Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Tech Analysis: 2016's single hand starts a return to old-school F1


Formula 1 will be winding back the clock when the red lights go out to start the new season in Australia tomorrow, as Giorgio Piola explains.

As part of an FIA effort to limit the influence of teams over the action out on track, drivers find themselves limited to using just one hand to operate single-paddle clutches.

It marks the latest chapter in a fascinating history of innovation and technical preferences with regarding to getting cars off the grid.

FIA clampdown

Last August, motor racing's governing body outlined the scope of new restrictions that it was introducing in a bid to clamp down on the growth of driver aids in F1.

Part of this included changes to the clutch settings for a race start, with much of this procedure having been managed by clever software systems.

Although there were changes to the clutch bite-point finders introduced from last year's Belgian Grand Prix, the full scope of restrictions have waited until the start of 2016.

The plan that was outlined last August was for drivers to be limited to a single clutch-operating device for the starts – in a bid to move away from the double paddle systems that had aided drivers' standing starts in recent years.

But amid some uncertainty about the exact definition of a 'single' device – especially with the option of keeping double paddles (like the above Ferrari system) in place – the FIA has moved to ensure teams and drivers do not find a way around the restrictions.

Single hand only

In a note sent to teams over the winter, F1 race director Charlie Whiting made clear how the FIA will judge a drivers' control of the clutch at the start of a race.

"Unless a clearly identified fault arises during the start procedure, the driver may only use one hand to operate a single clutch pull-paddle for the start," said Whiting.

"This will however not preclude the fitting of a second pull-paddle but only one may be used for the start itself."

He added: "Where two paddles are fitted, no interaction between them or the association SECU (standard ECU) inputs will be permitted and, furthermore, competitors must be able to demonstrate beyond any doubt that each of the paddles may only be operated with only one hand."

The new restrictions – allied to tough restrictions on clutch bite points – will put a lot more emphasis on drivers for the starts.

It is why so much effort was put in over the recent pre-season testing at Barcelona to practice the starts, with drivers eager to ensure they are fully ready for when the campaign begins in Melbourne.

Paddle-shift history lesson

By Giorgio Piola

Ferrari started the trend for having paddles behind the steering wheel when its 1989 car, the 640, was the first to use a semi-automatic paddle-shift gearbox.

This technical step was such an innovation at the time that Giorgio Piola's drawing below is believed to be his most widely-ever published.

Ferrari 640 steering wheel
Ferrari 640 steering wheel

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The first team to put the clutch on the steering wheel was McLaren in 1994 – but this was only done on Mika Hakkinen's car because he was happy to limit himself to two foot pedals,

Teammate Martin Brundle – and later David Coulthard – retained the three pedal arrangement as he preferred to brake with his right foot (comparison below).

Hakkinen and Coulthard clutch pedals, 1994
Hakkinen and Coulthard clutch pedals

Illustration by: Giorgio Piola

Some drivers, like Heinz-Harald Frentzen at Sauber in 1995, felt comfortable with there being just a single clutch pedal on the wheel.

Frentzen's steering wheel, 1995
Frentzen's steering wheel, 1995

Illustration by: Giorgio Piola

While Jacques Villeneuve had a unique solution on his Williams in 1997, as he elected to have his clutch on the left paddle, and gearshift selection done entirely by his right hand: pulling towards him to change up a gear and pushing away from him to change down.

Villeneuve's steering wheel, 1997
Villeneuve's steering wheel, 1997

Illustration by: Giorgio Piola

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis
Topic Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis