David Coulthard’s hope for a genuinely open fight between the top three teams in Formula 1 should not be dismissed as blind optimism. Mercedes-AMG may have been judged the winner of the ‘winter war’, but the usual caveats apply when it comes to pre-season testing. Six days in Barcelona, during which each team worked to its own specific agenda with new cars, was a scientific rather than sporting exercise. The first judgements on form can only follow after the first race.
Mercedes’ clever ‘dual-axis steering’ system, spotted early by rivals and the media, was probably only a tasty topping to the team’s promising start to 2020 – but it was also classic F1. Engineers love getting one over on each other and here was a prime example of a team catching all its rivals on the hop. The system allows the driver to change the toe angle of the front tyres by pulling and pushing the steering wheel, to change a car’s grip characteristics – and Mercedes technical director James Allison could not hide his glee as rivals admitted it would take months to replicate the innovation. Gaining that ‘unfair advantage’ through legal means has always been at the heart of motorsport.
But when teams are perceived to step over that line and cheat their way to an edge, howls of outrage follow. That’s why an FIA statement on Ferrari after the last day of running in Spain dropped a cloud over the new season that won’t quickly blow away – even though it concerned last year’s car.