BARCELONA, Spain -- Mercedes has caught the attention of the Formula One paddock after a novel system was spotted on the team's car at pre-season testing.
The world champions started the second day of testing with Lewis Hamilton at the wheel and it soon became apparent he was using the steering wheel for more than just steering.
On the straights Hamilton was clearly pulling the wheel towards him and pushing it back into its original position before the corners. Closer analysis of onboard footage showed the alignment of the front wheels -- known as toe -- changing with the movement of the wheel.
Hamilton did not activate the system on every lap, but when he did the footage showed him pressing the "mark" button on his steering wheel, which allows the driver to mark a moment in the data for the engineers to assess back in the garage.
However, other than revealing the system was named DAS (Dual-Axis Steering), Mercedes technical director James Allison refused to offer more details.
"I probably won't shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it's a novel idea," Allison said. "We've got a name for it, it's called DAS, if you're interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year.
"But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that's something we will keep to ourselves."
The system essentially allows the driver to tweak the set-up and handling of his car depending on where he is on track. That has the potential to offer multiple advantages as an F1 car is usually set up with toe-out (the wheels pointing slightly away from the centre of the car) to aid stability when turning into high-speed corners.
However, a toe-out setup is not ideal on the straights as, when combined with the camber (the angle the tyre points inwards when viewed from the front), it generates excessive heat and potential blistering on the inside shoulder of the tyre. By being able to change the toe angle from inside the cockpit, Mercedes can access the best of both worlds while also having a method for controlling front tyre temperature.
There is no obvious regulation to prevent a system like DAS and Allison said Mercedes had been in constant communication with the FIA, F1's governing body, during the development of the system.
"This isn't news to the FIA, it's something we've been talking to them 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."
Hamilton added: "I've only had one morning with it, so I don't really have a lot to talk about with it. We're trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety wise no problem today and the FIA are okay with the project.
"For me it's really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that's down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that'll work to our benefit."
It remains to be seen how much of a benefit DAS offers Mercedes, but it is not the only novel development on the W11. The rear suspension has also drawn plenty of attention during testing as the team has changed the layout of the lower wishbone to gain an aerodynamic benefit from the floor of the car.
Asked if he was enjoying the attention DAS was gaining, Allison said: It's fun of course, it really is fun, but perhaps one of the things that's not greatly appreciated is that each of the cars we bring to the track are festooned with innovation.
"It's just not as obvious with a discrete, standalone system like this when you can see it with your own eyes. One of the things that gives me massive pride from working with Mercedes is to give me part of a team that doesn't just turn the sausage handle each year, but is working out how we can work fast enough to bring these innovations to the track and make them stick.
"This is fun but it's only the tip of an iceberg of similar stuff that's written across the car."