Differential Settings in Formula 1 Cars

It is not totally uncommon to see drivers fiddling with small buttons on their steering wheel during the course of a race or qualifying session. More often, they do adjustments before some corners. One of the things that they try to do is adjust the differential settings to suit the corner that’s coming up. These settings go a long way in determining the handling of the car. Drivers use the diff, as it is popularly called, to compensate for excess understeer or oversteer that keep varying as the tyre wears out and the track characteristics change.

Basically, it is the amount of ‘lock’ that is changed electronically from the steering wheel. You might know that a differential allows the inside and outside rear wheels to spin at different speeds. This is crucial to the turning of the car into corners. The ‘lock’ determines the speed differential between the inside and outside wheels.

To put it all in a simple way, for more ‘oversteery’ situations, less lock is dialled in. This allows for an increase in the speed differential between the wheels, which in turn allows the outside rear wheel to rotate at a speed which is significantly higher than that of the inside wheel. So, the car will tend to spin out which is what we refer to as oversteer. More amount of lock dialled in, on the other hand, will make the car prone to understeer due to the fact that the car will ‘struggle’ to turn into corners if both of the rear wheels spin at around the same speed.

So, drivers constantly try to arrive at the degree of lock that best suites the condition of the car, track and their driving style.


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