Red Bull plunged Formula One into a technical argument on the opening day of the belated season on Friday when they lodged an official protest of Mercedes’ dual-axis steering (DAS) system after opening practice at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Just hours after seeing Mercedes duo of six-time champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas top the times with a resounding one-two in their newly-painted ‘black arrows’ cars, it was confirmed that Red Bull had made a formal protest against them.
Team chief Christian Horner had said earlier Friday that he intended to ask for guidance from the race officials about the legality of the system.
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However, he had been warned by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff that taking it further would endanger the success of the sport’s first weekend back.
Mercedes had introduced the system, which allows the drivers to adjust the toe angle of the car from their cockpit positions, in pre-season testing when it sparked an intrigued debate in the paddock.
The sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA) confirmed that a formal protest was lodged by Red Bull against both Mercedes cars used in practice at the Red Bull Ring.
The Mercedes and Red Bull teams were requested to meet the race stewards on Friday evening at 1810GMT.
The stewards ruling cited two breaches of the regulations, one relating to the cars’ suspension systems.
The protest follows an FIA decision to ban DAS for the 2021 season. Mercedes believe the system is legal and have said they discussed it in detail with the FIA before the season and pre-season testing.
Speaking earlier Friday, Horner said: “Obviously, we’re keen to get clarity on that system using the mechanisms that are available and getting it addressed quickly early in the weekend.
“We have a difference of opinion on it. Its primary performance isn’t to steer the car, obviously, so, yes, of course there is a technical position — Mercedes will think one thing, our engineers will think something else.
“In situations like this, the best thing is to address it via a protest.”
He added that if the system was allowed, his Red Bull team would consider adding the idea to their cars.
“It’s a clever system, an ingenious system, but these rules are complex. It’s just about understanding what part of the regulations it fits.”
A decision on the protest is expected before Saturday’s third practice session which is due to start at 1000 GMT.
HAMILTON LEAVES F1 RIVALS TRAILING, RICCIARDO HITS GROUND RUNNING
Lewis Hamilton laid down an emphatic marker on Formula 1 2020’s opening weekend by topping both Friday sessions at the Austrian GP, while Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo settled in quickly for fifth place in practice two, while teammate Esteban Ocon managed just 11th.
Hamilton enjoyed a perfect start to his seventh F1 title quest by following up his P1 fastest time with a big advantage in the afternoon in Spielberg, two-tenths of a second ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas and more than half a second clear of the nearest non-Mercedes car.
Sergio Perez was third for a Racing Point team who have also started fast, although well adrift of the 1:04.304 posted by Hamilton on the same soft tyre.
Although F1 looks a lot different in Austria to what we saw in the sport’s last Grand Prix more than half a year ago – with no fans in attendance and strict coronavirus protocols – Hamilton and Mercedes have hit the ground running as if they have never been away.
“It’s great to be back, it’s been a long time coming,” said Hamilton.
“It’s definitely looking good out there but you can never take too much from practice. A couple of other guys might be down a fuel mode. We’ll take it with a pinch of salt.”
Red Bull were hoping to be Mercedes’ rivals in-chief this weekend but Max Verstappen and Alex Albon were only eighth and 13th in a session which was littered with RB16 spins.
“Where we are in the timesheet doesn’t look like where we are in reality,” team boss Christian Horner, who has hinted at an official protest of Mercedes ‘DAS’ system, insisted to Sky F1.
While Verstappen added: “Lap times don’t really say anything because I broke my wing in the first lap. Of course there are things we can do better but it was a good day.”
Instead, it was Racing Point who took over as the Silver Arrows’ closest challengers, with Perez leading an extremely tight midfield pack – just ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari, and Renault’s Ricciardo.
PRACTICE TWO TIMESHEET
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:04.304
2. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +0.197
3. Sergio Perez Racing Point +0.641
4. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +0.657
5. Daniel Ricciardo Renault +0.668
6. Lando Norris McLaren +0.783
7. Lance Stroll Racing Point +0.831
8. Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.911
9. Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.994
10. Carlos Sainz McLaren +1.048
11. Esteban Ocon Renault +1.111
12. Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri +1.139
13. Alexander Albon Red Bull +1.149
14. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1.304
15. Kevin Magnussen Haas +1.374
16. Romain Grosjean Haas +1.604
17. Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +1.712
18. George Russell Williams +1.821
19. Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo +1.974
20. Nicholas Latifi Williams +2.820