DAS, Alpha and a 'pink Mercedes' - Formula One talking points

Melbourne (AFP) –


The 2020 Formula One season begins at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.

Here are five talking points ahead of the lights going out to start the year's first race.

- Mercedes reinvent the wheel -

Dual axis steering, or DAS, was the major surprise of pre-season testing and now fans and rival teams are all itching to see if Mercedes will deploy their innovation in Melbourne when practice begins Friday.

DAS works by drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas pushing and pulling on the steering wheel to change the angle of the front wheels, and debate has been raging in the paddock about the pros and cons of the system.

Bottas thinks Mercedes will bring their new toy to play in Australia. "For now, we see no reason why not. Everything works well with it," said the Finn during the second week of testing in Barcelona.

- Ferrari engine row rumbles on -

If Ferrari thought that reaching a confidential settlement with the governing body FIA for a breach of engine regulations in 2019 would be the end of the saga, they appear to be mistaken.

The issue arose when rivals, notably Red Bull and Mercedes, began questioning Ferrari's superior straight-line speed advantage.

At the US Grand Prix in October the FIA issued a rules clarification on engine fuel flow before qualifying and Ferrari later that day failed to land pole position for the first time in seven races.

Team principal Mattia Binotto said the two matters were not related, but doubts remain and seven of Ferrari's nine rival teams last week collectively issued a "strong objection" to the FIA's handling of the controversy, adding that they may seek legal redress.

The only teams not to sign the statement were Haas and Alfa Romeo -- who employ Ferrari engines.

- Alfa, Alpha bravo -

After Alfa Romeo's return to Formula One in 2018, a near-namesake arrives this season with another Alpha on the grid.

Red Bull's second-string Toro Rosso team have been rebranded as AlphaTauri and will make their debut at Albert Park on Sunday.

Alfa or Alpha, the cars will be easy to distinguish visually, at least.

AlphaTauri have a stylish new black and white livery while Alfa Romeo retain their traditional red and white colours.

- Racing Point's 'pink Mercedes' -

Racing Point's new car for 2020 was dubbed the 'pink Mercedes' by some during pre-season testing because of its striking similarity to Lewis Hamilton's 2019 championship-winning car.

It had some midfield rivals sneering at Racing Point's copycat approach with McLaren's Lando Norris saying his team were innovative enough to devise their own ways to improve.

"If it works then good for them," the British driver said of Racing Point's new RP20.

"We're McLaren, we shouldn't have to rely on copying other people. We should be able to come up with things ourselves and come up with leading ideas."

- Where do we go from here? -

While the Australian Grand Prix has been given the green light in the face of the coronavirus crisis, questions abound over the early part of the 2020 racing calendar.

Bahrain will next week witness the first grand prix without spectators in Formula One's 70-year history, while Hanoi's inaugural Vietnam race on April 5 is in doubt because of emergency visa and health screening regulations. The Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on April 19 has already been scrapped.

The circus is due back in Europe at the beginning of May for three races in the Netherlands, Spain and Monaco. But with the virus spreading fast and Italy -- home of Ferrari and tyre supplier Pirelli -- the epicentre of the largest outbreak outside of China under virtual lockdown, further changes to the schedule surely cannot be ruled out.