One of the hot topics following the Brazilian Grand Prix was Lewis Hamilton's steering wheel, with suggestions of a special system at play.
Some viewers of Hamilton's onboard camera noted that the Mercedes driver seemingly pulled backwards on his steering wheel as he approached braking areas around Interlagos, leading to a host of different theories emerging on social media.
Mercedes have shut down these theories, noting that the steering systems have been homologated all year and cannot be modified, while stressing that the only plane in which the wheel moves is left to right.
Was it an optical illusion?
The situation was addressed during the latest episode of the RacingNews365.com podcast, with F1 journalist Dieter Rencken asked for his thoughts on the footage, and whether we are seeing a system similar to DAS (Dual-Axis Steering), which was used by Mercedes in 2020 and banned for 2021.
"First of all, DAS is banned and I just cannot see Mercedes in any way flouting that sort of regulation, so let's put that out of mind, completely," began Rencken.
"Then we turn around and say, 'Was there possibly a bit of an optical illusion?' The camera, which was airbox mounted, may have been vibrating slightly. Who knows?"
What could be going on?
Turning the argument around, Rencken went on to suggest what Mercedes could be up to, if a special system is in place.
He continued: "I'm wondering, and this is just me playing devil's advocate, and being possibly overly suspicious, as journalists are, whether or not the steering system is homologated, but the column is used for something else - and maybe that would be given permission by the FIA.
"Given where Lewis was [ostensibly] using it on the straight, and just before the braking area, could he actually be possibly using this to adjust brake bias? Could he be using this to possibly feed in or feed out some of the electrical power from the Energy Store?"
Rencken then mentioned the background of Mercedes Chief Technical Officer James Allison, who has a deep passion for aviation, and pondered whether this could have filtered through to the team's W12.
"James is a very enthusiastic private pilot, I believe that he's built his own aeroplanes. He comes from a flying family, his father was in the British Airforce," added Rencken.
"I believe that James originally had wanted to become a fighter pilot or similar, and because of that, he'd obviously be aware of the three-dimensional potential of a steering column as you have in an aeroplane."
It's not over yet...
Regardless, Rencken expects the situation to "run and run" as the 2021 title race enters its closing stages, with Mercedes and Red Bull locked in battle.
"I'm split 50/50, whether it's an optical illusion, or whether it is actually used for something, and I stress this, other than the steering system, and that they have permission to use that system instead of a button or a bar, or whatever," he commented.
Mercedes have since denied that the column is being used for anything other than steering purposes, stating that any movement could instead be due to some play in the column as parts age and get close to life, with teams eking them out to the end of the season.
Rencken summed up: "It could be totally innocuous and totally innocent, but equally, I think it's one that we need to watch going forward."
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