Rotational Steering (also known as Crossed-hand)
If you asked any Formula 1 driver which method he uses to hold the steering wheel, he would stare at you for a very long time. It would never occur to him, or any other professional racing driver, to control a car in any way other than this: your hands grip the wheel in a fixed position, opposite one another, at a quarter to three on the wheel face, where they have best leverage. Your thumbs latch over the top of the wheel spokes for added grip, unless you’re Jean Alesi, who used to hold the wheel further up to match his aggressive driving style.
Rather than changing your grip position to pass the wheel from one hand to the other, you just turn the wheel and allow your arms to cross over. Your hands balance each other, keeping the wheel steady over bumps, potholes and other forces that might act on it.
With both hands on, you have far better control if the car slides or pitches. Most crucially, by keeping your place on the wheel at all times, your brain registers precisely how much steering has been applied. This provides a physical cue when the front tyres are starting to skid.
It also means that unwinding the wheel couldn’t be easier or smoother. As we shall see later, straightening the steering is essential if the rear tyres skid.
To negotiate especially tight corners and hairpin bends, you release the lower hand and carry on turning with the uppermost arm, repositioning the other hand as required. It balances the weight on the steering wheel equally to create a single graceful turn rather than a sequence of clunky shuffles. As with so much in driving, less is more
A study by the Department for Transport examined how the two techniques performed in terms of matching the steering to a visual target. It concluded that ‘drivers who used the crossed-hand technique significantly improved their time-on-target as compared with drivers who used push–pull’ and their performance improved more over time. The study theorized that rotational steering is probably a more natural way to drive, and advantageous when sudden steering corrections are required.
It is no coincidence this is the technique used by racing drivers worldwide. We use it because it works. And as much as I tease my friends in blue, many constabularies are starting to teach the ‘new’ method. As for the diehards out there, I eagerly await your emails.
When you hold the wheel, slightly spread your fingers so that you can feel the feedback from the road. By enhancing your sensitivity, you can learn to read beyond the vibration and tune into the slightest changes in grip via the weight of the steering.
After all that wheel-work you probably think the steering actually turns the car. As with any good story, there’s a twist because it doesn’t, the tyres do.