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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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+

  11. montreal95 said on 19th March 2011, 23:32

    “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”.

    Keith, great article overall, agree with many things in it, but the last paragraph I’m not so sure. I mean if you’ve questioned the deservedness of the passes made with DRS wing, why don’t you go even further and question the deservedness of all the passes that were made in F1, before the F1 cars became aerodynamic monsters, leaving a giant cloud of dirty air in their wake? It’s not a huge step to take IMO. Because undoubtedly, overtaking then was far easier than now when, vast majority of the time, you have to be over 2s/lap quicker than the car in front to even dream of overtaking. And those drivers of old, who had an easy life of it, would just line up behind the car in front, get a tow and whoops they’re past! Piece o’ cake, no?

    IMO there’s no question that the passes made with the help of DRS are legitimate and deserved. You shouldn’t have to be 2s/lap faster than the other guy to overtake. Of course I would like better to remove the dirty air but since that isn’t going to happen at least ’till they impose ground effect rules in 2013, I’m content with DRS. Just my opinion!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th March 2011, 9:25

      why don’t you go even further and question the deservedness of all the passes that were made in F1, before the F1 cars became aerodynamic monsters, leaving a giant cloud of dirty air in their wake?

      Interesting question. Unfortunately I wasn’t around to see the slipstreaming-fests at Monza in the sixties so I can’t say.

      • montreal95 said on 20th March 2011, 12:01

        Me neither, apart from watching every video I could find, including all of the year reviews from 1970 to 1980. Monza is of course prime example, but on all the other tracks too, overtaking was much easier(apart from Monaco obviously). Generally, if you were faster you could overtake, from what I know. Of course the driver in front would defend vigorously but you had a good chance.In 1981, it took the level of Gilles Villeneuve’s genius, as well as tight and twisty tracks like Monaco and Jarama to keep faster cars behind for the whole race. I have watched Jarama 1981 in full, and GV hadn’t made a single mistake in the whole 80 laps. He hadn’t made any dirty tricks, chops and weaving, he just hits all of his braking and accelaration points perfectly, used the power of Ferrari engine to compensate for the “red cadillac”‘s awful handling to stay half a car’s length ahead of the opposition. If he made just a small error that whole train of cars would he kept behind him would be past in a heartbeat, as at the finish gap 1-5 was just 1.24 sec. A perfect race if there ever was one! But now, with overtaking being so difficult it also devalues a high quality defensive driving. For example many people complain about the Trulli train. Why? Shouldn’t Jarno be applauded for getting the car where it doesn’t belong in qualy and then his good defensive skills to keep faster opposition behind? In contrast, No one spoke about GV train in 1981 except with reverence.

      • Pionir (@pionir) said on 23rd March 2011, 13:18

        Just watch the slipstreamer Champcar races of the mid to late 90s with the Handford Wing :)

  12. F1_Dave said on 20th March 2011, 0:16

    still think its a gimmick and still absolutely hate it.

    i don’t care if it works or not, to me thats isnt the issue. the issue to me is that if it does work the racing will suffer.

    i dont want to see passes only happen on straghts because of kers or the drs. i want to see drivers have to work hard to make a pass happen.

    to me passes like raikkonen round the outside of fisichella at suzuka in 2005 was far more intresting/entertaining to watch than raikkonens kers assisted pass on fisichella at spa 2009.

    the kers and drs are more likely to produce more of the latter which to me makes the racing worse and not better.

    its funny how a much slower car holding up much faster one’s over a race is now considered artificial and wrong.

    it used to be that a driver in a slower car able to hold his place over a much faster one was applauded for driving a brilliant race.

    gilles villeneuve’s win at jarama in 1981 is still applauded as a brilliant drive despite the fact his ferrari was a couple seconds slower than the 4 cars he held back for much of the race.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvv-EuuXaCQ

    those 2 races at imola in 2005/2006 equally saw alonso in 05 and schumacher in 06 applauded for driving brilliantly under immense pressure in holding the faster driver back.

    a driver should have to fight hard to make a pass happen, having it made easier with boost buttons and the like just dumbs down the sport and for me takes away some of the excitement of watching a pure battle for position with no idea of what the eventual outcome will be.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 20th March 2011, 1:30

      It depends ultimately how you look at the sport. I don’t think many drivers will tell us over the coming months that over-taking is now easy. It’s going to be difficult in it’s own right, operating DRS and KERS. It adds the pressure on to the driver who already has a mountain of things to consider even after his foot is on the throttle and hands on the wheel.

      It’s all relative and given that the whole field has DRS and KERS (minus HRT and Marussia Virgin, I think?) I really can’t see the dynamic shift that much.

      This kind of approach to the sport I think actually puts more responsibility on the driver to use the aids sensibly and effectively rather than just assuming they are a passenger in gimmick-heavy car.

      • Alex Bkk (@alex-bkk) said on 20th March 2011, 1:48

        It’s all relative and given that the whole field has DRS and KERS (minus HRT and Marussia Virgin, I think?)

        Well they aren’t going to be passing anyone anyway… So what would be the point of them having KERS in the first place.

  13. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 20th March 2011, 1:46

    ” then they can only used it in a pre-determined area on the track.”

    Now my question will that area will be about one straight or all the straights?They also talked about a distance of 600 m what about that?

  14. Nayel said on 20th March 2011, 6:05

    What is the rule for using DRS in defence of being overlapped ?

  15. VXR said on 20th March 2011, 9:40

    I now remember reading somewhere (A Pat Symonds article I think) that the reason they wouldn’t want the drivers to have full control of DRS is because it would be used to leapfrog cars in the pits rather than be used for overtaking out on the track. This was what they wanted to avoid at all costs.

    So any free use of DRS would need to avoid it being used like the drivers used to use the remaining grip on their soon to be changed tyres.

  16. somerandomguy said on 20th March 2011, 11:34

    isnt this kind of like the ‘power boost’ from a1gp? except theyre not allowed to use it when they want

  17. maxthecat said on 20th March 2011, 13:23

    I’ll repeat what i said in the other topic, i think it’s a daft idea. Allow the drivers to use it as they see fit or get rid of it. People seem to have suddenly decided F1 is boring because no-one can overtake, it’s been no different since the 70’s. Anyone remember Senna and Mansell going at it in Spain? Mansell earnt that overtake with skill and courage and that is how F1 has always been and should always stay.

    • Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 20th March 2011, 13:34

      Not true. Overtaking has become massively more difficult in the last 10 to 20 years.

      • Pionir (@pionir) said on 23rd March 2011, 12:30

        Mainly becuase of lots of rubbish new track designs.

        The classic circuits like Spa, Interlagos and Silverstone still usually produce great races and overtaking.

    • Bigbadderboom said on 20th March 2011, 15:03

      It isn’t how F1 has always been and it isn’t how it should be. The last 2 decades have seen aero change dramtically and it’s influence on overtaking. The fact is something needs to be done, and this for me is as good a solution as any. Short of changing the majority of tracks, or changing design regulations so they are unrecognisable.
      The challenge is to make the racing more exciting without changing it’s identity whilst keeping within reasonable cost constraints, and this is the best solution, at least until 2013 when we will see reg changes that may make the difference.

  18. Muzzleflash said on 20th March 2011, 14:09

    Picture the scene; two backmarkers running 2-3 seconds apart. Vettel comes up behind one and ducks under him into a hairpin. Said backmarker then uses his FFW which gives him extra speed, he’s also in Vettel’s tow, extra extra speed. Furthermore, the chap he was chasing is now obliged to let Vettel through, chances are he’ll lose the position, complaints ensue.

    • Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 20th March 2011, 16:25

      First of all it doesn’t just work everywhere. For now it’s decided to only use it on the last 600 meters of the main straight.

      Second of all, there is no way that the DRS is going to close a 2-3 second gap.

      Picture the scene: F-duct last year, DRS now.

      • Mads said on 20th March 2011, 17:15

        It can’t close 2-3 seconds, sure, but it will give the lapped driver a speed advantage. And because it can only be used on a specific part of the track, chances are that only one of the two backmarkers will be able to use it, therefore giving one of the backmarkers what in my opinion will be an undeserved advantage.
        We might also risk seeing drivers who is getting lapped hold the lapped driver off just a few corners, so the lapped driver will be allowed to use the DRS on the straight.

  19. Omar Roncal said on 20th March 2011, 18:43

    The problem with the DRS will be than the last teams (not all but some of them) will have problems in the use of it. Then the rear wing could be pulled out and then some accidents may happen.

  20. Fixy (@fixy) said on 20th March 2011, 20:11

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

    Yes, precisely. DRS isn’t different from an F-Duct in terms of purpose, but the many rules will make overtaking not just more frequent but more artificial.

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