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. I sincerely hope the FIA does not only read your fantastic article, Keith, but also the five page of comments: not one soul disagreed with your statement. Please FIA, have mercy!

    2. hm maybe other way to make F1 better show is to make DRS otherwise. Alllow drivers to use DRS till they are 1 sec behind someone, then they need to use their skills to fight. To be fair, any driver with 1 sec distance behind or in front will have banned DRS. The F1 show will bring much more overtaking opportunities instead of easy passing by.

    3. Why don’t think bring back refueling? Surely cars on different strategies, and therefore different fuel loads at different points in the race, would aid overtaking?

      With the pit stop also taking longer, drivers dropped further down the field after a stop, therefore increasing the incentive/need to do some overtaking.

      1. Why don’t think bring back refueling?

        Because that would kill on-track racing just like it did the last time we had it.

        When refueling was introduced in 1994 on-track overtaking declined, When it was banned in 2010 the levels of on-track overtaking shot back upto pre-refueling levels.

        The one thing I don’t get with the DRS supporters argument is how they talk about 2010 & claim there was no overtaking because of rock hard tyres etc… & this is why we need DRS (And rubbish Pirellis).
        Well 2010 featured more on-track overtaking than any season since 1989, It featured a very competitive title fight with 5 drivers contending for the championship upto the final 2-3 races & a title fight that wasn’t decided until the last race.

        There was nothing wrong with F1 2010, You can’t look at 2 races from that season (Bahrain & Abu-Dhabi) & use those to write off the entire season.

    4. Here I was thinking f1 fans are a smart bunch. How can you compare open wheel formula racing to touring cars? Cause that’s what touring cars are. Big v8 touring cars that can afford to rub paint and bump each other. On what planet do you envisage f1 racing being anything like that? The f1 community is a smart educated lot. But that same lot of people will always find something to complain about.

    5. I have a question for all of you. When have you seen a driver lose a race because the trailing driver has drs? Exactly! Never! All drs does is allow the faster driver at that particular junction in the race to get around a slower driver that would otherwise hold him up. Hold him up not because he is quicker but because the nature of f1 cars(aero) makes it damn near impossible to get around a slower driver without taking a massive risk. Way more risk any touring car racer ever has to take when attempting a overtake. DRS FAVORS NO ONE! If the leading car truily is quicker, well he can now deploy his drs and pass the guy who just went past. But we rarely see that. Why? because they are in fact slower.

    6. The way its being used atm is ruining f1 but I think if it was used properly it would maybe lead to better racing. For instance the following driver gets a one or two second blast of drs just to put them side by side and only in one section not two.

    7. Valid points by and large, and I do rather think the idea of having a pass/defend option of DRS sounds substantially better than the current system. I’m not entirely certain DRS is always horrible as far as the racing goes. Consider narrow and technical circuits such as Monaco and the Hungaroring: the DRS helps keep the racing slightly closer than it would be without it. DRS or no, overtaking at those circuits takes vast skill, so if anything DRS makes the racing a tad more exciting. Though I suppose the modest impact of DRS at smaller circuits could also validly be used as an argument to remove it from there as well. For wide circuits with long straights, the limited push to pass idea could be brilliant and much more fair for the guy defending. I can’t see much reason to complain about that.

      1. Actually its the other way round. DRS is ineffective at slow tight tracks. DRS does not have that much of an effect at tracks like Monaco because the speeds are so low. The speed differential between DRS and non DRS cars is not significant enough. Moncaco is tough for passing because you can drive defensively and never lose your position. Its a one line track.

    8. thanks keith for voicing what many feel , a diminishing interest in F1 because of DRS

      and it is all so simple , scrap these expensive elaborate front wings , the reason cars can’t overtake

      think of the benefits
      DRS no longer required
      vast savings financially
      smaller gap between top and bottom teams

      all in all …BETTER RACING

      ok , there has been a small move in this direction for 2014 , but nowhere near enough

    9. Naive F1 fans would like to keep DRS. My girlfriend is now more interested in F1 because of all the passing..As someone in the comments pointed out, F1 is more of an entertainment than a sport now which is good for new fans i suppose?. I would prefer a boring race with some strategy mix-up and an occasional overtake over a race with 100 passes any day.

      1. You can re watch 2013 Spa, not too many passes, a bit boring and a few strategies to follow.

        And i shall re watch 2012 Valencia, lots of passing, no idea whats happening, excitement throughout! ;)

    10. I think that the real issue is not the use of DRS or the Pirelli tyres, but the tracks on the calendar.

      The races at the classic tracks, such as spa and monza, are slowly being ruined by overtaking aids that are too powerful, and tyres that disintegrate as soon as they meet a corner in which drivers can actually exploit the aerodynamic advantages of their car.

      Watching the ‘classic f1’ clips on the bbc website on the classic f1 tracks such as imola makes me wish I was alive when the racing was at its best. I think that if we brought back some of the classic tracks, we may finally be treated to some classic races.

      I haven’t followed formula 1 for many years, roughly 10-15, but have recently found myself not missing the live coverage of every race on free-to-air tv, something I found unthinkable when it was first announced. I too am losing my passion for formula 1, as I feel it is no longer the pinnacle of Motorsport with pay drivers, and artificial races. I would much rather spend a Sunday watching the btcc and moto gp with support races. It seems to me like all the tracks on the btcc calendar have much more character than 70% of the formula 1 calendar added together!

      Unfortunately, I think that for f1 to progress forward in the future, it needs to look backwards, and bring back classic tracks, and less dependency on aerodynamic grip and more on mechanical grip. Then we would really be able to see the drivers make the difference in the cars and not just the cars themselves.

      Anyone else for a charity event where the f1 boys go up against the btcc boys at brands hatch in some tin top classics? I would pay the entry fee at a modern f1 race just to watch that!

    11. Kudos to you Keith for such a well written article on this. Have always thought the equivalent would be having the car in front having its engine throttled back as someone behind got within the ‘drs’ distance. What’s the difference, and how sporting would that be? Ah, ‘entertainment’ is more important. The most cogent statement is that of driver’s SLOWING to take most advantage of the upcoming gimmick zone. You could not publish what I think of BE but if ‘adding to the show’ with a DRS fits the bill I cannot see any argument against his sprinkler idea.

    12. I miss gravel traps tbh

    13. This is not motor racing.

      Unless you’ve accidentally been watching Golf Tournaments, I’m afraid it is.

    14. DRS DRS DRS …

      I think I have an idea that is worth considering a though.

      Lets keep DRS and at the same time the “old-school” slipstreaming overtakes and the amazing defensive action from the past, BUT HOW?

      Well, allow the car behind use DRS only if hi is 0.5 to 2 seconds behind, doing so will prevent the easy overtakes and allow slipstreaming much more and plus it will benefit to keep the cars closer to eachother.
      If someone is then, lets say 0.495 seconds behind, he is not allowed to use DRS because he is so close that slipstreaming can be used.

      Good idea??

    15. F1 fans are too nostalgic. A very selective form of nostalgia. You can argue the racing was better in the past. BUT WAS IT REALLY?? Are races of attrition better? The cars of the past were so simple compared to today’s aero monsters. They don’t seem to have much room for context either. Just about every serious open wheel form of racing has some kind of passing assistance. Indy has push to pass, kind of like KERS but you can only use it so many times. DTM now has DRS also. GP2 which everyone raves about does not have DRS. So what happens? You have tracks full of broken carbon because drivers get desperate. Part of it is inexperience and part of it is they have no choice. They could either roll the dice or sit in traffic.

      1. F1 fans are too nostalgic.

        Spot on. We are in the golden age of F1 just nobody know it yet ;)

    16. Couple of vague points. Food for thought perhaps.

      Firstly, while I absolutely cannot stand DRS and think it is comprehensively ruining what should otherwise be an absolute golden age for the sport, it’s worth noting that according to the weekly polls on this site, the average rating for races seems to be on an upward trend not downward. While people may complain about DRS, there is certainly a factor there which is making the races better. My opinion is that this is down to the tyres and the uncertainty they create in the races. Though curiously there seems to be as much vitriol thrown their way as well.

      Secondly, the thing that people say over and over, so many times I think it has just been accepted as fact without any deeper consideration, is that it is a strong bias towards aerodynamic downforce from large wings which causes the kind of difficulty we’ve seen in overtaking in the years preceding the introduction of DRS. While to some extent I do think the aerodynamics play a part, I think it’s important to consider that whent he track is wet, the cars still have a large aero dependency, but you then see lots of overtaking. The general mantra seems to be that a reduction in aero dependency combined with an increase in mechanical grip from the tyres would solve the problem. But the best real-world example of improved ‘natural’ overtaking is a wet circuit – exactly the opposite of what many suggest would be the solution. And, coincidentally, a similar situation caused by the high tyre degredation of the rather unpopular Pirelli tyres.

      My conclusion then is not that high downforce from large wings spoils the ability of drivers to overtake one another, but actually that this particular problem more or less went away with ’09-onward rules, and actually what does cause problems for overtaking is simply the very high levels of grip generally in F1. High grip levels meaning that cornering speeds are high, and braking zones are short. Because the grip levels are very similar, and the level so high, it means the driver in front must make a huge mistake to create the window of opportunity for the driver behind to successfully attack. There’s no such thing, really, as a proper late braker these days, because realistically the braking zones are so short that even a really good driver can only make, at best, a couple of metres difference in the braking zones.

      My feeling, really, is that this is just a findamental problem with the level being so high in F1, and that the best possible solution would simply for there to be a lot less grip. And very possibly by banning advanced composite braking systems which don’t suffer any brake degredation. Then just use raw brute horsepower to keep the laptimes roughly level with what they are now. So much slower in the corners, longer in the braking zones, but much faster down the straights.

      As I say, food for thought.

    17. I’ve never seen a “boring” F1 race. Probably because I’m actually a fan of the sport.

      1. @bmwf1 I don’t know who you’re quoting there – I certainly never said anything about F1 being “boring”.

    18. @keithcollantine Nice opinion piece, I always felt as though you should do more of them as you’ve become an authoritative and respected voice in the F1 community.

      I however, disagree with your viewpoint. How is DRS any different than the rule makers forcing the use of chicanes to slow down cars, or the use of the governing body to introduce a tyre company that will produce tyres that are effectively not fit for purpose. There are countless ways that the FIA have stepped into F1 to try and “contrive” scenarios that aren’t predictable. From my point of view, although DRS isn’t by itself a total solution to breaking up predictability in F1, however, it is a small part of it.

      I’m in the minority in this forum, as I believe most people in here want exciting nail biting races and for the drivers and constructors championships to go down to the wire, where I am the opposite, I’m content with seeing the best driver/team package win on the day and at the end of the season I think that combination should be duly rewarded.

      Has DRS changed the outcomes of WDC or WCC? No, it hasn’t, it has given advantage to drivers who are trailing behind another car… And lets face it, in most cases the car behind is faster than the car in front…

      1. DRS is different because it introduces an unfairness in overtaking. Its that simple. The driver in front is left helpless with no defense. It mean a lot less skill is required to over take.

        Remember Mansell at Monaco behind Senna? Did you want that scrap, or a DRS breeze by? Most of the best scraps in F1 history would never have happened.

        1. Not just that but most of the best moments in F1 arn’t actual passes anyway, but the scraps themselves. DRS gave F1 something that F1 didnt need, which was eliminating the fight

    19. Oh thank god, after all this time some one is saying it. I hated it to begin with, and never got used to it. Whitmarsh put it best. Its is not over taking that is exciting, its the anticipation of over taking that is exciting. That is what we have lost. And yes, DRS has killed my passion for F1 too. To the point Im considering cancelling my Sky subscription.

      It boils down to this: One driver is left helpless while the drive behind can just sail by. NOT like push to pass in IRL (a driver has x many uses, and can use them at will), where the driver in-font can defend, if he chooses. Its even. DRS is not ever even. If drivers could use DRS at will, to attack or defend, then at least it would be even.

      Tangent. I’m a Vettel skeptic. While I can see he is fast, I don’t see him as a racer. Im in the “he cant over take” camp. DRS masks this. If we lose DRS we can see either way. Vettel can prove himself. I can be wrong!!!

    20. I havent read all 175 comments to date yet but my stance is this. The cars are going to be very disimilar in 2014. Lots of changes to engines, trans, chassis, aero, weight etc. Leave DRS out for a season and see how it goes. As stated by Keith, DRS was introduced in conjunction with a radical change to the tyres. The tyres alone wouldhave probably been enough to make a huge difference to overtaking performance under the right conditions. ie, new tyres vs old tyres at certain points in the race. Introducing DRS with the tyre changes was like taking a whole bottle of pills instead of 1 at a time. I say lose DRS for 2014 and reassess the situation later. To be fair, they tried something new but it just didnt work out. Ferrari know all about that this year ;)

      1. I respectfully disagree. Fast degrading tires or old vs new has not and will not generate the authentic wheel to wheel racing you crave. The impact the tires have is how hard you can push in a stint. Some teams figured out ways to slow their cars raw pace down so they can sustain a full stint. Some like Mercedes struggled. The only time tires come into play in regards to overtaking is towards the end of the race. Where you have one stoppers trying to go the distance but ultimately lose out to cars with fresher tires. Fine example of this was Button in spa. Had he not pitted in the end, he would have lost more positions. Another thing I don’t like is the oversimplification of drs. Its actually very hard to maximize its full potential because you have to get gearing to match or you bounce off the rev limiter. Monza without drs would be a snooze fest. I don’t understand the hostility towards drs. To me it sounds like people are demanding an unrealistic purity in racing that does not exist anywhere.

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