After 50 races, DRS is killing my passion for F1

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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.
@Fordsrule

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:

http://youtu.be/WYcHVTPLYmQ?t=11s

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

  1. claudioff (@claudioff) said on 30th August 2013, 14:43

    The biggest issue for me are the circuit layouts. Monza, Spa and Interlagos have been providing us with good racing for years. I reckon a new circuit like Austin can also provide the same thing. Bad circuits like Yas Marina, Valencia and Monaco are the real problems.

  2. Dan_the_McLaren_fan (@dan_the_mclaren_fan) said on 30th August 2013, 14:46

    I don’t think DRS is a problem, I consider it a useful device and it could benefit racing. THe problem is how the DRS is used. There are multiple problems I would say :

    The main problem is that it create only one way of overtaking moves. Drivers can pass all the way they like in the DRS zone, where it’s often easy, and don’t take any risks at the other places. Besides, a risky move can get you a harsh and unfair penalty, so why try it somewhere else. Fortunately, some drivers are still trying to attack without the DRS, but we see less and less risky moves like that.

    Another problem is that DRS is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t need fixing, or that is already fixed. In 2010, the problem was that at some tracks it was difficult to pass, and it sometimes created boring races. The FIA has brought not one 1 but 3 solutions! The ban of double diffusers, the fast degrading Pirellis tyres and the DRS. I am not sure F1 needed that third solution, I think the ban of double-diffusers was enough. Moreover, some races were still quite interesting in 2010 without the DRS and with the double diffuser and the Bridgestone tyres. These didn’t need fixing.

    The use of DRS is problematic : it is used in every dry races, at minimum two places, and the drivers can only use it when close to another driver. Moreover, the detection points are sometimes not very well located. Sometimes it helps not only to pass, but to get even further from the driver which has been passed.

    But the DRS is not that bad, it has sometimes helped creating great racing. In these cases, the DRS made an overtaking possible by allowing a driver to get close to another, but it didn’t make the pass automatic, because there was still some skill required to make the actual pass. Often, it was because the DRS zone was quite short.

    Personally, my ideal solution wouldn’t be completely banning the DRS, but to restrict it. It should be used only in races where it’s difficult to pass, and only at places where it’s difficult to get close to a car with the slipstream. Moreover, I really like the solution used in F3.5, where the use of DRS is much more strategic (the indycar has the same system with a restricted amount of push-to-pass buttons), and it doesn’t necessarily help overtaking : for example it could be used to push even harder before a pitstop to get the undercut. I don’t think it’s a good idea to simply ban DRS, because when used right, it can produce more interesting racing, especially when a driver has to use his head when he pushes a button.

  3. Lustigson (@lustigson) said on 30th August 2013, 14:56

    By the way, this sentence says enough: “While some cars were able to blast past their rivals in DRS zones with no difficulty, others gained little advantage.”

    DRS is no gimmick, it is a tool. An artificial one, yes, but all tools are exactly that. If it were a gimmick, we’d see Marussias overtake McLarens and Force Indias overtake Red Bull all the time.

  4. Christopher (@twiinzspeed) said on 30th August 2013, 14:57

    I also agree with DRS needing to go or be limited. I would say give the drivers about 1/3 the total laps use of DRS. To be used anytime. If its a 60 lap race, they get 20 shots of DRS. That way their is strategy, equality, and no more boring freeway passes.

  5. iAltair (@ialtair) said on 30th August 2013, 14:57

    Vettel not using much DRS to overtake as I see it.

  6. josephrobert (@josephrobert) said on 30th August 2013, 14:59

    shame you used the webber eau rouge over take as a example of a non drs pass.

    Why did he pass there and not in the DRS zone? Well he tried that on previous laps and Alonso was too fast on the stright to make it work.
    So then he tried into the first corner, but then Alonso had DRS and good get him back.
    His last option was to be behind in the DRS detection zone, over take before the DRS zone and use the DRS zone to get away.

    Epic over take, because of the DRS zone.

    • Dizzy said on 30th August 2013, 16:50

      Its also often forgotten that the lap after Webber overtook Alonso at Eau Rouge, Alonso very easily re-took the place in the DRS zone rendering that awesome overtake at Eau Rouge a pointless risk.

  7. Maciek (@maciek) said on 30th August 2013, 15:00

    The headline sums up my thoughts in a nutshell (though I was done after 40 races, easy). Where is the excitement – indeed, where is the racing – when a flap stands in for overtaking abilities and negates nearly any and all defensive skills?

  8. Jack (@jackisthestig) said on 30th August 2013, 15:12

    Overtaking itself isn’t all that exciting. If it was, motorways would be lined with spectators. A good close scrap like we saw between Vettel and Webber in Malaysia is what is exciting to watch. You don’t even need to see a pass, think Mansell and Senna at Monaco in ’92, the closing laps at Imola in ’05 and ’06 and whenever Maldonado or Perez are anywhere near another car.

    DRS just ruins good battles by giving the faster car a free pass before they go sailing off into the distance.

    • BS (@bs) said on 30th August 2013, 15:23

      Exactly.

      Excitement comes from the anticipation of something happening. Whether or not an overtake is something you’d want depends entirely on your support for the driver charging, or the driver defending. What makes it exciting for both is the possibility of either outcome without predictability.

  9. John H (@john-h) said on 30th August 2013, 15:22

    Didn’t like the idea in the first place. Didn’t like the introduction and if anything its just got worse and worse through continue misuse. I think I’ve probably written hundreds of comments on F1F relating to my frustration with DRS. Those few that still talk about Trulli trains seem to think DRS solved this – the fact that many other changes occured at the same time seems to be lost on them.

    F1 is now turning into a time trial where mixed strategies can’t prosper (note the comment on page 1 about Button opting for a 2 stop). This means teams are optimising strategy before the race and not during it. The use of DRS also means the backmarkers even if they qualify well have absolutely no chance of getting any points… and don’t even get me started on Hamilton letting a car through for fear of having absolutely no means to defend.

    I 100% agree with everything on this article @keithcollantine . It’s gradually eroding away at my passion that was born in the 90s too, as you can probably gather from this comment!

  10. You make a valid point here Keith. After 50 races, I myself have been more drawn to the likes of GP2 and Indycar, where proper wheel-arch banging, side-by-side action is created through the sheer skill of the driver. Formula 1 has started to gloss over that type of racing with DRS. Whilst I will continue to give it the benefit of the doubt, I think the issue therein lies with the stewarding of races.

    The standard of stewarding is not something I want to go into great detail about, but I think it somewhat contributes to the DRS controversy. Take Romain Grosjean’s move on Felipe Massa in Hungary for instance. For me that was a perfectly executed overtaking manoeuvre that probably would have been accepted in any other series, but the stewards in F1 penalised him for having all four wheels off of the track. A similar incident happened at Spa last weekend, when Gutierrez put two wheels on the outside of the track as he went side-by-side through the exit of Blanchmont with Maldonado. He was penalised for track limits, but as was the case with Grosjean, I think it was due to the nature of the track and the situation that he was in with both Force India’s behind him, that stopped him from reacting within the rule book.

    The rules say the white lines define the race track and no advantage can be gained through cutting corners or going outside of the line. But I think circumstances need to be looked at before judged. Vettel’s move on Button in Germany last year was a prime example of abusing of this rule, but both Grosjean’s and Gutierrez’s moves were not. And its interesting that the stewards clamped down on these two incidents, because both of these overtaking maneuverers were made without using DRS.

    I think the stewards have started to recognise overtaking as ‘DRS moves’ more than the type of side-by-side action that is present in the likes of GP2 and Indycar. With DRS, because of its simplicity of being on a straight and the press of a button, the stewards have been somewhat blinded into thinking all overtaking maneuverers should take place there where it causes less controversy. And in turn, its lead to some really bad calls on penalties.

    Then there is the FIA. DRS is supposed to be an experiment, yet I don’t see it being experimented with. The FIA needed to look at different ways of using DRS ever since the first couple of races in 2011 [Turkey in particular], when they saw it was too easy for drivers to overtake one-another on straights. Whilst the drivers have said it can be challenging to get within a second of the car in front, like you point out in this article, it shouldn’t just be a case of that one second gap disappearing with the flick of a button. Drivers should fight for positions, and I believe with enough experimentation, DRS can contribute to great battles on track.

    That ‘DRS sweet-spot’ can be achieved, but the FIA need to experiment. Adding in an extra DRS zone per-race that is in close proximity to the last isn’t enough. There needs to be some sort of look at limiting the uses, allowing the driver in-front to defend with DRS, and also the use of DRS in corners. Whilst its purpose is to dump aero, it could be interesting to see whether teams compromise on running high downforce in order to compensate for what might be lost in the corners using it.

    DRS will always be artificial, but the racing can still be real. Whilst I think the racing on track today is mostly good, it can be better. But in order to do that, the FIA need to look at the bigger picture. They need to listen to fans and drivers alike and put forward new concepts and ideas, to ensure F1 stays appealing to the true racing fans at heart, and maintains its race craft heritage.

  11. HoHum (@hohum) said on 30th August 2013, 15:32

    I have held and stated this view of DRS right from its inception, to me it seems obvious but I see there are still a number of F1fans. defending DRS, so please count me as opposed. Excellent article @keithcollantine.
    My preferred solution, a big reduction in aerodynamic foil area.

  12. Kneyfield (@kneyfield) said on 30th August 2013, 15:50

    This article was well done, thanks for your writing efforts @keithcollantine.

    The one thing I don’t agree with completely is your comparison to GP2. Half the drivers there go for the impossible overtakes and wonder afterwards, why they touched or crashed. If you put grown-ups into the GP2 cars (like the current F1 cadre), then you’d see much less overtakes.

    One thing I like about the system in GP2, is that there’s a good chance for different tyre/pit strategies to be successful. In Formula 1 that’s actually a very rare thing and has been, as far as I can remember anyway, done successfully only once this season. I’m talking of the Australian GP, where Lotus seemed to be able to set the pace, even with one less pit stop.

    I have been a regular follower of Indy Car for a while now and their so called “push to pass” system, while technically completely different, works on the same basis as you described for Formula Renault 3.5. Drivers can use it a finite number of times during the race, whenever and wherever they want, both offensively and defensively. I miss something like that in Formula 1, but maybe with KERS gaining more power per lap next season, its defensive influence could grow stronger.

  13. Webbo (@webbo82) said on 30th August 2013, 15:51

    I agree with the problem fundamentally, but not necessarily the solution.
    We need DRS (or a far more complicated rules change) to help break the aero-inflicted 1.5s-0.2s force-field that has existed since the mid-90s. No-one was over-taking on-track before – it sucked.
    Don’t forget the drivers do ‘deserve’ it largely by virtue of getting to within a second.
    DRS needs a minor tweak, that’s all. I would propose that instead of the free-use to blast past that it is enabled much like now, but it switches off once a car is able to get a decent ‘tow’ or when it can pull alongside in time for a braking pass. I don’t know exactly where this would fall, but it could be distance or time-dependent.

    • @webbo82 if the systems became more reliable and more accurate, with a quicker update period, why not use the car’s GPS? Using that you’ll be able to tell exactly where each car is and deactivate the DRS when they’re within 5m of each other say.

  14. sato113 (@sato113) said on 30th August 2013, 16:04

    DRS: a bastardised version

    EPIC

  15. AldoG said on 30th August 2013, 16:14

    I don’t want to repeat what so many others have said in four pages of comments.
    Just want to say that I would unable to agree more with Keith on this. In my view, artificial racing is NOT racing. The pinnacle of car racing should ban DRS, KERS, melting tires and ridiculous rules like the one that FORCES each driver to use two different compounds during a race.
    As Keith says, is time to stop this nonsense. DRS is a failure. On Youtube you can clearly see the video showing Alonso chasing Hamilton in Monza, and how they both brake (reducing the speed in almost 100km/h in few dozen meters) as they cross the line indicating the DRS zone: either of them wanted to arrive to the end on the straight ahead, knowing that the other, coming closely behind, would overtake like if driving on the M25. That is a complete joke. And is a joke that instead of bringing new public to F1 is taking them away.

    • Prof Kirk (@prof-kirk) said on 31st August 2013, 1:07

      The pinnacle of car racing should ban DRS, KERS, melting tires and ridiculous rules

      Has Formula 1 ever been the pinnacle of ‘racing’?

      If you want to see the pinnacle of racing, watch one make series, were there are less variables, such as V8SC, NASCAR and go kart races are a blast too.

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