them at racing speed, optimizing the configuration became a crucial part of Porsche's steering wheel development process.
Today, works drivers like Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas are involved in Porsche's race car steering wheel development from the very beginning. "Not only does [the wheel] have to be intuitive to operate, but it also has to flow with as little physical exertion as possible," explains works driver Matt Campbell. "That's always the goal when working on a new steering wheel layout."
You can see Porsche's expertise in practice in the new Porsche 911 GT3 R - the hardcore racing version of the marque's road-going 911 GT3 RS. It looks like a racing wheel through and through, with a figure-eight-like shape more akin to a flight yoke than a conventional steering wheel, exposed carbon-fiber weave, and two tidy, ergonomic rows of multi-colored buttons.
Of course, you and I will likely never get the chance to try the wheel out for ourselves, but the sort of practical design thinking and motorsports-informed mentality behind its development - those are features of every Porsche.