Formula One preseason testing is well underway—and so is the drama. All the talk has been surrounding a new innovation by Mercedes called dual-axis steering, or DAS. Basically, by pushing or pulling on the steering wheel, drivers can change the toe angle of the front tires in order to manipulate airflow and downforce on straights and corners. Fans were divided on whether or not the system should actually be legal, and it turns out that the FIA is going to allow it... for a time.
Mercedes already has the technology implemented, so changing it now would be kind of a downer. After all, there were no rules specifically banning it—the closest you got was a clause claiming that teams aren’t allowed to include suspension that can be manipulated during the race. The FIA had to concede that Mercedes found a good loophole.
The re-alignment of the steered wheels, as defined by the position of the inboard attachment of the relevant suspensions members that remain a fixed distance from each other, must be uniquely defined by a monotonic function of the rotational position of a single steering wheel.
In regular-people speech, this means that systems like DAS—ones that can change the “fixed distance” between suspension members—aren’t going to be legal for the 2021 season. Mercedes has accomplished the coolest possible thing you can in motorsport: forcing a sanctioning body to outlaw a cool technology you created because you found a loophole in their regulations.
Now, though, Merc’s competition is left scrambling. Should a team like Ferrari try to replicate the DAS tech before the season opening Australian Grand Prix? Should it wait and see if DAS will offer Mercedes any appreciable change in performance? Should it just ignore this innovation altogether and see 2020 as something of an off-year? It’s a tough call.
Racing Point is currently skeptical that the benefit of implementing DAS will outweigh the cost it’ll take to essentially redesign the 2020 car. Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari has stated that he thinks it’s probably difficult to use, likening it to running in flip-flops.
The cost-benefit analysis is probably the argument here that makes the most sense. If this tech isn’t going to give you significant gains over the competition—and you can’t even use it the following year—then what’s the point? There’s no sense in spending money that you don’t have on something that’s not going to benefit you for years to come.
Personally, I don’t see how DAS doesn’t give Mercedes an appreciable advantage. I have a feeling this is going to be another year of hardcore Mercedes domination.