Red Bull claim new Mercedes steering system is illegal
Rivals ponder protest over revolutionary technology Two-way battle expected in Austria’s delayed grand prix
Red Bull are considering launching a protest against Mercedes’s revolutionary dual-axis steering system ahead of Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, as the teams finally unleash their 2020 cars in Spielberg after a 3½-month hiatus.
Mercedes had wanted to trial their innovative “DAS” concept, which works by the driver pushing and pulling on the steering column to change the alignment of the front wheels, in Melbourne in March, when Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko complained that the design did not comply with the rules.
Should Mercedes, who deployed DAS to stunning effect at pre-season testing in Spain, derive a major competitive advantage from the system in tomorrow’s practice sessions, Red Bull are poised to raise objections again. DAS has already been banned for 2021, but Mercedes are expected to use it this year in search of a record seventh consecutive constructors’ title.
Red Bull are understood to regard Mercedes’s latest ruse as illegal, given that the steering wheel is being used for purposes beyond its original function. A final verdict was due to be reached by scrutineers for FIA, the governing body, in time for the Australian Grand Prix, only for the race to be cancelled when a McLaren mechanic tested positive for Covid-19.
Mercedes insist that DAS, which they describe as a “novel idea, an extra dimension”, does fall within the regulations. “It’s something we’ve been talking to them [FIA] about for some time,” said James Allison, the team’s technical director, during the first test in Barcelona.
With Mercedes and Red Bull both optimistic of their chances in the Styrian Alps, Ferrari are in danger of being cut adrift after they were forced to redesign their car. Mattia Binotto, the team principal, explained that the car’s underperformance in testing had led to a “significant change in direction in terms of development”.
As such, Ferrari are unlikely to bring any upgrades to keep pace with their nearest rivals until after the Austrian double-header. “We know that, at the moment, we don’t have the fastest package,” Binotto said. “We knew it before heading to Melbourne and that hasn’t changed.” Sebastian Vettel, who leaves Ferrari at the end of the year, said: “We have to be realistic when it comes to the pecking order, but we are not downhearted.”
Mercedes have delivered a major aerodynamic upgrade to their car, while Red Bull have unveiled an improved Honda engine, increasing the likelihood of a two-way battle at the front. Christian Horner, who has waited seven years to savour a world title after winning four in a row with Vettel, said: “It’s the best we’ve been prepared since 2013.”
As F1’s travelling circus descended on Spielberg last night, it confronted a drastically reconfigured paddock, with no lavish motorhomes and team personnel required to work in small cabins. Several drivers, including Vettel, have chosen to sleep at the track in their personal motorhomes.