The Formula One season has yet to begin but Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes may have already stolen a race-winning march on their rivals. Hamilton took to the track for the second day of testing in Barcelona using an innovative steering system but one whose legality may still be called into question.
Having already been the fastest driver on day one, Hamilton completed 106 laps of relentless running in the morning session. While doing so he was observed to be using the new system, understood to be dual-axis steering and referred to by the team as DAS.
Hamilton would not go into detail but pronounced himself pleased with the team’s inventive approach. “We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it,” he said. “Safety wise, no problem and the FIA are OK with the project. It’s really encouraging to see my team continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game.
“I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and hopefully it will work to our benefit.”
The system appeared to adjust the alignment of the front wheels when Hamilton moved the steering wheel towards himself on the straights and back again on corner entry. It would theoretically offer reduced drag on the straights and a better set-up for cornering.
Mercedes had taken the paddock by surprise and rival teams pored over footage of Hamilton’s cockpit. The Mercedes technical director, James Allison, confirmed DAS had already been approved by the FIA.
“This isn’t news to the FIA,” he said. “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’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements.”
That approval will not rule out rival teams challenging the system but initial engineering assessments suggest it is within the regulations.
Hamilton also confirmed he has yet to begin negotiations on a new contract, with his deal at Mercedes coming to a close at the end of this season. The British driver is 35 and in his 14th season in F1. Any move will almost certainly be his last and Hamilton has been linked with a move to Ferrari but he once more emphasised that his relationship with Mercedes is as strong as ever.
“When I joined Mercedes they allowed me to be who I am and where I want to be rather than keep me constricted or ask me to be a certain way, speak a certain way or dress a certain way, which is often what you see at other places,” he said.
Hamilton said Toto Wolff was keen to begin talks and that last time the two thrashed out the contract in eight to 10 hours sitting on a couch. He was optimistic they would be able to do similarly again.
“We just don’t seem to have any problems,” he said. “We share the same values and our goals are the same and the respect is huge and the understanding.”
Ferrari have already done a deal with Charles Leclerc until the end of 2024. Sebastian Vettel’s contract concludes this season but the team chief, Mattia Binotto, has insisted Ferrari are intent on keeping the German.