Drivers, be sporty: twiddle the knobs

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ferrari_f60_steering_wheelF1 cars have the most amazing steering wheels, packed with buttons, knobs and paddles. How drivers mastermind it all in the fuzz of a Grand Prix is beyond me.

In a road car, if you press station seek instead of volume down on the M40 GP, it doesn’t really matter. Accidentally unlock the diff instead of tweaking the mixture in an F1 car and it’s almost certain to hurt you (if not on the track, then back in the pit garage: the team will notice…).

They’re F1 drivers for a reason, though: they’re better than us. Look at someone like Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher on a hot lap and marvel at how much they’re playing around with the various parameters, all to eek out extra hundredths here and there.

All this in-race knob-twiddling when you sense they’d much rather be holding onto the steering wheel – they accept it: so, why don’t we?

The thought struck me today, while driving a BMW 7 Series sporting the firm’s Driving Experience Control switch. Bit soft and sloppy, I thought – then sighed, as I knew it would require a few button-jabs to put right. Then some more manual work with the gearlever, to stop the 8-speed from shifting down. And then, back in town, I’d have to turn it all back down again.

Oh, what a chore.

F1 drivers didn’t used to do all that button-jabbing stuff, because cars weren’t smart enough to allow it. They do now, though.

And then F1 came into my head. They didn’t used to do all that button-jabbing stuff, because cars weren’t smart enough to allow it (admire a naked Senna Toleman steering wheel below). They made do. They are now, though – just like our road cars allow us fine control over all sort of fields too.

So does this mean that road car drivers should accept and embrace the need for user input, just as F1 drivers have? Indeed, does it mean that sporty driving demands you set the car up beforehand, to ensure it’s optimised? Is pressing buttons an essential?

Well, I’ve come round: yes, it is. A combination of electronics and more mainstream adaptive suspension systems means auto engineers are introducing more adaptability into today’s cars. From the Fiat City button to the ubiquitous ‘Sport’ mode to the multi-mode BMW M configurability, modern car allow multi-mode use and manufacturers are letting us deploy this.

Traditionalists mutter and grumble that a car should be right from the box, in all situations, and shouldn’t need a helping hand from the driver. Old cars didn’t need such massaging, they argue, conveniently forgetting that a 205 GTI was a kangarooing nightmare in town and a Mercedes 190 Evo II was a bucking nightmare on a motorway.

Don’t drive your heroes, we’re told: that’s right in one sense, because the compromises are all too clear –  and it’s mitigating them that today’s multi-mode cars excel at.

Now I get it. Now I’ll press the buttons, with relish. If I want comfort, it’ll be in comfort. If I want sport, press the button I will. A better car will be the result.

F1 racing is apparently the epitome of sporting driving. If those motorsport legends are constantly jabbing at the steering wheel to optimise the car, then shouldn’t we, too?

Share your thoughts below: to press or not to press?

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