Mercedes' DAS wheel innovation: The 'trombone' sparks F1 intrigue
What does it do? Is it legal? And will rival teams now copy it?
By James Galloway and Matt Morlidge in Barcelona
Last Updated: 21/02/20 8:34am
Mercedes caught the attention of the F1 paddock on the second day of winter testing with an innovative steering-wheel concept on the new W11.
Named the DAS - Dual Axis Steering - system by Mercedes and likened by Sky F1's Ted Kravitz 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 Circuit de Catalunya.
What does it do?
On-board footage showed 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 in 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," said Allison.
"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 are understandably keeping details of the system's purpose, its potential usage and, crucially, it's lap-time performance close to their chests, leaving rivals to try and work that out for themselves.
When asked about the device by Sky Sports News, Red Bull boss Christian Horner said: "Whether that's just a test item and they're testing different tracking, or whether it's a raceable solution, I don't really know.
"But there are always ingenious solutions like that that are tested. That's what Formula 1 is all about."
Is it legal?
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.
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 feel confident that it matches all of those requirements."
What did the drivers say?
Hamilton was the first to try it during the morning session and told reporters: "We're just trying to get on top of it and try to understand it. But safety wise, it was no problem today.
"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."
Is it a game-changer?
The emergence of the trombone-like 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 signifcantly added that "it's only the tip of the iceberg of similar stuff on the car".
But he did admit: "We hope it's an innovation that will bring us some advantage through the season."
Yet are other novel aspects of the W11 likely to be more significant in terms of performance?
"There's certainly more buzz over Dual Axis Steering, but we still don't know whether it's a qualifying-only thing, or whether it's an every-lap of every race thing, or whether it's every-track of every-round thing," pondered Kravitz.
"Whereas positioning wishbones to get you a shed-load of rear downforce is an every-corner thing, an every-lap thing and an every-race thing. So I don't know whether that positioning of the rear suspension and the downforce it gives might be net the bigger and more significant innovation in giving Mercedes lap time."
Either way, what is abundantly clear already is that Mercedes are not allowing their unparalleled success to diminish their hunger for more F1 glory in 2020.
Watch every day of Winter Testing live on Sky Sports F1 and the Sky Sports App. The sessions run from 8am-12pm and 1pm-5pm, followed by The Story So Far featuring driver interviews and the verdict on the day.