Switches in Sports: Formula 1 Race Car Switches

This is part of a series of stories investigating the use and potential use of switches in sports. 

With the Formula 1 Racing season coming stateside for the Miami Grand Prix on Friday, it’s the perfect time to investigate the many switches in an F1 race car, and there are a lot of them. I watched the race in Italy last weekend and was absolutely blown away by what the commentators seemed to consider a rather boring race. 

There were very few overtakes in Italy due to the race director forbidding DRS due to a wet track that dried up quickly. Since this was my first F1 race, I had no idea what they were talking about, yet I was captivated for two consecutive, commercial-free hours of racing. 

The F1 production team does a great job engaging fans with their cockpit cameras showing the drivers’ views of the racetrack and what they’re doing with those switches on their steering wheels. I found it difficult to look away. Here’s what I learned about the many switches in an F1 race car.

What is DRS?

DRS stands for Drag Reduction System, but the explanation I got from Google seemed to indicate that an entirely different wing that allows air to flow through it would have to be installed by the pit crew on the back of the car. So when it was announced about halfway through the race that DRS would be allowed for drivers within one second of the car in front of them, I expected every car to make a pit stop. But that’s not the case at all. DRS is activated by the driver using a simple switch.

With the touch of a pushbutton switch, a driver can activate adjustable panels on the rear wing that allow air to flow through the wing, reducing drag and increasing top speed to overtake other cars in the race. E-switch has a variety of pushbutton switches that perform this function, like the LP1 illuminated pushbutton switch.

The LP1 Series pushbutton switch is a panel mount illuminated LED switch that looks a lot like some of the switches on the steering wheel of an F1 car. It’s available with multiple illumination color options and a momentary pushbutton function.

The Pit: Communicating and Limiting Speed

Latching functions, like the pushbutton switch that limits an F1 car’s speed in the pit lane, can be performed with other LP Series pushbutton switches, which also come with multiple illumination options. The “talk” button is a pushbutton switch requiring a latching function that allows the driver to convey information about the car to the mechanics so changes can be made. The “neutral” switch, which puts the car in neutral, is another latching switch, but when held for a long enough time, gives the driver a reverse gear.

Engine Modes Galore

There are also many rotary switches on an F1 steering wheel, one of which controls the engine modes. This rotary switch, called the STAT switch, allows the driver to select the engine mode that best suits his or her situation, whether that’s defending against or overtaking other drivers. These options are vast, and the KC Series rotary switch from E-switch provides up to a dozen positions.

The KC Series rotary switches come with three different actuator options in seven different lengths. Bushing options include standard or metric sizes, and contact options include non-shorting, break-before-make or shorting, make-before-break. Terminals are also available in silver or gold.

Ignition

Then there are the toggle switches, one of which is most likely used to turn on the race car’s engine. The ST5 Series high operating temperature toggle switch could fulfill this function in any climate. The operating temperature range for these toggle switches is between -10°C to 125°C, so hot days on the race track are no problem for the ST5. The ST5 also offers 10 different function options, so these switches aren’t limited to turning the engine on and off.

Whatever the F1 function, whether it’s Lewis Hamilton enabling DRS to try and overtake cars in front of him (he never did in Italy) or Max Verstappen defending his pole position (he did for every lap in Italy), E-switch has the switch to do the job. 

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