The legality of the Mercedes W11 has come under scrutiny on the second day of Formula 1 pre-season testing as a trick steering system has reportedly been uncovered.
Onboard footage with Lewis Hamilton on Thursday showed the six-time champion moving the steering wheel in a backwards/forwards motion (i.e. closer/further away from him).
The Briton was able to pull the steering wheel towards him as he entered the long start/finish straight, before pushing it away as he came to the end of the straight.
In the footage (seen here), as Hamilton moves the steering wheel, the toe of the front tyres can be seen to instantly change, reacting to his input.
A system that is capable of changing the toe whilst on-track could provide several major benefits including reduced tyre wear, better handling in corners and reduced drag on the straights.
Increased toe-in will typically result in reduced oversteer, helping to steady the car and enhance high-speed stability. Increased toe-out (which an F1 car runs as standard) will typically result in reduced understeer, helping free up the car, especially during initial turn-in while entering a corner.
Although the adjustment is small, the overall benefit could be significant, particularly if the system is capable of adjusting the ride height of the car.
The system though seems to be against Article 10.2.3 of the FIA Formula 1 technical regulations which govern suspension and stipulates that “no adjustment may be made to any suspension system while the car is in motion.”
Mercedes may however argue that toe adjustments aren’t classed as a change to the suspension elements, but the steering.
Article 10.2 adds: “With the steering wheel fixed, the position of each wheel centre and the orientation of its rotation axis must be completely and uniquely defined by a function of its principally vertical suspension travel, save only for the effects of reasonable compliance which does not intentionally provide further degrees of freedom.
“Any powered device which is capable of altering the configuration or affecting the performance of any part of any suspension system is forbidden.”
If it transpires that that is what is happening, it’s highly likely rival teams will protest the W11 if the system is run during the season – though of course during testing teams are able to run anything they wish.