The technical talk in the first week of 2020 pre-season testing at Barcelona centred around Mercedes’ innovative and controversial DAS system – and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel appeared both impressed and wary of the device when asked about it at the end of his first day’s running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
The Mercedes system calls on the drivers to push and pull the steering wheel, with that movement appearing to affect the camber of the front tyres – although exactly what the full benefits of the system were was a matter that was still being hotly debated in the paddock at the end of Week 1, with Mercedes understandably doing little to dispel the mystery.
Mercedes turned heads on Day 2 of pre-season testing with an ingenious moving steering system dubbed ‘DAS’ by tech chief James Allison – but what does the system do, is it legal, and is it safe? Here’s what we know so far.
What does DAS stand for?
After James Allison explained the system was called ‘DAS’ at F1’s lunchtime press conference, there was an immediate flurry of speculation as to what the acronym stood for. But shortly afterwards the team revealed it was short for ‘Dual Axis Steering’ via their Twitter feed.
Okay, so what does it do?!
The team clearly being tight-lipped about the system, but our tech expert Mark Hughes says: “If the mechanism works as assumed, the [effect of deploying the device will mean the] tyres will be heated more evenly across their width as they run fully upright, but the benefits of toe-out can still be deployed into the corner. It will be of particular benefit on circuits with long straights.”
Is it legal?
Almost from the moment the mechanism was first spotted, there were question marks about whether such a system would be allowed by the F1 regulations.
But Mercedes say they’re not concerned about legality issues. Allison said: “This isn’t news to the FIA, it’s something we’ve been talking to them [about] for some time. The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements.”
Is it safe?
Hamilton and Bottas only used it for the first time on Day 2 of testing, but when asked if using the system was distracting in any way, the defending champion said he had no concerns.
“We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are okay with the project,” he said.
Is it normal for one team to find something so revolutionary?
Since the very first Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix, teams have been trying to gain every tenth over their rivals they could, and that pursuit has led to some pretty incredible innovations over the years, so there are precedents for one particular outfit finding something that no one else has.
Obvious examples from F1’s long history include Brabham’s legendary ‘fan car’, the BT46, which won its one and only race before it was voluntarily withdrawn; Lotus’s early forays into aerodynamics, and the Williams active suspension system from the early 1990s.