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. At the heart of this matter is the constant problem; F1 is so technologically dependent that it invariably disregards the talent of the driver. Another way of putting it; talent is not important. In it’s bid to position F1 as the most technologically advanced sport, it is and has been in reality, a business disguised as a sport. If i were to attempt to define sport, it is about performance by the athlete. Sure there are some sports that are equipment dependent;yachting, racing, etc. But unlike other equipment-dependent sports, F1 specifically tends to lean so heavily on the technology around the equipment that it ends up becoming thoroughly predictable; confined to a few top teams!

  2. Marco said on 22nd March 2011, 17:02

    There is no doubt that KERS development is massively important to the future of F1 and motorsport in general. With regards to DRS, i believe it is not the most complete solution but it addresses the very real problem of air turbulence. Either we do away with the vast majority of aero wings or try something like this. It will be hopefully be iterative and improve so we should give it chance. Also, there is not much point in complaining about it 5 days before it’s first showing!

    My view for what it is worth is that DRS should be used and the one defensive move across the track rule should be scrapped. If you want to talk about artificial racing then you need look no further than this rule. And please don’t give me the safety argument. Quite frankly it’s boring.

  3. Marco said on 23rd March 2011, 9:05

    Did I get the last word in?? Amazing! (and slightly disappointing)

  4. Pionir (@pionir) said on 23rd March 2011, 12:24

    My onjection to DRS is as Keith mentions, its artificial nature.

    However I really don’t see the need. I believe unrestricted KERS and unrestricted tyre choices would achieve far more than DRS anyway.

    KERS has a limiting factor of weight vs boost. Derestricting it means they could potentially save 2-3 laps worth of energy and use it all in one go over one lap. The guy in front wouldn’t know the guy behind was doing this, so would have no reply.

    The teams can’t build massive KERS installations because the weight would be too much, so actually it would introduce a variable but not an arms race of cost (plus most of the development has already been done).

    Removing the tyre restrictions would also help the racing. Artificially making rubbish tyres is one way, but letting drivers choose between one set of rock hard tyres for the whole race, ot 10 sets of ultra soft qualifiers will again introduce variables without too much cost (they might have to lift the 7 sets for Quali+Race though).

    DRS just seems like an exercise pointlessness to me

  5. th13teen (@th13teen) said on 12th April 2011, 20:37

    I gave it a chance and its OK, but thats it. I appreciate more overtaking for a bit of excitment but there is something there very synthetic that I do not like!

  6. Whiskeymac said on 9th May 2011, 15:45

    Well now, The Turkish Grand Prix showed us just how devastating the use of DRS can be, especially by Alonso, no matter how much he might like to say the tyre grip was his advantage.

    Interesting that I have yet to notice anyone get back a place by using DRS. I assume there is no rule to prohibit this, is there?

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