'Teams will need half a season to copy Mercedes DAS steering system'


Developing a dual-axis steering system to match Mercedes will take until mid-season, says Ferrari's Mattia Binotto

Lewis Hamilton preseason testing 2002 head on

Hamilton tested the dual-axis steering system on Thursday

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When pre-season testing started on Wednesday I did not think I would be using a word that sounds like a popular detergent.

But since Thursday morning, when Lewis Hamilton started moving his steering wheel back and forth on the main straights at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, every team and driver is being asked about DAS — Mercedes’ innovative dual-axis steering.

The legality of a system that alters the toe angle on the front wheels was the first topic on everyone’s lips, then its impact. And it wasn’t just the media.

“We were a little bit wide-eyed,” said Renault sporting director Alan Permane. “What’s it doing? How’s it doing it? Like most people I think, we did a bit of video analysis, and we don’t ultimately know what it’s doing I guess.

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“James [Allison] and his men have done something clever and undoubtedly they think there’s going to be lap time in it. I’m sure they’ve been through it with probably Nicholas [Tombazis] at the FIA and his guys and are happy it’s legal.

“It’s certainly not a system that we are going to copy or have on the car for Melbourne. It’s highly complex and advanced and I suspect it’s taken them a long time to figure it out and a lot of testing back at the factory. So if there is a benefit and it is legal, you won’t see other cars with it for quite some time.”

But what exactly does “quite some time” mean? Most team members were reluctant to give a timeframe, mainly due to the fact they have not yet been able to analyse the system in detail and full understand what it would take to replicate (they do have their own cars to focus on right now, after all).

It was up to Ferrari’s team principal Mattia Binotto to put a rough schedule on the concept, and it is one that will be music to Mercedes’ ears as he certainly doesn’t see another team being able to copy the idea by the opening race.

Lewis Hamilton followed by a Ferrari in 2020 F1 preseason testing

Half a season behind Mercedes? Ferrari downcast on DAS development time

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“I think in case it is worthwhile which I have no idea or not but it will certainly take longer than [Melbourne],” Binotto said. “It needs an entire concept, design, producing it, homologation and tested to be safe. If it is, I think it can be by mid-season but not earlier.”

A little can also be learned from how long Mercedes has been developing DAS itself. And to that end, Valtteri Bottas provided little encouragement for rivals.

“For sure it’s not an easy thing to start making and designing and then actual make it work as it is now,” Bottas said. “We are still learning about the system and the potential, but I think in some circumstances it can be pretty good. That will be shown later on in the year in different conditions and different tracks, how it can help us, if it can. It’s quite impressive that it works all fine.

“I’ve been aware of it for quite a long time, it’s not a quick project. I think the first time I heard something about it was nearly one year ago…”

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A Mercedes team member had already hinted that they feel it will at least take “months” to appear elsewhere, but then came another aspect to consider – 2021.

Not only do the 2021 technical regulations outlaw such a concept – therefore making it only legal for this season – but not all teams can approach the idea in the same way.

For Ferrari and Red Bull, financially, it will be worth pursuing a version of DAS if it provides a benefit that can be exploited this season. It might only be for a spell, but all teams admit they want as much performance on the car whenever possible, and can learn from new developments.

But the rest of the field already has to balance resources between 2020’s car development and 2021’s massive changes. As yet, there has not been a single team that has suggested it is already working on a similar concept, with Binotto himself offering a firm “no” when asked.

With it looking unlikely DAS could be implemented before mid-season on the majority of other cars, by that point most teams will be fully focused on the next era.

Mercedes might have done more than just steal a march with this innovation, but also perhaps knowingly timed its introduction perfectly to ensure it’s an advantage it will have the potential to enjoy throughout the year.