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:

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. Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 30th August 2013, 16:17

    While I principally agree with Keith (and I guess he, like me, understands why DRS is around in the first place, namely because of the perception that the wider audience, i. e. not the fanatics, prefers quantity to quality), Webber on Alonso in Spa 2011 is not the best example to bring up in an argument style article such as this (twice): after all Alonso exited the pits that time, it was not two drivers with no major advantage or disadvantage to either of them.

    But certainly there are many fine examples, such as the Perez v. Button in Sakhir, Sutil on Gutiérrez in Spa this year – if we want to stay at zhe venue of the last race. Obviously, the Webber pass was more memorable.

    I also turned towards other types of racing, which allows fairer competition (no DRS, but refuelling allowed for more varied strategies) and more versatile men in terms of expressing views more freely, not just erring on the positive side. I found NASCAR has the approach, which is right for me.

  2. petebaldwin (@petebaldwin) said on 30th August 2013, 16:37

    For me, overtaking has always been a problem. There have been times where it is impossible (the obvious point would be Alonso vs Petrov) and we’ve often seen cars catch up at over a second a lap and then get stuck 1s behind and become unable to do anything.

    To solve the problem of it sometimes being impossible to pass is to now make it always impossible to defend! To then improve the situation, they change it to 2 DRS zones per track!!? WHY!?

    With cars unable to pass, whilst it was frustrating at times, atleast there was suspense and excitement but with DRS as it is now, the excitement of F1 has dropped off.

    I don’t think simply removing DRS will improve things as you’d go back to the original problem so we need an alternative. The idea to limit the use of DRS to a certain amount of times per race could work if it was a low enough amount or perhaps limiting the DRS zones so they don’t allow an overtake but allow cars make up for running in the dirty air….

    It’s not an easy answer but something has to change because the current DRS regs aren’t working.

    • petebaldwin (@petebaldwin) said on 30th August 2013, 16:41

      As another suggestion – why not have a end point for the DRS zone rather than when the driver touches the breaks. This would allow drivers the boost to make a move but would then cut out before it allowed them to gain enough speed to blast past?

  3. ANDREW (@johnson102) said on 30th August 2013, 16:43

    I liked the idea of DRS, but the idea and its implementation are vastly different things.
    I had envisioned the idea that Coulthard may have had an oportunity to pass Bernoldi in the early 2000s rather than be stuck due to circuit conditions. Maybe Alonso may have had an opportunity in Abu Dhabi in 2010. That’s an opportunity only, not a guarantee.
    Its implementation has been terrible. Too often they’ve introduced the zones to already overtaking conducive straights and reduced overtaking into who gets to the line second.
    Like other posters I’ve reverted to watching MotoGP for my hard racing fix, while watching F1 purely out of my love of the sport. I’d love to say it won’t wane but I can’t promise.

  4. OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 30th August 2013, 16:49

    DRS should be something like the DRS, let’s say, be allowed to be used for 30 seconds in a lap, or for some fixed time (let’s say, 10 minutes) during the whole race, being the driver who decides when. That could be more interesting.
    I mean, what really makes DRS bad is the prohibition to the driver ahead. If all of them could use it equally (as Kers is) it would be a gimmick, but race would remain fair and no artificial

  5. ElBasque (@elbasque) said on 30th August 2013, 16:54

    Tell me about it, i feel more for GP2, GP3 and even the pretty gimmick-laden BTCC over F1 these days. For all the ballast, boost adjustment and tyre choices, you still dont see many overtakes done-an-dusted half way down a straight.

    Even at Spa, the best track on the calendar, i found myself perusing the net with it on in the background, and after 3/4 race distance i went and watched the Ginettas and the touring cars on ITV4.

    Its a sorry affair.

    • Mads (@mads) said on 30th August 2013, 18:32

      Even at Spa, the best track on the calendar, i found myself perusing the net with it on in the background, and after 3/4 race distance i went and watched the Ginettas and the touring cars on ITV4.

      Yeah it’s quite depressing. But it’s because they use DRS as if all circuits are bad to overtake on, which means the worst circuits for wheel to wheel racing, ends up with the only decent races. The tracks which allows for overtaking naturally ends up having every single duel ruined after half a lap.

  6. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 30th August 2013, 16:59

    Completely agree. I’ve been very vocal about F1′s lack of creativity with the technology. Not only DRS is supposed to be a temporal solution which isn’t needed anymore, but they didn’t even try to be creative with it.

    They never tried to run a race without DRS, yet they tried in Canada in 2011 with 2 consecutive DRS zones and only 1 activation point. And then again, 2 DRS zones, 2 activation points. And now, they banned DRS except within the 2 zones we get as standard. They didn’t even try to put the DRS zone at weird places, no the most obvious place in the world.

    I used to wake up every other sunday, grab my cup of coffee and enjoy what I waited for every single week: the race. Not now tho. It annoys me madly that I cannot watch a proper race without constantly thinking: “why have they ruined this so much?”

    A rule never annoyed me like this one. I used to see people writing “this is a farce, I’m not watching F1 anymore” and I’d laugh. How bad something has to be for you to stop doing what you always do? How bad something has to change for your passion to dissapear, your hopes of watching a stunning spectacle nullified?

    But DRS has put those words in my mouth. I have switched off the telly a couple of times. And, no, I didn’t enjoy the snore fests we had in the latter part of last decade. I hated them. But it was part of the game. This isn’t a game, is a rulebook for cheaters. An overtake in the middle of the longest straights in the calendar because you can push a button isn’t an overtake in heart.

    Greatness is irrelevant to numbers. Many people that shaped our sport are remembered because of what they did on and off the track, regardless of the points they amassed or the titles they won. Ask Moss or Gilles.

    And imagine Gilles in a DRS zone… this is not only ruining the sport, it’s also ruining the reputation of the drivers involved. It’s making them look as if they need no skill at all.

    Because no one would remember Mika’s overtake on Schumi at Spa if he had DRS…

  7. GT Racer (@gt-racer) said on 30th August 2013, 17:25

    One of the things i do not like about DRS is that its removed 2 core skill’s, The skill of overtaking & the skill of defending.

    Overtaking has always been a skill & some drivers have always been better at it than others. One of the things which made guys like Hamilton, Montoya, Kobayashi among others stand out is the fact that they could overtake even when everyone said overtaking was impossible.

    Likewise the art of defending does actually take skill, Some drivers were always brilliant at holding onto a place while others were not so good.
    Ayrton Senna was always considered one of the best at been able to place his car to prevent faster cars behind been able to pass him easily. Look at Silverstone 1993, Prost & Schumacher were a few seconds a lap faster than he was yet he was able to hold them off for several laps & that resulted in a thrilling battle for 2nd & then 3rd position.
    Fisichella showed how not to defend your place at Suzuka 2005, The way he was over-defending into the final corner was a great example of how to play into the car behinds hands.

    With the DRS, Overtaking has been made too easy & now everybody can overtake with ease.
    The guys that were great at overtaking now look no better at it than the guys who before were not that good at overtaking.

    Fans were disappointing when Kamui Kobayashi was left out of F1 this season. Well remember what drew attention to him to begin with, Those 2 races he did at the end of 2009 where he not only showed great defensive driving but also pulled off some brilliant overtaking. He then continued this into 2010 & became a fan favorite as a result.
    Juan Pablo Montoya became a fan-favorite for the same reason, He came into F1 in 2001 & showed that overtaking was possible even on circuits where overtaking was ‘impossible’-
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luGzvtpHPGw
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9Ve9BOIIac
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giZu7-A2yS0
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmA_kFuGtY0

    With DRS in the primary overtaking zones, You don’t see these sort of super late braking moves anymore because there’s often no need for them-
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzFDvZhntvQ

  8. rankx (@rankx22) said on 30th August 2013, 17:54

    DRS has my vote every minute of the day –
    just because of the utter sillyness of the the term “real racing”.

    • Prof Kirk (@prof-kirk) said on 31st August 2013, 0:51

      Well you can never really argue with those who “remember the good ‘ol days when you had to fight for your place” because apparently pushing a button is easy.

  9. bull mello (@bullmello) said on 30th August 2013, 18:05

    I concur with your well thought out article @keithcollantine . DRS has been given a chance, but is not the best solution for more overtaking in F1. I like that DRS helps to eliminate some of the undesirable processional racing. But, eliminating some of the root cause of the processional racing would be better. Better aero regs with less turbulence to allow for closer racing would be much more desirable than the current DRS. Finally, one of the least logical things about DRS is that the rule makers are essentially telling the drivers where passes should take place and also where passing is not as favorable because of the DRS regs. That is ridiculous. Racing is all about opportunity, creating opportunities and taking advantage where you can. That is what makes for exciting racing, not merely waiting until the regs tell you it is a better place and time to pass. Some of the best passes ever happen when least expected, not in a zone where everybody knows it will happen. So, please F1, clean up the aero regs and eliminate DRS!

  10. BJ (@beejis60) said on 30th August 2013, 18:10

    @keith, I liked the comment of imagine what could have been if the rules were never implemented, but then I imagine that’s why people went to CanAm racing. Too bad Porsche essentially killed CanAm with the 917 or we may have seen some tremendous innovation come from that series.

  11. PMccarthy_is_a_legend (@pmccarthy_is_a_legend) said on 30th August 2013, 18:52

    I think this article has a key flaw that essentially derails the whole “Out with DRS” argument, an it is right at the beginning when it says :
    “The 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”.

    It is very subtle so not a lot of people realise, but DRS absolutely WAS imposed on the sport. It was imposed by the advent of aerodynamics. Intricate and highly sophisticated aerodynamics ruined close racing. Not long ago F1 was a constant procession of million dollars racing cars. Often races would go without a single overtaking manoeuvre, cars behind unable to overtake as the dirty air from the car in front robbed its grip making getting close enough an impossible task. Added to that bullet proof tyres designed to last two racing distances without losing performance, and there you have it a recipe for boring racing. And boring racing isn’t good for anybody. Not the fans, not the teams (well, maybe with the exception of one team doing the winning), not the sponsors. It is easy to criticise DRS. Taking an stance, “hey look at me I want pure racing!”. But taking it away isn’t the solution either.I have no idea what the solution is, but the one thing sure fire to -and I quote the article writer- “kill my passion for racing” is boring racing. Since the teams cannot unlearn aerodynamics, there has to be a solution to give cars behind a chance to overtake. Do I like DRS? No. Is it perfect? No. But since teams cannot unlearn aerodynamics, what are the alternatives? That is what people should be trying to work out, not trying to simply be purists and criticise it without offering any alternatives. Before a better solution is found, I am glad DRS is here and I hope it is here to stay.

  12. WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 30th August 2013, 19:15

    @keithcollantine I see here a classic example of the “F1 purist”. It is a school of thought that has always rather baffled me, as it proceeds from the assumption that by being “the pinnacle of motorsport” F1 is somehow on a higher moral plane than other championships that utilize abhorrent overtaking aids or championship ballast all in the name of something as trivial as entertainment. However, it has always been my perspective that F1 is not just a fancy technical research operation dressed in commercial extravagance, and that its first and foremost purpose as a spectator sport, is to be spectacular, to be entertaining. Now you can argue whether F1 is entertaining at the present, but as a veteran of the late 1990s and the dark “Schumi years” I don’t see how the disappointment of an easy overtake can compare to the depressing knowledge that although one car was faster that another, an overtake was unlikely. You can also use the argument that Brundle commonly uses too, that the use of DRS closes the field up and the knowledge that overtaking in F1 is possible opens the drivers’ minds up to overtaking throughout the lap. Great races, those rated as some of the very best of the last 100 races found their entertainment value with DRS. Would the 2012 US GP have been as exciting without DRS? What about the 2012 European GP? Or the 2011 Chinese GP? How would Button have carved his way through field in the 2011 Canadian GP had he not had DRS to help him in the second half of the race? I think F1 should reward excellence, and by allowing faster cars through, thus freeing up their strategy and allowing for an intense fight at the front, we get a) a better spectacle and b) a more representative result. Whilst it is debatable, I think that second point is important if F1 is to retain the integrity that many feel DRS demeans. It’s a complex thing to apply, and I would agree that there have been races where the DRS’s application has been flawed, but there is doubt in my mind that it has been a positive addition for F1 and that its long-term role in F1 is secured.

  13. DRS should stay, but restricted to overtake back markers only, and be available at any point on the circuit. Then the front runners have to think about risk and reward before deploying and the back markers do not impact the race result.

  14. Scrapping DRS would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It has it’s uses, namely on certain circuits like Monaco, Yas Marina, the Hungaroring, perhaps even the Nürburgring. If I was dictator of F1 I’d keep DRS for circuits like those (perhaps while slightly reducing its effectiveness) and scrap it everywhere else. A skilled driver should be able to overtake at places like Spa without resorting to DRS. In fact we saw a number of fine non-DRS overtakes in the recent GP.

    One current obstacle to exciting overtakes in corners is the arbitrary and inconsistent application of the modern rules on passing. The prudent thing for the modern F1 driver is to do as little “real” overtaking (with its attendant risk of a drive-through penalty) as possible and instead to wait for the next DRS zone and an effortless overtake on a straight. The Perez move on Grosjean which resulted in a penalty was no worse than other similar incidents in the same race, and a good deal less egregious than Hamilton’s forcing Webber off the track in Hungary. I believe that simple, clear rules consistently applied would lead to more exciting overtakes.

  15. Guy (@sudd) said on 30th August 2013, 19:37

    I completely disagree. F1 desperately needs drs. And you cannot use Indy car or gp2 for comparison. Its apples and oranges. Have you seen both the front and rear wings of Indy car? The aero levels are massively different. If F1 cars had Indy car levels of aero and down force, there would be no need for drs. So please make up your minds. Do you want to simplify f1 cars and slow them down or keep the device that gives the drivers a fighting chance?

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