NEARLY everyone in the F1 paddock at Catalunya was asking the same thing after the new Mercedes showed up on the second day of winter testing with an innovative steering-wheel concept.
“Was ist das?” That’s German for ‘what’s this?’ And das was the operative word.
Called the DAS (Dual Axis Steering) by Mercedes and likened by Sky F1 to a trombone in the way it is operated by the driver, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were seen testing it at different points around the Spanish circuit.
On-board footage shows the Mercedes drivers moving the steering wheel towards them on a straight, and then pushing it back into normal position as they approached a corner.
With the device, which seemingly provides an additional steering mode, proving the hot topic at Barcelona, Mercedes’ James Allison confirmed its existence during his appearance at the lunchtime press conference.
“We have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea and we’ve got a name for it — it’s called DAS,” Allison said.
“It just introduces an extra dimension in the steering for the driver which we hope will be useful during the season.
“But precisely how we use it, why we use it . . . that’s something we’ll keep to ourselves.”
Mercedes’ dual-axis steering has been given the all-clear by the FIA according to technical director Allison, who has no concerns over legalities.
Although teams are free to run cars in the specifications they choose during testing, Mercedes say the FIA has been aware of the system “for some time” and that there are no doubts about its legality.
However, just hours later it emerged the DAS will only be permissible for 2020.
The draft regulations for next season, which will see a radical overhaul of the championship, would not allow the device to be used.
Mercedes maintains it is legal for this year, having run the idea by the FIA, with rival teams now evaluating whether they should spend resources developing a similar system.
Racing Point chief Otmar Szafnauer, whose team has a close relationship with Mercedes, was impressed by DAS and indicated it could be copied by other teams.
“It looks like a clever bit of ingenuity, and I’m sure everyone now will see how quickly we can get it out,” he said.
Hamilton was the first to try it during the morning session.
“We’re just trying to get on top of it and try to understand it. But safety wise, it was no problem,” he said.
“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team continues to innovate, and stay ahead of the game.
“I think that’s down to the creative minds we have in the team.”
The emergence of the device comes a day after Mercedes’ first public run of the W11 made clear how innovative the six-time world champions have already been in the design of their floor and rear suspension.
Allison described DAS as a “fun” solution, but added “it’s only the tip of the iceberg” for similar stuff on the car.
“We hope it’s an innovation that will bring us some advantage through the season.”