DRS: Separating the good from the bad

2011 F1 season preview

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Valencia, 2011

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Valencia, 2011

Drag Reduction System, adjustable rear wing – whatever you call it, it’s a controversial new addition in 2011.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to write off a change that could add a lot to F1.

The wings will look fantastic in qualifying. And if the FIA make the right sort of changes to make them less of a gimmick, I think even their more vehement critics could be won over.

Update: For details on where drivers can use DRS on different circuits, see the circuit information pages:

Why DRS will be great in qualifying

The adjustable rear wings should make qualifying an even more spectacular sight.

As in practice, drivers will have free use of the wings during qualifying. That means we’re going to see drivers dropping the wings at every opportunity between corners.

We’re going to be able to see the difference in performance between cars and drivers like never before. The cars with the best traction will be able to deploy their wings early on the way out of corners.

If FOM are on the ball, side-by-side comparisons of different cars and drivers using their wings on bends will make for fascinating viewing.

Steps have been taken to ensure the systems are safe. Crucially, in the event of a failure the flow of air should force the wing back into position where the slot is closed, giving the driver maximum downforce.

See the DRS in action in this video from Red Bull:

DRS in the races: a gimmick

The FIA’s planned restrictions on using the wings during the races have rightly drawn criticism.

The plan is the wings will only be used to promote overtaking. Drivers can only use them when they are within a second of the car in front, and then they can only used it in a pre-determined area on the track.

It was these artificial restrictions, rather than the wings themselves, that was the focus of criticism from fans when it was announced last year.

Many fans are concerned – and not just that it might make overtaking too easy. But also that F1 has become so fixated with increasing overtaking that it will hand a chasing driver an advantage not available to the driver they are trying to overtake to achieve it.

The counter-argument is that the leading driver already as an ‘unfair advantage’ – the enormous, turbulent flow of air spilling off the back of their car, creating a huge and invisible buffer to anyone trying to pass.

As F1 aerodynamics have become more refined in the decades since wings were first introduced, drivers have found it harder to use this disturbed air to gain a beneficial ‘tow’, and catch up to a car on the straights. At the same time the performance penalty of following another car closely in the corners has become even greater.

DRS, the argument goes, simply redresses the balance. But the key question is, when we see a driver use DRS to make a pass, will we still feel like they’ve earned it? I’m not sure we will.

DRS in the races: other problems

A further concern is the potential for misuse, opening yet another way for drivers to be handed penalties.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the rules is that drivers may use them any time they are within a second of another car, regardless of how far behind they are in the race.

If Sebastian Vettel laps Narain Karthikeyan in Melbourne, the HRT driver will get to use his DRS if he is within a second of the Red Bull driver at the line.

It’s strange the FIA have decided to implement the rule in this way and you have to wonder if it’s because their system is not sophisticated enough to distinguish between cars that have been lapped.

Give DRS a chance

Happily the FIA has admitted the system may need fine-tuning and an allowance for them to make adjustments is written into the regulations.

We shouldn’t be too hasty to judge them and, as noted earlier, I expect the wings will be fantastic to see in qualifying.

Having said that, I think the proximity restriction is unnecessarily complicated and too much of a gimmick. It looks another example of FIA rule-making at its worst, up there with aggregate qualifying and fuel credits.

Simply rationing how many times a driver may use DRS during the race would be much easier to enforce, free of the taint of ‘gimmickry’, and quite possibly just as effective in promoting overtaking.

Yes, it would allow drivers to use their wings defensively – but spotting in your mirrors when the driver behind you as dropped his rear wing wouldn’t be that easy.

We’ll get our first indication of how much of a difference DRS will make next week.

What’s your take on DRS? Do you think it will make overtaking too easy? Are you bothered that it might be a ‘gimmick’? Have your say in the comments.

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137 comments on DRS: Separating the good from the bad

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  1. Bobtehblob said on 19th March 2011, 15:01

    I agree 100% with the you can deploy the DRS x amounts of time approach. That way the Rear wing won’t be flapping around all the time and makes it’s use much more strategic.

    • Bobtehblob said on 19th March 2011, 15:03

      Edit: I’d also like to possibly see this in future seasons with KERS. Give the drivers a bucket load more power when they use it but, say they only get 3 uses per race.

      • Sush Meerkat said on 19th March 2011, 16:33

        Edit: I’d also like to possibly see this in future seasons with KERS. Give the drivers a bucket load more power when they use it but, say they only get 3 uses per race.

        I object, thats like the old Cart or IRL races, it wasn’t that good, also there’s a need for F1′s Engineers to come up with KERS solutions in stupidly quick time to address our need to ween ourselves from gas guzzling cars, which we wouldn’t get with a standardised boost to pass system.

    • William Wilgus said on 19th March 2011, 19:31

      Why not just add a helicopter rotor so you could fly over other cars? That wouldn’t be any more phony than the in race restrictions they have on the moveable wing now!

      • Yes it would.

        • Philonso (@philonso) said on 20th March 2011, 19:47

          that made me chuckle :)

        • No, actually, it wouldn’t. Phony is phony, no matter how you dress it up.

          You’re deluding yourselves if you’re thinking, “Oh, it’s not so bad, let’s see how it goes…”. You don’t want to believe that DRS as implemented in the races is spitting in the face of racing, and essentially turns the sport into a laughingstock – but sorry, it has. It’s not racing anymore, not any more than figure skating is hockey.

  2. damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 19th March 2011, 15:12

    Completely agree with everything you said. It seems a little odd that they feel the need for all of these complex rules, but I’m willing to give it a chance. If it’s a disaster, then I’m sure the FIA will make some adjustments to it so it’s not so artificial. Personally, I think the drivers are smart enough to use it whenever they want. It’s just like the f-duct in my opinion. But again, I’m holding my judement until at least after Malaysia. If nothing can be done to make the DRS work, then and only then will I criticise it.

    Great article, by the way. One small typo, though;

    Steps have been taken to the systems are safe.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th March 2011, 16:33

      Oops – thanks!

    • BasCB said on 19th March 2011, 17:13

      I pretty much agree as well, although I am not completely sure about the x uses per race.

      In qualifying, it might really show who has the car and the guts to use it to the maximum (even more than F-duct in Spa).

      For the race, I am willing to see how it pans out. Although I suspect the FIA not discerning between car positions in the race is mostly about lack of options, somehow i feel it is right.
      It highlights, that the wing is a Drag/dirty air countermeasure more than an overtaking help. When I think of it that way, I actually feel better about the whole thing.

      • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 19th March 2011, 18:34

        For the race, I am willing to see how it pans out. Although I suspect the FIA not discerning between car positions in the race is mostly about lack of options, somehow i feel it is right.
        It highlights, that the wing is a Drag/dirty air countermeasure more than an overtaking help. When I think of it that way, I actually feel better about the whole thing.

        Agreed. I think its affect in the race will be much more subtle than most fans think it will be at this point. Tires and KERS are going to play a bigger role in overtaking.

        • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 19th March 2011, 23:10

          Exactly. I think we’ll be surprised at how little impact the DRS makes.

          • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 19th March 2011, 23:28

            Yep, I believe it was reported when the FIA announced 600m as the distance for the DRS’ use, that they picked that number because by their simulation models that probably wasn’t really enough distance to greatly aid the overtaking. Some of the teams including Ferrari said that by their models it wouldn’t be enough. I think the FIA has made a conscious decision to start on the conservative side of things and incrementally increase the zone if needs be. They’ve also said that they don’t want it to make overtaking a breeze for tailing drivers. What most fans seem to be forgetting also is that it’s going to take a fast car and skill to get into position one second behind the driver ahead to be eligible to use the DRS in the first place.

  3. Steve said on 19th March 2011, 15:20

    Are we going to see drivers holding off their use of the KERS system, only using it when they feel that a following driver is about to use the DRS…?

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 19th March 2011, 15:57

      Good point that Steve.

      I think we most certainly will.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th March 2011, 16:34

      Probably – but the other driver will be able to use KERS too (if they have it).

    • BasCB said on 19th March 2011, 17:16

      We might, then again, the KERS will be most advanteous to get out of the conrner fast enough so the guy behind can never really get besides you in the first place.

      If you wait till they drag along with their DRS, then use KERS, only for them to use KERS as well to nail the overtake, you will look stupid a bit.

  4. Bernard said on 19th March 2011, 15:27

    I think the notion that the rear wing is ‘dropped’ when activated is worth revising. The rear wing pivots about its trailing edge so the flap actually ‘raises’ when activated. This mechanism is what permits the return to maximum downforce upon failure.

    As for the system in relation the sport, I guess it’s a wait and see game. It’s a good addition to the rules imo, the wake of an F1 car is enormous so there has to be a means of compensating for that. Placing even more drastic aero restrictions to cut downforce is not the answer and only results in significant losses in lap time across the board.

    Movable aero is rightly here to stay.

  5. newnhamlea1 (@newnhamlea1) said on 19th March 2011, 15:30

    In my opinion its wrong. There is no fundamental problem with f1 to necessitate these gimmicks. If you go to a boring football match, you dont think ‘hmm that was boring, we need to improve the sport’ no, you just take it as a bad game. As should formula 1.

    • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 19th March 2011, 15:35

      Good point. But it’d be even weirder if you went to a thrilling football game and thought, ‘hmm, we need to improve the sport’. F1 has had a great run of seasons, so it’s a little unusual, but I am willing to give it a chance. I don’t think it’s going to make too much of a difference anyway, if I’m honest. This system may just eliminate some half-hearted moves, as the driver will be carrying the extra speed and confidence to stick to the pass.

    • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 19th March 2011, 15:42

      Good point. But it’d be even weirder if you went to a thrilling football game and thought, ‘hmm, we need to improve the sport’. F1 has had a great run of seasons, so it’s a little unusual, but I am willing to give it a chance. I don’t think it’s going to make too much of a difference anyway, if I’m honest.

      This system may just eliminate some half-hearted moves, as the driver will be carrying the extra speed and confidence to stick to the pass.

    • snowman said on 19th March 2011, 16:06

      Agree, shouldn’t be always ”ways to improve the show” Improve the borefest new tracks instead as they are the main problem. Was there ever complaints of lack of overtaking at say Brazil??

    • Icthyes said on 20th March 2011, 10:18

      That’s not a very good analogy. Football games aren’t dull because the players create a vortex around themselves preventing other players from getting near the ball.

      Also, for every boring football game there is usually a good one. The ratio is much less favourable in F1.

  6. Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 19th March 2011, 15:41

    Like KERS, I don’t see why this system has been implemented with all of these restrictions in place. If moveable aerodynamics is the future, free rein should be given to the teams to develop them. Artificial restrictions can be imposed later, but F1 should be about teams pushing the envelope rather than standardising everything in sight.

    • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 20th March 2011, 9:51

      That’s a good point. They should have experimented with no restrictions, then we’d know where the restrictions need to be. Actually, that’s the best comment I’ve read on here today. ;)

  7. DeadManWoking said on 19th March 2011, 15:52

    I still see this as a gimmick band-aid slapped on to mask a fundamental problem that the teams, all of whom are heavily invested in aero development, don’t want to deal with. There had been earlier mention of a possible standardized ground effects package and reduced wings for 2013 which I hope is something that will happen rather than a continuation of this line of thinking.

  8. KennyB said on 19th March 2011, 15:54

    Agreed that it’s a gimmick as currently allowed. Agreed that lack of overtaking is a problem. It’s good that the FIA is keeping options open to make changes, and the idea of rationing how many times it can be used during a race by each driver is a good one, also the ability to use it defensively. Perhaps the driver should be able to use it anywhere, so the idea of only one place, and one second behind could be eliminated. That would be natural, normal racing.

  9. theRoswellite said on 19th March 2011, 15:55

    ….again excellent take on this issue…

    Allowing the deployment of the rear wing at the drivers discretion both in location and in time reduces, as you say, the artificiality of the devices strategic use. Having the limiting factor be simply the number of times it is deployed makes it very simple to regulate and removes the dreaded “passing zone” and the need to measure the gap between the cars. The present method couldn’t be much more artificial, and importantly, it will appear so to everyone involved.

    The wing is a proper attempt to address THE-PROBLEM. The teams and the FIA need to seriously consider your
    proposal for implementation.

  10. Ru_BD said on 19th March 2011, 16:00

    100% agree with you keith, but still i want to give some time to the FIA before passing any judgment. Also dont like the idea of using same rubber for quali and race for top 10 driver….. it seems they have been done something wrong by doing well in qualifying…….. FIA should think about this matters seriously… :-)

  11. Mouse_Nightshirt said on 19th March 2011, 16:00

    Allowing the DRS to be used anytime at races completely negates the point of having it in the first place, other than to improve speeds. In that situation, you might as well remove it from the sport to save costs.

    Although I think the current system seems overly convoluted, I do think the FIA need to have some system to limit its use in practice.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th March 2011, 18:15

      Allowing the DRS to be used anytime at races completely negates the point of having it in the first place

      How?

      • dennis (@dennis) said on 19th March 2011, 20:28

        Because everyone will use it at all times and no one will have an advantage.

        KERS in 2009 only helped overtaking, when the car infront did not have it.

        • Mouse_Nightshirt said on 19th March 2011, 23:27

          Because everyone will use it at all times and no one will have an advantage.

          Exactly my point.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th March 2011, 9:29

          Because everyone will use it at all times and no one will have an advantage.

          But that’s not what I’m suggesting – I’m saying let them use it a limited number of times during the race. In 2009 with KERS they could often use it at least once per lap.

  12. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 19th March 2011, 16:02

    I’m not conviced yet.

    I don’t think this will be that great in qualy. It’ll be like the F-duct. The only difference is that we won’t need the onboard camera to see it being deployed.

    And during races, I’m even less convinced. All that “being within X seconds behind” rule is too confusing.

    If movable wings are the future, then free use would be better.

  13. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 19th March 2011, 16:02

    I don’t think DRS will prove to be as gimmicky as many are making out. If everyone is on level-footing I can’t see the racing dynamic changing that much.

    Undoubtedly there will be times this coming season where DRS has been used to (apparently) artificially over-take with serious question marks raised as to the validity of the over-take but ultimately it’s all circumstantial.

    For every driver who may complain, there will be another to praise it.

  14. Darran said on 19th March 2011, 16:03

    Best idea i’ve seen with using the wing in the race, would be just like push to pass in Indycar.

    I would like to see the wing in use through the whole race unlimited like qualifying but that and Kers would be too much.

    A quick question to possibly resolving this would be making KERS semi Automatic although that would bring back driver aids.

  15. You can’t have free use of DRS during the races because you then take away any reason for having it at all. It is there to give the following car a better chance to overtake the car ahead if it is in a position to do so.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th March 2011, 18:21

      The point of having it, as you put it, is also what makes it a gimmick which a lot of people consider intolerable. So there’s a tricky decision to be made.

      But as I said in the article, if drivers were allowed to use it when they choose (up to a limited number of times) I think we’d find that using it defensively is not as straightforward as you’d think.

      • Agreed. Allow it to be used a number of times during the race. It puts it squarely in the drivers hands to use it as he sees fit, rather than getting permission from the FIA to use it. That way it could be used to catch another car as well as passing it. But you shouldn’t then be too surprised if you are immediately passed back again because you’ve just run out of DRS usage.

        I Would also like to see something similar done for KERS. Although, that’s not too bad in its current guise.

        • mateuss said on 19th March 2011, 20:39

          I would support ‘x times per lap’ idea, probably once a lap, because at most circuits there is at least two long flat out sections, for example in Spa A driver could get past driver B in sector one, but then B driver (if had not used his DRS already) would have a chance in sector 3, or they could both fight in s1 or s3.

          But we would be naive to give drives chance to deploy it a number a times per race, and expect them to use them to do overtaking. They would use them to put in the lap times during pitstop phase to leapfrog cars, because running away is clearly more affective than scrambling for position.

          • Good point. We wouldn’t want it to be used to leapfrog cars in the pit lane. We’ve been there before!

          • Philonso (@philonso) said on 20th March 2011, 20:01

            that’s something I hadn’t thought of! I was starting to turn to the ‘x per race’ view; but as you say it could just remain processional and then drivers gun it when there’s open road. A certain number of seconds a lap of use could be another method? This way a driver could leave all his extra speed for an assured overtake on the pit straight or try two moves using the back straight as well, but with less time with the DRS activated.

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