Mercedes stirs controversy with its Dual-Axis Steering

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Despite the regulations not changing from 2019, Formula 1 teams still find ways to innovate and try new technology to improve their lap times. Such is the case for Mercedes who created some buzz in practice on day 2 with their dual-axis steering (DAS).

The assumption, from watching on-board camera angles, is that the steering, when pulled toward the driver or pushed away from the driver, changes the toe-angle of the front wheels. The issue raised lots of debate among fans as to the legality of a system that adjusts the suspension but is it adjusting the suspension?

Gray areas for sure but Mercedes says they have been in talks for quite a while with the FIA and that the regulatory body feels it is within the regulations.

Mercedes technical boss. James Allison, was asked if he anticipated any legality issues and he said:

“No, not really,” he 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.

“We are confident it matches all of those requirements.”

The regulations state that you cannot adjust any suspension system while the car is moving. The debate is whether adjusting the toe of the wheel is a suspension component or part of the steering components.

From my seat, this is really parsing the details and at first blush, I would think that a wheel’s position on a hub and how much toe it has is a function of how it is attached and part of the suspension.

On the other hand, the regulations around steering does say that a steering system that does a re-alignment of more than two wheels is not permitted. Meaning that you couldn’t turn the front and rear wheels but to the letter of the law, the DAS is re-aligning the wheels.

I’ve read two articles regarding this development. One advocates that this is a real weapon and others suggest it is a novelty. Time will tell but it is worth noting that the FIA have had no issues with an innovation before but teams lodged complaints at the first race in Australia forcing the decision beyond the FIA and into the hands of the race stewards. The dual diffuser in 2009 comes to mind.

It will also be interesting to see if other teams quickly adopt this technology and one has to imagine it would be expensive in a year that is already going to be expensive in in-season development and dual car design paths for the 2021 chassis.

Hat Tip: The Race

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Rapierman
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I don’t think this is necessarily a part of the suspension, but being able to adjust the toe alignment (only to the front wheels) does change the maneuverability and the tire’s wear progression, and that can be a game changer. However, that brings up a possible safety issue: Can one adjust the toe alignment on the fly safely, and what risks does this bring into play? Imagine if you were driving along and the steering column suddenly comes up toward you? Suddenly, you may not have any steering at all. That can create a dangerous situation if you’re about to… Read more »

pg
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I like this innovation as it may show that current designs may have reached the limit of CFD and innovation is once again visible and not a widget vortex generator. I can conceptually envision a steering mechanism (e.g. an engageable cam) that effectively changes the angle of a wheel-set independent of the suspension. Also, the higher toe-in position is in the direction of the forces when braking for a turn so disengagement is automatic when needed most. Based on Seb’s comments, I know the implementation is not as simple, or as cheap, as my Gadonken experiment so that it is… Read more »

subcritical71
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I am sometimes amazed at the innovations teams come up with. I think this will end up being a game changer, or at least enough of an advantage that everyone would need to follow suit. My personal interpretation, based on limited knowledge of the overall system, is that it should be legal according to the technical regulations as they are simply adding another dimension to the steering system (those same motions are allowed when rotating the steering wheel). Having said that will it be deemed a moveable aero device or driver aid by the stewards will only be answered in… Read more »

The Captain
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Me [Sits down to follow testing]: Now don’t read too much into this, it’s just the first winter test.

Me [two days latter]: Welp, maybe someone other than Mercedes will win a race in 2021.

Xean45
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It may be the pessimism in me, but I wonder if it would be so accepted if it were a Haas or Alpha team that developed this.

MIE
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Is the DAS system there to provide Mercedes with a real lap-time advantage, or is it a very visible system that takes everyone’s eyes off the real developments on the 2020 car?

If rival teams spend time putting their interpretation of DAS on their cars, not only will it distract them from developing this year’s car, it will most likely take resources from the 2021 car as well.

The Captain
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Well, It’s gonna depend on the track for how much of a real one lap-time advantage they get. But it will probably give them a huge overall race advantage. By removing the toe on the straights they should get a small top-end speed boost, but what will really help them is the tire wear since the drivers will be able to add or remove heat on the straights as needed. It also should help in highspeed corners too.

MIE
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Before the DAS was identified, comments from journalists were that the sidepods were noticeably narrower compared to last year. I just wonder if the real reason for any straight line speed advantage may be elsewhere, while the DAS is what all their rivals concentrate upon. It wouldn’t be on the car if it made it slower, but Mercedes must have known that it would be spotted as soon as it was used.

Rapierman
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Sometimes, the cake is just…..

…..a cake.