People occasionally ask me why I’m not a fan of contemporary formula racing. I usually start by boring them to tears with tales of the 2005 USGP fiasco and my long drive home from that event, swearing off Formula 1 again and again with each passing mile. But when I look at this photo of a contemporary Formula 1 steering wheel it does a much better job than I could of communicating my real reason.

I admire Formula 1 engineers and aerodynamicists. They have pushed the automobile to the absolute limits of technology. I just think they may have pushed beyond the limits of what an automobile is. This steering wheel doesn’t control a car. A spacecraft; a fighter jet; a robot, maybe. But not a car.

I spend most of my workday at a computer. I click buttons all day. I like buttons. And I know that I sound much older than I am when I say that I do not look forward to these technologies making their way to road cars. I just don’t want to push any more buttons.

I want to feel the hint of tension in my calf when I push the clutch in. I want to feel the gratifying clunk of the shifter when I pull into second. I want to hear the clack of the gears connecting as I pop the clutch. I want to feel it, to smell it, to taste it. I want driving to remain a tactile, physical experience.

Of course I realize that Formula 1 drivers have no ends to the physical sensations that they receive from their machines when they’re racing, but will daily commuters have any sensation when this tech comes to the road?

There. There’s my rant. I try to keep them to a minumum.

6 responses to “Inputs”

  1. Jonny says:

    Working with classic sports cars and modern sports/super cars on a daily basis I agree with you 110%. Modern cars are so clinical and smooth (it sounds odd not to like smooth cars I know).

    When you use a modern ‘Sport’ paddle shift its just so uninvolved and lifeless like playing an Xbox, Keep your foot down and click, click, click and then change down lift off click, click, click. The first time I drove one I thought it would be brilliant, needless to say I got bored and the novelty wore of by the time I got to 4th gear.

    Where as a classic car you have the movement in your arm, leg and body when changing gear its not just a click of a button but a blip of the throttle, depression of the clutch and clunk, clunk of the gear stick along with the satisfaction of matching the revs and synchronising all of the above. Then there’s the pleasure you get from heel and toeing and driving cars with no synchromesh, having to double declutch.

    I could go on forever about the subject but just wanted to share my thoughts and experiences.

  2. LeMadChef says:

    Good News! You won’t be pushing those buttons in your car – a computer can push and adjust them for you much more rapidly and with much greater precision than you can. As a matter of fact, you won’t be manipulating those controls at all due to the fact that we will have self-driving cars here in the next few (10?) years.

    Time to build a LoCost!

  3. Heath says:

    Totally agree.
    When I’m driving my TR4 I feel like a driver.
    When I’m driving my Mazda 3 I feel like a passenger.

  4. All of those controls on the wheel are adjustments for things that modern street cars do automatically – the tech is already in place and it has been decided that Joe and Jenny driver have no business adjusting ignition mappings, hybrid drivetrain harvesting parameters, differential settings, fly by wire throttle curves, ect. I think laying the blame for cushy, bland, non-engaging street cars at the foot of Formula cars is somewhat misguided. Street cars are they way they are because a majority of people just want a reliable driving appliance rather than to be troubled with shifting a gearbox themselves. Unfortunately we who crave a connection with the machine are in the minority. There are many ways those of us so inclined can indulge our passion. Driving a 15 year BMW (5 speed of course) is one way. Of course there are many many other vintageish options out there across the cost spectrum. If you really want to feel the man-machine interface in the most pure unadulterated freebase form – drive a shifter kart. Sitting in a thin fiberglass seat with no seat belt, pulsating fuel lines routed all around you, snicking through the gears with the feel of a bolt action rifle in order to keep the 40 hp vibration monster under your right arm in its happy spot, 2 G acceleration in any direction available with a mere thought… That my friend is tactile.

  5. Mike Jacobsen says:

    I’d still like to drive one–maybe just once. As for the relation to street cars, if we get “self-driving” cars I want none of it. For one thing, it makes no sense. We already have long distance trains and subways in metro areas; having a car programmed to take you where you want to go is a very, very wasteful way to go. Many worry about the future of the automobile; well, it has been apparent for many years that it will become a plaything just like the horse has been for a century. With a continued increase in population, a decrease in all kinds of resources that provide power, it is inevitable that we will rely on mass transit and we should be investing in it now and not trying to save the individual car. Electric cars are not the answer–the power must come from somewhere and our electric producing grid is already breaking down. Ethanol is not the answer, for we will need all that farming to feed us not our cars! Savor driving the way you like it now and prepare for a less exciting transportation future! MJ

  6. Can’t complain about the e.c.u. that manages the fuel injection in my 2009 Honda Civic Si. But I love moving the gear lever too.

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