Mercedes Formula 1 technical director James Allison says the FIA did not believe his team could make its DAS steering system work after rejecting its initial version. 

F1’s governing body dismissed its original version of the dual-axis steering system for 2019, which featured a lever-based operation. But Mercedes remained undeterred and continued development, ultimately creating a new design. 

DAS sent shockwaves up and down the paddock when it debuted on Lewis Hamilton’s W11 during winter testing, with onboard footage showing both Mercedes drivers pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the straights to alter the toe angle of the front wheels. 

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Rival teams questioned whether the innovation was legal but the FIA confirmed the DAS system had been approved for use during the forthcoming 2020 campaign, although it has been outlawed for 2021.

“The simple answer was it was really quite difficult indeed,” Allison explained when asked how difficult it was to develop DAS in a technical Q&A released by Mercedes. 

“In fact, we first wanted to introduce this in 2019. We took our ideas to the FIA, showed them, explained why we thought it was legal and they begrudgingly agreed that dual-axis steering was actually legal.

“But they didn’t much like the way we’d done it because the second axis we were getting from a lever on the wheel rather than that whole-wheel movement.

“So they said ‘no, you’re going to have to move the whole wheel in and out’. And I think when they said that they were hoping that would be too difficult and that we would go away and cause them no more problems.”

Allison said Mercedes was convinced it was still worth putting time and resources into finding a solution, and credited the team’s “very inventive chief designer John Owen for finding a way to revise the system in order to comply with the regulations. 

“Our chief designer John Owen took one look at that challenge and he’s got a really, really good gut feel for whether something is doable or not,” Allison added. 

“That’s a really helpful characteristic because it allows us to be quite brave spending money when most people would feel the outcome is quite uncertain.

“But John has a good feel for whether he’s going to be able to get out of the woods and into fair ground again.

“So John took that challenge on, reckoned he could do it, put it out to our very talented group of mechanical designers and between them they cooked up two or three ways in which it might be done.

“We picked the most likely of those three and about a year after that, out popped the DAS system that you saw at the beginning of the season.”