After 50 races, DRS is killing my passion for F1


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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Image ?? Caterham/LAT, Daimler/HochZwei, GP2/LAT

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232 comments on After 50 races, DRS is killing my passion for F1

  1. 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.

  2. Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 30th August 2013, 13:59

    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.

  3. Michael Brown (@) said on 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.

  4. Don Mateo (@don-mateo) said on 30th August 2013, 14:03

    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.

  5. Watch_Kyle said on 30th August 2013, 14:04

    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?

  6. 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.

  7. Coanda (@ming-mong) said on 30th August 2013, 14:06

    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…

  8. Jon Cooper said on 30th August 2013, 14:08

    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.

  9. Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 30th August 2013, 14:18

    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.

  10. Diceman (@diceman) said on 30th August 2013, 14:23

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

  11. Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 30th August 2013, 14:24

    Excellent article . I share your opinion. Defensive driving is dead and gone.

  12. SatchelCharge (@satchelcharge) said on 30th August 2013, 14:32

    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.

    I want this so bad. For years. It’s so simple and obvious.

  13. leroy (@leroy) said on 30th August 2013, 14:34

    I dont think this argument can be made without addressing the entire aspect of overtaking. If you look at F1 until DRS came into the picture, cars couldn’t pass each other because they relied too much on aerodynamics. DRS comes in and helps that issue slightly. As Keith mentioned, the tyres have been the biggest factor in overtaking, yet all we have seen in the headlines this year are complaints about tyres. I think the high degradation tyres need to stay and only then can you consider getting rid of DRS.

  14. Great article, completly agree with Keith.

    The best part of any pass in racing is the battle itself, wether the pass comes off or not is irrelevent Thats all it needs to be exciting.

  15. Lustigson (@lustigson) said on 30th August 2013, 14:41

    You know what almost killed my passion for F1? Multi-billion dollar parades.

    DRS does one thing and it does it well: it eliminates (part of) the negative effects that a front-running car has on the downforce available to an approaching car. If it were nothing more than a gimmick, we’d see car B overtake car A in the first DRS zone, car A overtaking car B again in the second DRS zone, et cetera. Which is something that rarely happens.

    So what DRS does, is save a faster car — this part is essential! — approaching a slower opponent from being held up. The opposite happened all the time in the not too distant past; anyone remember the Trulli trains or Ferrari’s 2010 Abu Dhabi debacle?

    DRS is an artificial measure, of course, but it’s something that the FIA had to create because the teams couldn’t agree on a more thourough solution to the problem of turbulent air. The original proposal for 2014 was to exchange parts of the aerodynamic advantages gained from wings for underbody aero.

    I am very happy with DRS — as well as with Pirelli’s high-degradation tyres as a matter of fact — but I do agree that DRS should (have) be(en) a stop-gap measure until the problem of turbulent air disturbing the airflow over the following car is fixed in a more thorough manner.

    • @lustigson

      but it’s something that the FIA had to create because the teams couldn’t agree on a more thourough solution to the problem of turbulent air.

      Well the solution to that is therefore to prevent the teams from having so much political power and influence over how the sport is run. Every team is obviously going to vote in their own interests, so you will never have a unanimous agreement. It’s a committee essentially, and if you tell a committee to design a horse they’ll come back with a camel as the phrase goes…

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