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. PJA (@pja) said on 30th August 2013, 19:45

    I agree completely with this article, when I see a DRS pass it just doesn’t excite me like overtakes used to a few years ago.

    I remember someone saying an overtake in F1 should be like a goal in football rather than a basket in basketball in terms of how often they should happen. I probably wouldn’t go that far as it if you had a lot of quality overtakes I wouldn’t complain, it is just that DRS passes seem meaningless to me.

    I suppose you could argue that all the rules in F1 are too artificial but DRS just seems completely artificial to me, you have to be within 1 second of any car in front even if it is a lapped car, the location and length of the DRS zones etc.

    DRS also negatively affects the rest of a lap as well as drivers will hold off attempting an overtake elsewhere as they do not want to be behind at the detection zone.

    You could make a case for DRS at some circuits but the fact that every circuit has to have two DRS zones no matter what the circuit it like for overtaking.

    With no refuelling, the designed to degrade Pirelli tyres and KERS I feel that there is no need to have DRS anyway.

  2. Rigi (@rigi) said on 30th August 2013, 19:54

    i’m starting to get fed up with it aswell. gp2 and gp3 prove that overtaking is possible without the adjustable rear-wings.

    i hope they get rid of it, but i doubt it

  3. adamf184 (@adamf184) said on 30th August 2013, 19:55

    Nothing to add to this article and it is absolutely SPOT ON! Could not agree more. Just hope some powers that be see and act on this.

    For me its been quite sudden I was happy giving it a go and quite enjoying my F1 as usual then almost as quickly as a DRS opens I cant stand DRS and have lost a huge interest in the sport I once loved

  4. oliveiraz33 (@oliveiraz33) said on 30th August 2013, 19:55

    Anyone here watches australian V8 supercars races? For me they are the best kind of racing happening in this day and age…
    They have power (almost as much as a F1 car), they are quick, they look good, not some airplanes with production car headlights, and they have very healthy and fair racing… No stupid gymicks like KERS or DRS…
    They have a similar tire degradation as F1 (althought they cna push a lot more), and they have TONES of overtakes and excitement… seeing 3 or 4 a breast for overtaking is very common.

    Not only DRS has made overtakes stupid, but KERS despite being introduced to help overtake, I have seen most of the time KERS being a weapon to avoid being overtaken…

    F1 should follow V8 supercars formula:
    -Lots of power (to make the driver technique and setup to decide corner speed exit)
    -Degrading tires that allow you to push
    -More mechanical grip, less aero grip…

    DTM is F1 of touring cars… it’s starting to suck… Watch a V8 supercars race… They probably aren’t, but they look so much faster than DTM on TV (in straight line, V8 should be a lot faster actualy)… And despite the low downforce, they have a lot of grip in the corners…

    • oliveiraz33 (@oliveiraz33) said on 30th August 2013, 19:58

      And the best part… they don’t look stupid, they are custom frame chassis but that look prety much like the road car…
      They go 300kph, they spit flames, they sound great, they drift at the exit of the corners… and they are allowed to have fun when they win a race, they don’t get fined for doing donuts or burnouts… (wich they do every time they win a race). No wonder that V8’s in australia are even more popular than F1 (and F1 is super popular)

    • Prof Kirk (@prof-kirk) said on 31st August 2013, 0:34

      I Like V8 Supercars,

      However, if Formula 1 were to follow the V8SC formula, removing aero from F1’s, standardising the downforce levels, and giving Ferrari and McLaren pretty much the same chassis with two different coloured body shells? I couldn’t think of better way to ruin what Formula 1 stands for.

      • oliveiraz33 (@oliveiraz33) said on 31st August 2013, 6:09

        You’re going to far mate…

        I didn’t say give up the downforce… I say, reduce downforce, and increment mechanical grip… that way, drivers wont strungle no near as much close following another car.

        Chassis in V8’s are the same only in 2013, but they weren’t in the previous years, and it worked as good as it is working in 2013, close and pure racing…<

        But I don't want to standardise anything… I'm just refering to make it simple… There is no need for DRS or KERS… Just add mechanical grip, less downforce, and make the cars simple…

        What I found completely stupid, is F1 always talking about reducing costs, and every year they introduce new rubish like DRS and KERS that take a bunch of money to develop and are breaking down all the time, needed to be replaced all the time…

        • Prof Kirk (@prof-kirk) said on 31st August 2013, 23:28

          I’m just refering to make it simple

          Has F1 ever been about close and pure racing?
          F1 is more about technological advancements pushing engineering limits to the extremities of the rules than the racing aspect.

          But with that said, the constant tightening of rules is resulting in F1 having less great engineering breakthroughs.

          So now we are left with a category of motorsport that doesn’t provide close wheel to wheel racing, or much technical advancements (LeMans cars have really taken over in that department)

  5. I don’t think that Formula Renault 3.5 DRS is really the solution. I mean, we already have something that is limited and any driver can use, kers. I have to say that I find kers management quite interesting. For instance, Vettel’s overtaking on Hamilton at Spa. It was not the most exciting pass because there was no wheel to wheel action, but knowing that Vettel saved his kers at the start to attack Hamilton on the following straight makes it more interesting.
    Also Alonso on Grosjean was a kers-assisted pass. Alonso used kers out of Malmedy, which isn’t usually the best place to use it. But Alonso saw the chance and he used it.

    As for DRS: I don’t like it. It doesn’t seem fair to me. I love seeing driver defending and it’s a shame that in many cases the drivers can’t do a thing to prevent being passed. But it was the easiest solution to the problem of overtakings in F1. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes it was a disaster, but I don’t see the past few years as catastrophically as some of you here. Formula 1 tried DRS for a few years and it’s clear that it’s almost impossible to get it to work the way the fans want.

    I say: get rid of the DRS, make kers more effective and see what happens.

  6. andae23 (@andae23) said on 30th August 2013, 20:38

    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!

  7. eon (@eon) said on 30th August 2013, 20:38

    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.

  8. Phil Wright (@05mpwright) said on 30th August 2013, 21:06

    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.

    • Dizzy said on 30th August 2013, 22:59

      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.

  9. Guy (@sudd) said on 30th August 2013, 21:11

    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.

  10. Guy (@sudd) said on 30th August 2013, 21:22

    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.

  11. Colm (@colm) said on 30th August 2013, 21:24

    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.

  12. Brian (@bforth) said on 30th August 2013, 22:54

    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.

    • Guy (@sudd) said on 31st August 2013, 0:10

      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.

  13. 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

  14. F1Rollout (@f1rollout) said on 30th August 2013, 23:01

    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.

    • Prof Kirk (@prof-kirk) said on 31st August 2013, 0:39

      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! ;)

  15. beanacre (@beanacre) said on 30th August 2013, 23:02

    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!

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