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. 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 :)

  2. 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.

    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.

  3. 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?

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

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

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

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

  14. 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

  15. 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!

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