Giedo van der Garde, Caterham, Spa-Francorchamps, 2013

After 50 races, DRS is killing my passion for F1

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Giedo van der Garde, Caterham, Spa-Francorchamps, 2013The Drag Reduction System was introduced to Formula one 50 races ago. But we shouldn’t necessarily think of it as something that was imposed on the sport.

Like hybrid engines, moveable aerodynamics is something teams experimented with many years earlier before bring outlawed by the sport’s governing body. Just as hybrid engines were introduced to F1 in a rigidly-controlled fashion as KERS, a similarly narrow definition of moveable aerodynamics was legalised in 2011 as DRS.

Imagine, for a moment, that moveable aerodynamics had never been banned. I find it fascinating to consider how moving wings might look after more than four decades of development. Would slender cars slip like darts down the straight before blooming with wings to maximise downforce as they reach a braking zone?

At a push, I could perhaps persuade myself that had F1 car evolution been untouched by the rule makers, a kind of ‘natural DRS’ could have developed. Drivers might have such control over their cars’ wings that they could ‘turn up the downforce’ in corners to counteract the turbulence produced by a car in front. Of course, the leading driver would have had just as much control over their own wings to fight back.

We never got the chance to see what might have been. Instead we have DRS: a bastardised version of the moveable aerodynamics concept in which the chasing driver is given a huge straight-line speed boost which the leading driver is denied. This gimmick has diminished the art of real racing and traded it for the cheap facsimile of push-button passing.

Artificial racing

That DRS would compromise the integrity of F1 racing was obvious from the moment it was announced. The first reader to comment on the first article about DRS on F1 Fanatic realised as much:

Very stupid idea, this will make artificial racing.

I would like to see overtaking in F1 but from driver skill, not one driver lucking out because of a adjustment to their rear wing when their rival can’t.

Three years on, the viewpoint has been completely vindicated. DRS’s contribution to the stated aim of increasing overtaking has largely been achieved by making it too easy.

Tyres making the difference

Another change introduced to Formula One the same year DRS arrived has played a more important role in increasing overtaking and has done so without the patent unfairness and artificiality of DRS.

The most significant contributor to increased overtaking in the last 50 races has been the variation in tyre performance between cars. That has come about because of the more aggressive tyre compounds which Pirelli were asked to supply from 2011.

Again, this much was clear soon after the change had been implemented. Rubens Barrichello, Formula One’s most experienced driver of all time and therefore well-placed to comment, said in 2011: “All the overtaking taking place this year is more to do with the tyres than the actual DRS.”

Tyre degradation, he argued, created the opportunity for overtaking in the first place: “The DRS only comes into play because of the tyres.”

Outside of the DRS zones tyre degradation has created the circumstances for some spectacular passes which have showcased driving of the highest calibre, such as Mark Webber’s celebrated move on Fernando Alonso during the Belgian Grand Prix two years ago:

But when a driver makes a pass on a rival in a DRS zone there is little more skill to behold than a driver pressing a button. Is this really what we are to expect from the supposed pinnacle of motor racing?

The ‘sweet spot’ fallacy

In the early days of DRS there was much talk of the necessity to ‘fine tune’ the system so that passing would never be too easy or too hard. After 50 races this has proved a vain and unrealistic hope. DRS may occasionally allow two drivers to head into a braking zone side-by-side but more often than not one will blast past the other on a straight with all the drama of a sportscar passing a tractor on a dual carriageway.

The ‘DRS sweet spot’ is a fallacy. Given the variation in performance between cars in terms of drag and straight-line speed, differences in how efficiently each team’s DRS operates and how car performance varies during a race, it is and will always be impossible for the rule makers to make DRS work the way they’d hoped.

It was clear during Sunday’s race that hopes of hitting the ‘DRS sweet spot’ are as far from being realised now as they were at the beginning of 2011. While some cars were able to blast past their rivals in DRS zones with no difficulty, others gained little advantage.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2013In the closing stages of the race the variation in tyre strategy gave us two interesting battles to look out for: the two-stopping Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo were respectively catching Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez.

In both cases the outcome was inevitable. There was no tension, no battle and no doubt the driver with the benefit of DRS would get ahead. This is not motor racing.

Today the concept of a battle for position only exists outside of DRS zones. In Canada Lewis Hamilton fought to repel Fernando Alonso until the pair arrived at the DRS detection line – whereupon both tried to slow down to be the second man across it to gain the benefit of an easy DRS pass.

This year has seen a rise in the encroachment of DRS zones on F1 tracks. The number of DRS zones has more than doubled with a correspondingly poor effect on the racing.

Depressingly, the DRS contagion has infected other motor sports as well, such as the DTM. But other series show how F1 could retain the technology and ditch the artificiality.

In Formula Renault 3.5, drivers may use DRS for a set amount of time per race, allowing them to use it to attack or defend. Giving the leading driver equal opportunity to use DRS defensively would obviously make it more acceptable. Surveys on this site have shown most fans preferred that solution both before and after DRS was introduced.

Quantity over quality

As F1 increasingly fails to fulfil my appetite for real racing, DRS-free series like IndyCar and GP2 have become more attractive to me. Though not without flaws, they at least realise that just because one driver has closed to within a second of his rival shouldn’t earn him the right to jab a button and blast past easily.

It was a GP2 driver, free of his F1 peers’ obligation to only make positive comments about the sport, who best articulated how DRS overtaking is a matter of quantity over quality:

Jolyon Palmer, Felipe Nasr, GP2, Spa-Francorchamps, 2013“I stayed to watch some of the F1 on Sunday but left halfway through to beat the traffic back to Calais,” said Jolyon Palmer.

“I don’t think I missed much in the race though, most of the passes were done on the straight using DRS, instead of through exciting GP2 style race craft, and I don’t find that at all entertaining to watch.

“DRS on tracks like Spa isn’t good for racing and it sums it up when Hamilton let Fernando Alonso pass him on purpose at La Source just so he could have DRS up the hill out of Eau Rouge. On some tracks DRS can be helpful but I think with Pirelli tyres you don’t always need DRS to improve the racing.”

I agree with every word of that, but above all this: “I would much rather see fewer overtakes but more wheel-to-wheel scrapping and drivers having to work harder to overtake.”

Great overtaking moves are part of what makes motor racing special. Moments like Dijon ’79 and Mexico ’90 stand out in our memories for their sheer drama. Today these moments can only exist outside of DRS zones. And, as with Webber’s heroic pass on Alonso, we know the next DRS zone can immediately erase a hard-won advantage.

After 50 races, I’m done giving DRS the benefit of the doubt. There has been enough time to field-test and fine-tune it and I have no confidence it’s ever going to produce anything better than a sham parody of motor racing.

I profoundly hope DRS isn’t here to stay. I’m afraid it probably is.


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  • 233 comments on “After 50 races, DRS is killing my passion for F1”

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    1. Imagine, for a moment, that moveable aerodynamics had never been banned. I find it fascinating to consider how moving wings might look after more than four decades of development. Would slender cars slip like darts down the straight before blooming with wings to maximise downforce as they reach a braking zone?

      @keithcollantine I was imagining that while I was reading your paragraph. Well I must say I am amazed with your creative thought. Cars like this would be one heck of a thrill in places like Monza, Spa and Montreal … Wow…. Pure Sci Fi Stuff based on today’s cars. Imagine how creative newey would have become with this!!!

      An BTW i am personally not thrilled with the DRS stuff. it did not make the racing any more interesting for me. Well the Tires did for that matter…..

      1. It’s not really science fiction when you consider the McLaren Merc SLR and Bugatti Veyron already use pretty ostentatious airbrakes.

        1. @optimaximal add the Pagani Huayra to that list: I love the adjustable flaps in the corners!

          F1 I imagine would be far more extreme though: I visualise a kind of mechanical flying dragon lizard which would expand lots of wings in braking zones and through corners. It’d be horribly dangerous though likely!

    2. An article well written Keith.

      I also think that with the best engineers, aerodynamicists, technicans etc in the world competing at the pinnacle of Motorsport, that an innovation not disimillar to DRS would have eventually come to existent but the playing field would’ve been level unlike DRS. I remember writing a long post on TwitLonger (because it was lengthy obviously) on whether innovation as a whole was being killed in F1 and therefore diminishing the intelligence of the creator. I think this article answers that question again.

      Gone are the moments of Villeneuve holding off a train of cars in Spain 81 and Senna making his car as wide as ever to apprehend Mansell in Monaco 92. This is my first year watching GP2 and I’ve found it as a way to prevent myself from turning my back on racing as a whole.

    3. Agree 100%. DRS kills racing.

    4. F1 is a shambles, there have been some silly people who have made some ridiculous decisions. If f1 wants to know what fans want, they should read some comments on hear. There is only so long before drivers and fans alike will leave f1, I make a prediction that before 2020 f1 will not exist.

    5. The problem with DRS is that it’s an easy solution to a problem that teams don’t want to fix – the over-reliance on aerodynamic grip. They know that the more downforce they pile into the cars, the faster they will go. And they don’t want to give that advantage up. So they find a purely cosmetic solution, one that appears to address the issue, but which allows them to keep the dominant design principles in place.

      1. I think your 4 lines are likely a very accurate way of summing up the DRS issue. I can only add that hopefully, and certainly if they went by a survey from this site, they would see that it is not a solution at all…not if it turns more fans off than it invites to F1, post-procession-era.

        I totally get you regarding the teams ‘wants’ yet F1 managed to claw back the use of hot blown diffusers by forcing the teams to limit what they can and can’t do with their exhaust exits, and so I only hope that they continue to limit what the teams can do with respect to aero grip dependancy. eg. they could be limited to no more rake in their wings than that which they do for high speed tracks like Monza. ie. I know you said the more downforce the better for the teams but we know that is not always the case or else they would always run the most wing possible. We know that at times too much wing kills straight-line speed and so they run less wing. I think it is within F1’s ability, in spite of the teams’ addiction to downforce, to limit the teams aero capabilities.

        1. Sometimes, I wonder if Formula 1 isn’t totally backwards. There are tight restrictions on what teams can do with the engine and drivetrain, but designers get a whole lot of freedom when it comes to aerodynamics. Maybe that should be the other way around.

          There was some talk about a year ago that KERS could be adapted to fit the role DRS currently fills. Drivers would be free to use KERS as they liked, but if they chose not to use it for a lap, then the unused charge would be carried over to the next lap, and they would get twice as much KERS. This would be followed by a cooling off period where a driver would not be able to use the double-charge for a lap or two. I thought this was a clever solution that solved the problem of DRS, but removed the arbitrary rules that goverened its use and instead promoted a strategic element to racing.

          I wonder if next year’s ERS-T unit won’t do this next year and make DRS redundant. Where KERS (which will be known as ERS-K next year) gives a driver 60bhp for six seconds a lap, the thermal system will give them 120bhp for thirty-three seconds per lap.

          Having said all that, there is one thing DRS has done for the good of the sport: it has made racing cars look like racing cars. Personally, I think the old shark fins looked ghastly, even moreso than the stepped noses.

    6. @keithcollantine surely there’s an outside change that the formula changes next year (more powerful ERS, fuel-flow limits etc.) will make DRS pointless, because the cars will be relying less on the grunt of the ICE and strategically deploying the ERS where possible to blip past rivals?

    7. I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again but DRS is one of the worst things that has ever been introduced into F1. Possibly the worst bar none. It is a blatant attempt to get the playstation generation interested in the sport by dumbing it down and compromising the racing all in the interests of bumping up the viewing figures with manufactured ‘excitement'(sic).

      If we’ve really decided to go down the route of artificial excitement then I would honestly prefer to go with Bernie’s sprinkler system.

    8. Formula 1 is like testing for the future, so we all must be aware of the fact that in some, perhaps, 50 years, will be watching F1 where the cars would eventually float on the ground! Just saying, anyway, i support these DR Systems but the point is, its not equal to everyone. I understand you need to work your way to get to someone within 1 second and then make the pass, and then the ease think in passing someone, etc. DRS should exist because the technology is going forward and the sport is losing its hard battles and so on, so DRS is okay once again, but when the one behind can use it, the one in the front needs to use it either, this way is just like a child game

    9. Maybe if the could make it so DRS closes when the drivers are side by side, or create 0.2s-1s window, instead of 0-1s to the car ahead.

    10. Retire DRS. Bring back refueling and gravel traps, durable tires with multiple manufacturers.Boring maybe but we like it that way. I used to leave everything for F1 races, now i need good company to watch them. And yup one more thing,send Seb to Marussia or Caterham.

      1. @f1rollout refuelling is a horrible idea in any case if you want on-track action. Gravel traps although nice just wouldn’t be viable from a safety perspective I don’t think (what we really need to happen is more deterrents from going off track: maybe grass immediately bordering the track and much more rigid penalty application). Durable tyres I wouldn’t mind as long as the cars were less sensitive to dirty air so until then I think semi-degradable tyres are a good solution. Absolutely agreed on bringing back more manufacturers – I wouldn’t however want them simply outspending any privateer outfits so cost caps would be necessary.

        And on the last point, I’d love to see all the top drivers trading cars for a couple of races (maybe if we ditched pre-season testing in favour of non-championship Grand Prix as it’d never happen during a championship race) but I just don’t see it happening if I’m honest! Would be nice though.

        1. If you’d bring durable tyres, it will make racing hell boring. There has to be some strategic option and that could be refueling. It will be extremely hard to overtake with durable tyres and no DRS.. I have no problem with a race won purely on strategy and an occasional overtake. I always thought F1 as a combination of good engineering and driving skills in putting in consistent fast laps. I don’t know why people want more overtaking. If they want more overtaking they should watch some other series.

    11. I’ve watched for more than 30 years its the evolution of the sport that now seems to be less natural and more forced by Tv who thinks over taking is the be all and end all of F1 its good to see a well executed pass remember shumy cleaning a part of the track to later use to pass truly a mark of genius driver, you missed the best days and what we have now is what they think you want, vote with your feet if you buy sky then complain with the fact that you pay will inevitably mean some one will listen to you for fear of loosing your cash.

    12. I know how you feel Keith. DRS is doing what several years of tedious races never could and is killing my interest in F1. The line between sport and entertainment is a thin one, and I think F1 has crossed it.

      It may be here to stay, but let’s hope the teams and the FIA come to their senses and make it a fairer tactical device which can be used by both attacking and defending drivers.

    13. Michael Brown (@)
      30th August 2013, 14:02

      From what I gathered from the Speed commentators back in 2011, DRS was meant to allow both cars alongside in the braking zone. That obviously hasn’t happened.

      The ban on in race refueling in 2010 was a step in the right direction; I would never want to go back to the era with refueling. Of course there were boring races in 2010, because some tracks weren’t designed well.

      I also agree on your point about hard won advantages being lost easily by DRS. We barely see any passes outside the DRS zone because it’s much more advantageous to wait until the DRS zone.

      After waiting a few seasons for F1 to fine tune DRS, they simply increase its effectiveness as if they think that more passes makes a better race.

    14. This article says it perfectly, and DRS is one of the things that’s been putting me off F1 recently (although not the only one).

      DRS is an artificial solution to the problem of lack of overtaking that doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem. The thing is that everyone knows what the problem is – over-reliance on aerodynamics – but instead of addressing this they engineered a solution that just bypassed the issue by giving the following car a massive speed boost.

      Watching the race at Silverstone earlier in the year I became bored by the number of easy passes being made. Yes there was a fair amount of overtaking but it just doesn’t have the same effect on you as a viewer when you know how easy it is.

      Likewise we’re now denied the chance of seeing great defensive driving. By thinking that passing = excitement they’ve forgotten that it can be just as ejoyable to watch a driver in a slower car skilfully defend their position. I think back to the last 3 laps of Imola ’05 with Schumacher unable to pass Alonso – a great battle and excellent driving by both, very exciting to watch but not one single overtake. In these instances, it feels like an injustice to the defending driver for their position to be lost so easily with DRS.

      I hope DRS doesn’t stay and that they seriously look at other ways to create overtaking opportunities in a less artificial manner, but sadly I think it’s here to stay.

    15. Why not make DRS activation zones shorter giving just enough time for the car behind to get alongside or into a better position to make an overtaking move going into corners rather than being able to fly past on the straight?

    16. Agreed, but not just DRS, the whole sport in general. Going to a live race is not an option, it’s a waste of far too much time, money and energy to be enjoyable. Watching on TV has become a juggle of HD BBC coverage with a coverage team that I’m not overly keen on, or a Sky Go stream which often crawls to a jpeg slideshow.

      The racing isn’t all that great, the cars are irrelevant and ever-converging, the drivers are little more than mannequins with pull-string voiceboxes, the tracks are becoming increasingly vast and grey, in places with no real right to be holding such an event, and the politics becomes the main story most weekend.

      But all of this is ok, because there are tens and dozens and scores of cheaper, better, more interesting motor racing series out there with a myriad of different and wonderful cars and drivers with personalities. And they’re all racing. Side by side, Nose to tail. All the time. From lights to flag.

    17. I’m not a fan of fake overtaking moves whilst the lead driver has one arm tied behind his back. Its just not racing.

      That said if DRS is to live on then the rules should change. IMO each driver should be allocated a set amount of DRS time per race then they are free to use it both offensively and defensively. Drop the zones and watch the driver strategy unfold…

    18. I think DRS is a necessary evil but, like everything else in F1, teams have found ways to maximise its use. This has resulted in strategy built around it because it is a known quantity every lap.

      Like challenges in tennis, referrals in hockey, time-outs in NFL, I would much rather see a set number of uses given to a driver for a race weekend. That way he (or she) can either use most/all of them in qualifying to go for pole, then defend on Sunday, or use them tactically during the weekend when needed – think getting past a car/overcoming race aero setup in qualifying, or using them to maximise an undercut for in/out laps in a race.

      I think DRS should be more of a thinking driver’s tool, rather than a guarantee of passing when following a car down a straight.

    19. If DRS is truly here to stay for the long term, without a substantial overhaul in how it is implemented, then F1 needs Pirelli to stay as tyre supplier. If Pirelli were to walk away (and you couldn’t blame them for how they’ve been treated) then the next tyre manufacturer may revert to creating hard, durable compounds like the woeful Bridgestones in 2010. Gone would be the divergent strategies that led to such classic battles such as Canada 2012, or even Australia this year. I fear any manufacturer other than Pirelli would have a conservative outlook, resulting in even more DRS passes and undermining the racing further.

    20. Not much to add. I quite like the idea of DRS in Formula Renault 3.5, it could work well on F1 as well.

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