The sea of hardware choices sim racers get these days is enormous: There are multiple manufacturers to choose and mix and match from, probably thousands of solutions for getting on track. Something that has become increasingly popular are dual clutch paddles – but what exactly do they do, and how do they work?

Ever since sequential gearboxes have first entered Formula 1 in 1989 courtesy of Ferrari – who took a an entirely unexpected victory in the first round of the season at Jacarepagua with the system, race winner Nigel Mansell even having booked an early flight home because he thought the gearbox would not last the race distance – paddles on steering wheels have become the norm for how most race cars shift gears and can even be found in road cars these days. However, the wheels of modern F1 and some other race cars feature more than just the two paddles for shifting, as they activate the clutch on the wheel and not via a pedal.

This is done with two analog paddles, but it is not down to the driver’s preferred side which one he uses. In fact, both are used for standing starts (as gear changes do not need a clutch) together – and for good reason: A dual clutch system makes a good standing start easier and reduces the risk of stalling the engine.

The science behind it is not too complicated: Both paddles pulled together mean the clutch is fully engaged, just like it would be when you press a single clutch pedal. Next, one of the paddles is released while the driver pushes the accelerator, with the remaining paddle keeping the car right at the bite point of the clutch, allowing the car to start moving. The driver then slowly releases the other paddle for a smooth launch, making it almost impossible to let go of the clutch too quickly and stalling the engine.

To achieve this in sim racing, the bite point – which is different from car to car – needs to be set in advance. For example, the Fanatec dual clutch paddle system (part of the Advanced Paddle Module, which also throws in two additional “clicky” paddles, as well as a standard feature on the McLaren GT3 V2 wheel), displays a number on the wheel when both paddles are pulled and works in percentages – 100 means the clutch is fully activated. Then, the driver has to release both paddles slowly while in gear and reving the engine – once the car starts moving, they take note on the number on the display, which marks the bite point. This is then set as the bite point in the wheel’s software, after which the dual clutch paddle system is ready to go.

Using the system usually makes for a clean launch after some practice, and even makes clutch-and-coast scenarios for fuel saving easier, as your left foot will not have to switch from the clutch pedal to the brake right before a corner.
Since the paddles are analog, different uses are possible for them in sim racing: They can be used as throttle and brake inputs for sim racers with a handicap, it is possible to map a handbrake on them, and some use them to look to the left and right.

How about you? Have you tried dual clutch paddles before, and what were your experiences? Let us know in the comments!