Formula 1 teams will go through great lengths to subvert rules and regulations to gain even the slightest advantage. This latest feature, spotted on Lewis Hamilton's 2020 Mercedes-AMG Petronas W11 on day two of testing in Barcelona, appears to allow the driver to manually adjust the front wheel's toe while on the move. It's the wildest innovation we've seen in the sport in a long while.
Mercedes hasn't revealed any official details on how what it calls "dual-axis steering" (DAS) works, but essentially, it operates with the driver physically moving the steering wheel forward or backward on the column, which somehow shifts the toe of the front wheels in or out at the same time. While Mercedes hasn't explicitly said what the system is for, the benefits are obvious: In corners, the driver can have tires that point farther outward for better turn in, and and more inward on the straights for better stability and tire wear. Here's the system in action:
It wasn't long before the paddock became suspicious. The rules clearly state no suspension changes can be made while the car is in motion, and that any "device" capable of altering the suspension or affecting its performance is forbidden. In an interview with Motorsport.com, however, Mercedes designer James Allison said the team is "pretty confident" the system is legal.
It turns out he was right.
According to Motorsport.com, the FIA is allowing the use of the dual-axis steering system for 2020. That means we could see the unique feature actually be used on race weekends this year. From 2021 on, however, the innovation has been banned. From article 10.5.2 of the 2021 technical regulations:
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.
Motorsport.com said it's confirmed with unnamed sources this rule is intended for the DAS system, and systems like it. So once the redesigned 2021 F1 cars come around, the feature won't be allowed.
What does this decision mean for other teams? Racing Point technical director Andy Green told Auto Motor und Sport such a device could take up to six months to develop from scratch. So if the DAS has any real benefit, everyone else in the field could be at a disadvantage for a good chunk of the season. We'll just have to wait and see.
This article, originally published February 21, 2020, has been updated with information confirming the legality of Mercedes-AMG's DAS system for the 2020 season.