What is the Mercedes magic button and what does it do?

Lewis Hamilton threw away a potential Formula 1 victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix by accidentally pressing a "magic" button on his steering wheel. Here is what that magic brake setting actually does.

What is the Mercedes magic button and what does it do?

Hamilton lost the chance to fight for the win and the opportunity to regain the lead of the F1 drivers’ championship at the Baku restart after a dramatic Turn 1 lock-up.

Just moments after surging to the front for the two-lap restart triggered by Max Verstappen’s crash, Hamilton’s front tyres locked up as he hit the brakes and he skated down the escape road.

After trailing home at the back of the field, Hamilton immediately told his team that he suspected what had caused the drama: the famous Mercedes ‘brake magic’.

He said over team radio: "Did I leave the magic on? I could have sworn I turned that off."

So what is this magic setting and what exactly does it do?

The magic button

We’ve heard it referred to over the radio on many occasions, sometimes as a ‘magic paddle’, and George Russell last year talked about needing to hit the ‘magic button’ during his one-off appearance at the Sakhir GP.

‘Brake magic’ is actually a button on the rear of the steering wheel that is a very clever tool to help drivers generate heat quickly for the front tyres.

When F1 moved to the hybrid power units in 2014, it did so knowing that the braking system would need to be overhauled too. For there needed to be more electronic assistance for brake balance, given the extra onus on energy recovery via the MGU-K.

 

As a consequence, teams had to get used to using a brake-by-wire system (above), with separate maps created within the software to manage the front to rear brake balance, whilst also considering the prevailing level of harvesting being conducted by the MGU-K.

Whereas brake bias used to be controlled by a manual lever inside the cockpit, it’s a process that’s been shifted on to the steering wheel via control settings.

This requires the driver to select increments on dials along the bottom edge, which you’ll often see flash up on the steering wheel’s display when FOM is using the onboard shots.

Mercedes W12 steering wheel detail

Mercedes W12 steering wheel detail

Photo by: Mercedes AMG

The driver has a few tools at their disposal in this regard, with a rotary and two buttons used on the Mercedes wheel for brake balance, and another rotary to select the amount of engine braking.

Mercedes W12 steering wheel

Mercedes W12 steering wheel

Photo by: Mercedes AMG

The magic button is an override setting though, and hitting it sends the brake bias much further forward than you’d ever use under normal race conditions.

It shifts the brake balance to around 90% of the front axle, whereas typically a driver would select between 55-60% during normal use. Once in play, the magic setting also prevents MGU-K from recovering energy.

It is activated as a way of transferring more of the heat generated by the brakes into the tyres, in order that they come into their working range quicker than if a normal setting was used.

Read Also:

In Hamilton’s case, he opted to use the brake magic function on the formation lap before the standing restart in order to heat the front tyres.

His success in having heated up the brakes (and tyres) was obvious by the way we saw the brakes smoking so much as he waited for the grid to form up behind him.

Once in his grid slot, Hamilton will have deactivated the brake magic function via the controls on the wheel and then set about preparing for the restart.

However, during the start, as he steered away from Sergio Perez in the run to Turn 1 he accidentally hit the ‘magic’ button – engaging the brake bias override.

This moved the brake balance forward and caused him to snatch the brakes into Turn 1, before sailing past the apex into the run-off area and effectively ending his chances of scoring points.

Mercedes’ post-race investigation will look into how Hamilton was able to reactivate the magic setting, and that will potentially prompt tweaks to its steering wheel controls or software settings to ensure it cannot happen again.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, locks up at the restart

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, locks up at the restart

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

shares
comments

Related video

Vettel hopes Aston Martin can carry F1 momentum after "rough start"

Previous article

Vettel hopes Aston Martin can carry F1 momentum after "rough start"

Next article

10 things we learned from F1's 2021 Azerbaijan GP

10 things we learned from F1's 2021 Azerbaijan GP
Load comments
The ‘screaming’ F1 engine future that may not be out of reach Plus

The ‘screaming’ F1 engine future that may not be out of reach

OPINION: It wasn't just the Verstappen/Hamilton clash that had the Red Bull and Mercedes bosses at loggerheads at Silverstone, with the nature of Formula 1's 2025 engines also subject for disagreement. But hopes to have loud, emotive engines that are also environmentally friendly don't have to be opposed

Formula 1
Jul 29, 2021
The drivers that need to strike gold before F1's summer break Plus

The drivers that need to strike gold before F1's summer break

OPINION: Formula 1 is about to break up for summer 2021, with the title battles finely poised. But it’s not just the latest round of Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton that will be worth watching this weekend in Hungary, as plenty of drivers are eying big results to change the stories of their seasons so far

Formula 1
Jul 28, 2021
How Lotus F1 uncovered, then squandered its last ‘unfair advantage’ Plus

How Lotus F1 uncovered, then squandered its last ‘unfair advantage’

Cast in the mould of its founder Colin Chapman, Lotus was powerful and daring but 
flawed – as it proved through further soaring peaks and painful troughs into the 1980s. DAMIEN SMITH examines a game-changing era

Formula 1
Jul 27, 2021
The core problems Yas Marina’s long-awaited tweaks won't address Plus

The core problems Yas Marina’s long-awaited tweaks won't address

OPINION: Changes to the layout of Abu Dhabi’s circuit aim to reverse the trend of insipid Formula 1 races there - the promoter has even described one of the new corners as “iconic”. And that, argues STUART CODLING, is one of this venue’s abiding failings

Formula 1
Jul 26, 2021
How Ferrari offered Britain's next F1 prospect what Red Bull couldn't Plus

How Ferrari offered Britain's next F1 prospect what Red Bull couldn't

Last year's Formula 2 runner-up Callum Ilott could be on his way to becoming the first Briton to contest a grand prix in an Alfa Romeo since Reg Parnell in 1950. But, says OLEG KARPOV, the Ferrari Driver Academy protege is having to temper his ambition at the moment – outwardly at least…

Formula 1
Jul 25, 2021
The signs that point to F1's rude health Plus

The signs that point to F1's rude health

OPINION: Formula 1's calendar might still be facing disruption as the pandemic affects travel but, says MARK GALLAGHER, the business itself is fundamentally strong thanks to the epic rivalry taking place on track and the consistent arrival of new sponsors

Formula 1
Jul 24, 2021
The unexpected benefit of F1’s sprint race repeat Plus

The unexpected benefit of F1’s sprint race repeat

OPINION: Formula 1's sprint race trial at Silverstone drew mixed feedback on Saturday, but there remained the true test of how it would impact Sunday's Grand Prix. While fans were busy marvelling at Fernando Alonso's progress, a key lesson was being learned that would directly contribute to the dramatic lap one clash at Copse the following day

Formula 1
Jul 22, 2021
The off-track considerations that led to F1’s Hamilton/Verstappen Silverstone shunt Plus

The off-track considerations that led to F1’s Hamilton/Verstappen Silverstone shunt

OPINION: Formula 1’s 2021 title fight turned ugly last weekend when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided at the start of the British Grand Prix. Verstappen thankfully walked away unharmed, but this had been a clash long-since coming

Formula 1
Jul 21, 2021