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

  1. Sush Meerkat said on 19th March 2011, 16:38

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

    Everyones up in arms because its restricted, the Flippy Flappy Wing is essentially McLarens F Duct but standardised and restricted, the F duct was praised as innovation because it was some guys in a shed (a glass high tech shed I’ll admit) came up with the idea to circumvent drag.

    The big bad FIA makes what is essentially an F duct and levels the playing field while also restricting its use and we all get our knickers in a twist.

    I get the feeling its our rebellious natures and wanting to stick it to the man that makes us act this way.

    • Sush Meerkat said on 19th March 2011, 16:39

      damn it, I make one good comment with no rubbish jokes and it ends up on the second page where no one will read it.

      Woe is me

      :(

      • Patrickl said on 19th March 2011, 16:55

        I read it :)

        Completely agree with it too.

        On another site I read someone arguing that DRS was unfairly adjusting competition. He suggested that FIA should have adopted more regular adjustments like reversed grids and penalty weights instead. ROFL.

        • Bobtehblob said on 19th March 2011, 17:01

          That’s hilarious! How can “reversed grids” be more fair then a little DRS, what an idiot! :L

        • Sush Meerkat said on 19th March 2011, 17:09

          Reserve Grids?, what?.
          Short answer: No.
          Long Answer: Noooooooooooooooooo.

          Horner: “Right Adrian, Mateshift are giving us 200 million pounds to make the fastest cornering racing car ever produced, I and the Team at Red Bull Racing can’t wait to see your creation at the back of the grid”
          Newey: “wait.. what?”.

          Domenically: “Luca, we needa a 600 million dollars to get our beautiful Ferrari’s to the back of the grid”
          Montezemolo: “I’ll give you 800 million if you get me 3 cars at the back of the grid.

          I read it

          you’ve made me a very happy Meerkat, here want some worms I just dug up from the Kalahari to show my gratitude?

          • Mike said on 20th March 2011, 4:12

            Your first comment was spot on, and your second one has put me into a fit of giggles! :D

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

          WOW, now that is taking it and putting the concept of racing on its top. What can be more artificial than mixing the grids or weight penalties?

          At least this is fair, in the sense that everyone can have it, provided they manage to get close enough behind another car (where they would be struggling in the dirty air).

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th March 2011, 18:23

      the Flippy Flappy Wing

      Ah, the FFW. I think that’s going to stick.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 19th March 2011, 19:32

      This is because McLaren bending the rules is somewhat more romantic than the FIA saying ‘this is how it is’.

      It’s an improvement on the F-Duct, it’s much safer (given the driver can have two hands on the wheel) and will probably present similar situations like we saw in 2010.

  2. Nas-T said on 19th March 2011, 16:41

    how about the DRS connected to the accelerator and brake pedal. when a driver push the accelerator, DRS move up and when the driver push the brake, the DRS return back to its original position.

    • You wouldn’t always want the flap to work at exactly the same time that you press the accelerator or brake pedal.

      As it is, the flap is returned to normal when the driver uses the brake pedal anyway.

      • BasCB said on 19th March 2011, 17:21

        Agree, just think about all these drivers braking at the turn in, then getting on the throttle again during the turn.

        Not the time to miss the downforce from the rear wing at all. But steppign on the brakes does lower the rear flap again.

        • Nas-T said on 19th March 2011, 19:10

          I mean the angle of the flap co-responding with the percentage of acceleration and braking. e.g if the driver push the accelerator 70% then the flap will move 2° and so on. how about that?

          • Mike said on 20th March 2011, 4:20

            It’s a good idea, but what about corners like Turkey’s turn 8? where they drivers still have their foot a fair way down yet they need every ounce of down force?

    • Pauly said on 19th March 2011, 23:04

      Because if it’s connected to the accelerator, it will deploy every time a driver puts his foot down out of a corner, hmm? he really needs his downforce at this point, not an oil slick!

  3. Patrickl said on 19th March 2011, 16:50

    Excellent analysis of the situation Keith.

    I think it’s similar to how the F-duct worked for Hamilton before all the teams had it. His overtakes were greatly appreciated even if he had some help from his F-duct.

    It’s not like he was just blowing past. He still had to fight for it.

    Compare it also with Button who did a lot less overtaking with the car. Even though Button actually made up more positions.

    • You never know, we might see Vettel overtaking someone correctly this season!

      At least now it is the same for everyone and not just for those that could afford it.

      TBH, I think that most drivers will have enough on their plates trying to look after the tyres, never mind finding time to operate gadgets.

      • Patrickl said on 20th March 2011, 2:14

        Yeah the tyres worry me too. If not the fact that they damage so quickly, then at the very least the amount of marbles they produce.

  4. Icthyes said on 19th March 2011, 16:52

    I don’t see why it’s a good thing that the DRS will magnify the difference between cars with different traction levels. For one thing, it will favour the cars with the best aero, meaning that qualifying will actually be less close.

    But for the rest, I totally agree, especially with your suggestion of a limited amount of uses. It could be for however many laps there are in a race, but you can use them whenever. Doing the same with KERS would also be good, because it would reward the drivers who are good enough at overtaking that they don’t have to use them, meaning they can use them for extra speed in other situations.

    • Sush Meerkat said on 19th March 2011, 17:22

      Hey buddy Itchyes, we’re on page two, where all the cool cats hang out!. anyway! swiftly moving on.

      For one thing, it will favour the cars with the best aero, meaning that qualifying will actually be less close

      If your right, the 107% quali rule needs to be binned, because if there’s a flash of brilliance from one driver, like The Hulk at Brazil last year, coupled with the fact the drivers are saying that now Quali is going to be a lot harder with the new tyres, KERS and Flippy Flappy Wing we could see a Quali session with a lot of cars disqualified for the race.

  5. djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 19th March 2011, 17:10

    DRS is a great idea, only there should be no restricions on when it can be used.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 19th March 2011, 19:35

      There should be, if only for safety. Constantly altering the wake of your vehicle will not only probably cause grief to any one behind you but prove more dangerous in a racing situation.

  6. DANK said on 19th March 2011, 17:15

    “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.”

    I don’t think that will be much of a problem. If the driver has been lapped, I don’t think he’d be fast enough to overtake the leader even with the DRS.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th March 2011, 18:26

      Not necessarily – although it certainly would be the case in the situation I described.

      Two scenarios where it could have an effect spring to mind.

      First, where a driver on fresh tyres has come out of the pits just behind the leader on worn tyres.

      Second, where the leader catches a driver who’s not much slower than them, and the blue flags force the driver to let the leader by.

      • DANK said on 19th March 2011, 21:00

        On both cases, if you’ve been blue flagged, you’re not allowed to overtake anyway, no?

        Also, on the first case, if you do try to overtake, then you’d be trying to unlap yourself. Is there a problem with this situation? Especially if the leader has worn tyres?

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th March 2011, 9:31

          if you’ve been blue flagged, you’re not allowed to overtake anyway, no?

          No, there’s nothing that says a driver can’t re-pass the leader after letting him by, even after being blue-flagged.

      • Patrickl said on 20th March 2011, 2:23

        With the Pirelli tyres the car just coming out the pits is probably somewhere between 3 to 5 seconds a lap faster anyway. He won’t need DRS.

        A blue flagged driver will just get blue flagged again.

  7. Bigbadderboom said on 19th March 2011, 17:17

    I like the idea of KERS and DRS leading to variable breaking points for the overtaking drivers. Compound thatwith the new tyres and this will lead to some exciting overuns, I think the battle in retaining the move from the aggressor will be as exciting as the actual overtake itself, especially as the defending driver may have some KERS left to attempt to retake the position…..All good in my opinion.

  8. The “lapped cars” anomaly is a red herring. The lapped car may well be within a second of the leader when they pass the first line, but by the time they pass the overtaking line, they will likely be so far back that there is no chance of being anywhere near by the end of the straight.

    • BasCB said on 19th March 2011, 17:22

      So in effect they just get a bit of a tow.

      • You may find that some of the ‘lesser’ teams will run less downforce anyway, which could give them a handy assist on the straights should they find themselves catching someone who is having a spot of bother with their tyres.

    • DeadManWoking said on 19th March 2011, 17:35

      Yes but the reverse of this is true as well. If Vettel catches Karthikeyan, who has to move over for him anyway, at the timing loop he gets a free boost from his DRS on the straight.

      • Well yes, but possibly not as interesting/exciting to watch.

        Karthikeyan may also decide that it’s more to his advantage to let Vettel passed on the corner before the timing loop, which he would be perfectly entitled to do. He then need only tuck in behind Vettel as they pass the timing marks.

  9. Nas-T said on 19th March 2011, 19:15

    What happen to DRS at Monza? Usually the Monza’s rear wing always different from other circuits. The flap almost like a tea tray. Do team need DRS there?

  10. I’m sure the DRS will bring some excitment along. But there’s one thing I’m wondering; how does a driver know when he’s within a second from then the car infront?

    • He gets a light coming up on his steering wheel.

      The FIA will use GPS to accurately plot where the cars are on the track and any car that is within the required distance at the specific part of the track will get a light come up on his streeing wheel. There will also be lines marked on the track to aid spectators and TV viewers to judge for themselves if a driver is close enough.

  11. gazzamartin said on 19th March 2011, 19:45

    DRS is a great idea, even with the restrictions. Yes, it does give a slight disadvantage to the leading driver, but as soon as he’s been overtaken the advantage is back in his hands. Could make for some very entertaining racing.

  12. sato113 (@sato113) said on 19th March 2011, 20:12

    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.

    i like, i like… good point.

    • But as someone has already pointed out on page 1. If you allow drivers to use it where they like, they may only use it to leapfrog other cars that are pitting. Not it’s intended purpose I think.

  13. DANK said on 19th March 2011, 21:03

    Monza got me thinking..

    Are teams allowed to adjust the closed and open positions of the wing by themselves?

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 19th March 2011, 21:22

      Yes, they are. But only when the FIA allows them to do so. The drivers wouldn’t appreciate their car handling suddenly changing.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th March 2011, 9:28

      Why would you want control in the hands of someone other than the driver?

      • DANK said on 20th March 2011, 9:50

        Not in the race, but for each race, depending on the track

        That is, in Monza, the open position would be more ‘open’ than in Monaco, for example.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th March 2011, 9:57

          In other words, could they set it to move less than the maximum allowed by the regulations? I’m not sure about that.

        • Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 20th March 2011, 13:26

          There is a maximum slot opening of 50mm. The regulations don’t say that the slot needs to open all the way.

          So yes, they could vary the slot opening gap.

          Personally I’ve always wondered if they could open the slot just a little when the car is in a fast corner and open it the full 50mm on the straight.

          • Bernard said on 20th March 2011, 16:47

            The device is an ‘on/off’ switch, there is no possibility of gradual opening. The regulations permit maximum slot gaps for both states. The gap is only one aspect of the overall effectiveness of the device though as the flap itself – even in the open state – will still create drag.

            Not all teams or wing configurations will gain the same reductions in drag, it is a significant area of development.

  14. Hairpin said on 19th March 2011, 22:27

    I’m amazed by people on here not least Keith, but (i’m not sure of your age Keith, so you may not remember)this may jog someone’s memory .
    I can’t be the only person to remember that back some years, could of been in the 90s, Bernie expressed a wish that all overtaking happen in front of the grandstand, so everyone who paid big bucks got the action there in front of them. This notion was dismissed as impractical, as back then powerful computers and systems weren’t available, and because it could make the racing artificial.
    Well, what do we have now. The systems in place for Bernie’s dream to come true, now we will see if it is artificial.
    Be afraid of what Bernie wishes for, be VERY afraid.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 20th March 2011, 1:23

      I’d take it with a pinch of salt, although I understand what you’re getting at.

      F1 is a business to BE. F1 is a sport to us. We appreciate that we might not get all the over-taking we want as much as we might not get the result we want in football.

  15. Mike said on 19th March 2011, 22:36

    rationing how many times a driver may use DRS during the race

    That would be so much better. It would actually add a strategy element to the sport, it should help overtaking, and it’s wouldn’t be seen as so much of a gimmick. A+

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