Fanatec Podium Racing Wheel F1 review: The best console steering wheel ever!

 At the end of 2019, the German accessories manufacturer Endor put out its feelers in the direct drive segment, which was still experimental at the time. That's why the PS4 logo is still emblazoned on the packaging of the current premium steering wheel from the Fanatec brand, even if the piece of jewelery does its job without a murmur on the PS5. Due to some firmware fiddling, it took a good year and a half for the Podium Racing Wheel F1 to reach the quality standard we had hoped for, but now everything is fine. In this review, we'll reveal to you why direct drive technology effortlessly ascends the console throne, which cheaper alternatives are open to you, and what you have to do to enjoy it as an Xbox gamer.

When I told a colleague about the proud price of this direct drive steering wheel of 1799 euros, he first raised his eyebrows as if to pay tribute to Mr. Spock. In the roar of laughter that followed, he snorted that he had just put 500 euros on the table for his entire used Opel Corsa, and that even a steering wheel would have been included in the scope of delivery. Haha. Very funny. Really great. 

Fanatec Podium Racing Wheel F1 review

His ridicule is not unjustified. Yes, the Podium Racing Wheel F1 amazing device is an with its advanced direct drive technology, consisting of a wheel base, a Formula 1 branded premium steering wheel rim and preassembled special paddle shifters including an analog clutch. In every respect it is undoubtedly the best console steering wheel on the market and degrades all models of the competition with its e-sports-compatible torque to a toy.

The built-in technology makes you, without exaggeration, better virtual racing pilots. But at this purchase price you have to swallow first. Especially when you consider that the bundle does not come with any pedals. For the cheapest pedal set from Fanatec there is another 80 euros on top. But this steering wheel is definitely worth the money. Why this is so will be discussed in the course of this test, but first it must be clarified who can use this steering wheel at all.

PlayStation or Xbox? Both, but it's complicated ...

1799 euros sounds overwhelming at first, but it is a bundle price that not everyone has to spend. Only PlayStation disciples have to bite the bullet if interested, while PC and Xbox users get away cheaper. This is due to Sony's strict regulations, because Sony specifies that the identification chips for PlayStation devices must be installed exclusively. An Xbox chip must not be built into a Sony controller at the same time. That is why the competitors Logitech and Thrustmaster always publish two versions of their steering wheels - one model for PlayStation, one for the Xbox family.

It works differently with Fanatec steering wheels. In order to also be able to operate multi-console devices, the hardware professional Endor uses a trick: He always only installs PlayStation chips in the wheel base of a PS-compatible Fanatec steering wheel, i.e. in the main device in which the motor is located. Xbox chips, on the other hand, are found in some (but not all) additionally available steering wheel rings. Ergo: If you put an Xbox steering wheel rim on a PlayStation wheelbase, the assembled steering wheel works with both console families (and with Windows PCs anyway).

But how do the 1799 euros come about? According to Endor employees, this is a policy issue on the part of Sony. The Japanese cannot plug the loophole used in the regulations, because from a legal point of view, the modular steering wheel parts are about two different devices. In order to make the use of a Sony-licensed steering wheel on an Xbox as unattractive as possible, Endor was asked to put together a comprehensive package that is not Xbox-compatible in the delivery state. In other words: The steering wheel rim included does not contain an Xbox chip. If you peel this steering wheel out of its (very elegantly designed) box, you can only use it with a PC and a PS4 / PS5. If you still have ambitions to use it on an Xbox, you have to spend at least 100 euros for a second, Xbox-compatible steering wheel rim, if you haven't already had one. 

Fanatec Podium Racing Wheel F1 review

“Objection!” I can already hear you shouting, “It was said earlier that Xbox and PC gamers would get away with it cheaper!” Yes, that's true, because if you can do without the PlayStation functionality, then you don't need this bundle. In that case, you simply buy the standard wheelbase of the same model, called the Fanatec DD1 , and get it for 1199 euros. Not little money either, especially since neither steering wheel rim nor pedals are included, but at least you have the freedom to choose which accessories you want to buy. An alternative would also be to purchase the slimmed-down and, at just under 350 euros, significantly cheaper model called the CSL DD . We will only be discussing this model in a separate test soon, as it is about the same technology with a more beginner-friendly overall price and reduced performance.

Why Direct Drive makes you better drivers

Let's get to the heart of the matter: What is this Direct Drive anyway and what makes it so special? Quite simply: It's about the built-in motor that generates the force feedback. Typical steering wheels of the last 20 years passed their force feedback on to the player in two ways, namely by gear transmission or by belt transmission. Both variants use a translation method to transfer the power from the actual motor to the steering wheel. This means that both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Gear drives work quickly, but are stiff and generate a lot of friction. Steering does not feel smooth and easy. That is why until recently belt drives were seen as a better alternative, because they were easier to control, even if their power transmission tends to swallow a few details and comes along with a slight delay.

Direct-drive steering wheels combine the advantages of both variants and add a few more shovels. They are unbeatably responsive, allow a smooth, smooth power transmission and are also a lot stronger. Why? Because they no longer need a translation. The motor turns the central bearing of the steering wheel directly - hence the name Direct Drive. Another advantage is obvious: Without a secondary transmission, no nuances in power transmission are lost on the way to the steering wheel. Every movement of the motor is implemented instantly, so that all signals from the virtual vehicle reach your hands and arms without further ado. However, this is only possible through the use of an industrial engine.

Why is it all so important? Well, Force Feedback simulates the difficult turning or even locking of the handlebars that would occur in a real racing car due to the frictional forces of the tires. Really good force feedback gives you, in addition to the general condition of the ground, such a fine feeling for the vehicle that you can instantly feel when the car is about to lose grip. So it says the theory. The problem with the story is that most of the steering wheels are way too weak for that.

Standard steering wheels from Logitech or Thrustmaster work with a maximum torque of around two Newton meters. Some also with up to four - depending on the model. That is hardly enough to create any noticeable resistance at all. Even Fanatec's earlier CSL top model with belt drive “only” reached a maximum of 5.5 Newton meters. The DD1 wheelbase, which is used in the Podium Racing Wheel F1 tested here, works with an impressive 20 Newton meters of torque, or no less than 15 Newton meters of holding torque at maximum load.

Fanatec Podium Racing Wheel F1 review

 
Anyone who thinks that this increased power simply makes steering difficult in curves is totally wrong. Just as a well-balanced V8 engine not only shows more power at 200 km / h, but also enables smoother, more even acceleration in first gear, the 20NM of this steering wheel transmit the finer nuances in force feedback better and more credibly. The most important point has already been touched on: you can clearly feel the moment when the virtual car is about to lose its grip, and you can therefore push it to its limits more reliably. Which, by the way, is also beneficial for drift fans. The threshold before the transition to the loss of grip is now so hard that you can only drift by consciously and forcefully turning further. If you set the drift tolerance to hard in the options, then the steering wheel locks so mercilessly that you would have to crank like Hercules to ignore the signals from the car.

This is exactly why it is advisable to screw the wheelbase firmly to a rig. In the Fanatec store you can definitely find a suitable table clamp, but given the high forces and the 16 kg weight, you can put a lot of strain on thin desks, especially since the format of 53.5cm x 35cm x 31cm would require a deep desk.

Equipped for all eventualities

A full 20NM is rarely used. You can determine the maximum amount of power that is transmitted using the fine adjustments on the steering wheel, which you can save in five profiles. For example, if you want to save electricity or have the feeling after every race that you have just come out of the gym, you can lower the basic amount of effort with just a few inputs directly on the steering wheel. The actual torque value also depends on the play used. GT3 cars, such as those found in Assetto Corsa Competizione, Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport or iRacing, are much more difficult to steer than a Formula 1 speedster, which the respective games usually automatically take into account.

Experimenting with the forces is possible at any time. Even better than any other Fanatec steering wheel before, because the Wheelbase has a small built-in OLED screen measuring 7 x 2 centimeters, on which you can not only set values ​​such as force, drift tolerance, maximum steering wheel rotation, suspension and more, but can also use a graphical evaluation to analyze in real time how strong these settings are in practice. If you don't want to go to this trouble, simply connect the steering wheel to a PC and use the free “Fanalab” app, which transfers suggestions from the manufacturer or the official community to the steering wheel at the push of a button. If desired, even automatically when a recognized PC racing game starts.

Speaking of features: In addition to the aforementioned mini OLED screen, the Podium Racing Wheel F1 (or the identical DD1 wheelbase for PC and Xbox) has a lot of fine luxury features. Starting with a very quiet active ventilation at the rear end of the device, which is inaudible during normal operation. It only turns at full speed for a few moments in the event of extreme loads due to continuous use to keep the engine cool - or when installing new firmware. Both are exceptional cases.

In addition, the device has eight RJ12 ports on the back, which enable the connection of additional devices. Including a set of pedals, two gear sticks used at the same time (e.g. a sequential and an H gearshift) and a handbrake. But there are also barriers such as additional telemetry displays, an emergency shutdown (kill switch) and a data dongle that enables the high torque. If you do not plug the supplied dongle into the associated port, the maximum torque force shrinks to around nine Newton meters. This is not a bug, but a feature in case you want to let weak people like children on your steering wheel, who could injure themselves with maximum strength.

Fanatec Podium Racing Wheel F1 review

  
With so much luxury, one wonders why the tiny power button was attached to the back of the device. It can be felt, but it is not exactly easy to reach. In addition, the mode button that was found on earlier Fanatec steering wheels is missing. If you want to switch between the functional modes for PlayStation, Xbox or PC, you have to do this using a button on the steering wheel rim (press the share button and triangle at the same time). This is reminiscent of very early Fanatec models that are no longer available today. Not a big deal, but with a purchase price of 1799 euros, a small fashion button wouldn't be asking too much.

In a bundle: steering wheel rim and 3-way shift pedals

As already mentioned, the intimidating total price of the Podium Racing Wheel F1 comes from the lacing of a luxury bundle of wheelbase, Formula 1 steering wheel rim and pre-installed special paddle shifters.

The steering wheel rim is an exclusive PlayStation version of the “Clubsport Steering Wheel Formula V2.5”, which costs 369 euros as an (Xbox-compatible) item in the Fanatec store. Since we have exactly this steering wheel rim, we were able to compare the two variants and put the Xbox suitability of the wheel base through its paces. There were no differences in handling.

The PlayStation version of the steering wheel rim, which is included in this bundle, is not suitable for Xbox and also has a color scheme that takes getting used to. Alcantara handles in strong PlayStation blue are something nice, but the yellow shades for buttons and knobs don't really go with it. A matter of taste, said the monkey, and bit into the soap.

In all other aspects it corresponds to the standard version of the accessories mentioned and makes an excellent control unit for Formula 1 and GT games. Rev lights, flag LEDs and a mini LED screen for statistics such as the gear engaged or km / h display bring useful telemetry into view. The rim is only completely unsuitable for rally games - for Dirt 2.0 and the like, you should buy a round steering wheel rim so that you can make full 180-degree turns without knotting your arms.

But back to the F1 wreath: it measures 27 centimeters in width, its supporting plate is made of fine carbon and the number of buttons, knobs and dials is more than sufficient for every game. For example, you can use the rotary control to change the brake differential at thumb height - right in the middle of the race. It's just a shame that these cogs are just a tad too easy. As you get used to the layout of the wreath, you sometimes turn them randomly (e.g. when changing your grip).

It is noticeable, however, that the contacts of the quick-release connection seem to be a little more sensitive than those of the Xbox-compatible standard version that we included for the test. When it was clamped to the base, the blue-yellow PS ring refused to couple if the alignment was not exactly horizontal. The standard model is a little more generous.

On the other hand, we have absolutely nothing to complain about the easily accessible and extremely practical 3-way switch paddles (Podium Advanced Paddle Module), which you normally have to purchase separately as an additional device for 179 euros, but were preinstalled in this bundle instead of the standard paddles. The switching paths are super-fast and jagged, as their mechanics are not based on springs but on magnets.

Fanatec Podium Racing Wheel F1 review

 
Virtual Formula 1 drivers instantly fall in love with the analog clutch paddles on the underside, as they are operated in the same way as in a real Formula 1 vehicle. The small rockers above the switch wings, on the other hand, can be freely assigned or special functions can be used. See, for example, Gran Turismo Sport, where they are used for the use of the turn signals. Why do you need turn signals on the racetrack, you ask. Tia, not everyone knows that, but on Open Track Days (for example on the Nürburgring) you signal with the blinker that you are giving an approaching man behind you space to overtake.

Advantages and disadvantages compared to the PC competition

Although this test classifies the Podium Racing Wheel F1 as a console steering wheel (after all, it is officially licensed for use on PlayStation 4 and 5), it is not completely out of the competition in terms of direct drive technology. After all, it can also be used on the PC, and there are quite a few competitors who work with similar methods. Even in-house, because the DD1 is the little brother of the even more expensive DD2 wheel, which comes with an even stronger 25NM torque.

But only by the way. More important is how well the DD1 or the Podium Racing Wheel F1 performs in comparison with leading PC models from the SimCube or Simagic brands. In a nutshell: very good, but a few nuances are still missing for the crown.

The biggest advantage is the plug-and-play friendliness of the Fanatec models. While PC competitors separate the motor, control unit and other components from each other (sometimes including separate power supplies), which causes a huge mess of cables for some manufacturers, you can find everything under one hood with Direct Drive Wheels from the Fanatec brand. A single USB cable connects the device to the PC (or console), while pedals, shifters and so on are connected to the Wheel Base. A large 480 watt power supply (which usually draws less than 200 watts) feeds everything together. Elaborate configurations are not necessary. Plug in the USB cable, switch on, and off you go.

Incidentally, this also applies to the steering wheel rims. The proven quick-release contact piece between the base and the steering wheel rim contains all the necessary connections for power supply and telemetry data. When driving, there is no additional ring cable dangling from the warehouse.

In terms of performance, neither the DD1 nor the DD2 Wheelbase need to hide behind the acclaimed Simcube competition. They are very comparable, but Fanatec draws the short straw when it comes to driving experience. Despite Direct Drive, the DD1 (including the Podium Racing Wheel F1) gives a slight feeling of friction when turning and during force feedback initialization. This is because Fanatec does not use a servo motor, but an external rotor motor that works a little more coarsely.

This feeling of friction was considerably worse in the early stages of development and was noticeably reduced with several firmware updates over the past 18 months, but it hasn't gone away. Don't worry, in the heat of the action on a track it won't be noticed at all. But probably when the car is at a standstill or when you take a leisurely stroll in a low gear, for example in open-world sessions by Forza Horizon, when you crawl the game world for barns at crawling speed. This perceived friction is minimal, so nothing that would permanently impair the fun of the game, but racing fans who only drive on the PC will find a "softer" alternative with the Simcube models.

Conclusion

Despite the high purchase price, which should deter many interested parties, I can hardly keep my enthusiasm for this piece of hardware in check. The Podium Racing Wheel F1 is no longer brand new on the market, but thanks to constant firmware updates, all doubts about the price-performance ratio have long since disappeared, so that a recommendation seems overdue. All parts of this bundle are high quality and worth their price. Multi-console fans (and pure PlayStation disciples) with high racing ambitions should think twice about whether they want to do without this noble piece of hardware. Anyone who has more than one system and does not want to have several steering wheels ready has (for the time being) no better alternative anyway.

Without exaggeration: the extremely strong and responsive direct drive technology makes you better drivers, as you can no longer misinterpret or even ignore the force feedback signals, which happens all too easily with standard steering wheels. Aside from a minimally noticeable friction that you won't even notice in heated races, the driving experience is simply brilliant and unrivaled in the console sector. You can hear every bump on your hands, no matter how small, and you are immediately made aware of any change in tire grip. Without delay, without swallowing the effect through mechanical translation. In contrast, every other console steering wheel is just a toy! Those who only play on the PC, on the other hand, have various, sometimes even better, albeit less user-friendly alternatives with a similar price structure.

Before you offer your kidney on the black market or impose your firstborn on the Rumpelstiltskin, you should consider a few alternatives. If you are a pure Xbox and / or PC player who can do without the PlayStation functionality, you will find a cheaper variant with more price flexibility in the equipment in the structurally identical DD1 wheel base from Fanatec. In addition, there is a slimmed-down model called the CSL DD at a much more beginner-friendly price, as Fanatec is now converting its entire repertoire to Direct Drive. The cute little CSL DD is based on the same technology, but is noticeably weaker. With the (optional, but probably indispensable) boost kit, "only" eight Newton meters of torque come up. However, there is currently no model that works with the PlayStation. Such is not even announced, but merely promised by the developers and could possibly appear at the same time as Gran Turismo 7. So it might be worth the wait. More on this soon in a separate review on the CSL DD. Those who can afford it and have virtual gasoline in their blood should reach for the more expensive, but considerably more powerful Podium Racing Wheel F1 or the DD1. There won't be anything comparable or even better in the console sector anytime soon.

Pro

  • Driving experience from another planet
  • 20 Newton meters of torque
  • responsive and precise
  • extremely sensitive force feedback
  • up to 2160 degrees of steering wheel rotation
  • many additional options
  • Real-time data for preferences on built-in OLED screen
  • 5 option profiles can be saved
  • modular structure (wreath / base)
  • works by default with PS4, PS5 and PC
  • ... and the Xbox family when you buy a matching steering wheel rim
  • noble Formula 1 steering wheel in a bundle
  • ingenious 3-way magnetic rocker switches in a bundle

Con

  • proud bundle price
  • PlayStation compatible wheel base not available separately
  • (Barely noticeable) feeling of friction when turning
  • only conditionally suitable for installation with table clamps
  • Power button on the back
  • Modes can only be changed using a key combination 

 

 


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