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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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. 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.

  2. I miss gravel traps tbh

  3. Prof Kirk (@prof-kirk) said on 31st August 2013, 0:06

    This is not motor racing.

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

  4. ADIS said on 31st August 2013, 0:09

    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??

  5. Guy (@sudd) said on 31st August 2013, 0:18

    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.

  6. MazdaChris (@mazdachris) said on 31st August 2013, 0:44

    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.

  7. BMWF1 (@bmwf1) said on 31st August 2013, 2:02

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

  8. dragoll (@dragoll) said on 31st August 2013, 2:41

    @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…

    • 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.

      • 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

  9. 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!!!

  10. Glenn (@glennb) said on 31st August 2013, 5:15

    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 ;)

    • Guy (@sudd) said on 31st August 2013, 8:26

      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.

  11. oliveiraz33 (@oliveiraz33) said on 31st August 2013, 6:29

    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…
    And some people here in the forum seem to like to link those useless systems to road-cars…

    Today, F1 is as far from a road car as it gets… Who the hell wants to see tiny engines doing 600hp, in ugly cars with electric systems that nobody cares or understands what they do, and strugling to reach 300kph… I can see every teenager screaming that their neighboor toyota Supra has twice the power of the F1 car and able to go to 300 kph way better than “the ultimate car” wich is suposed to be the F1….

    Some might say… yeah, but F1 acelerates faster… Well… A F1 car is suposed to do 0-300kph at around 12-13 seconds…. Funny that for example a Koenigsegg Agera does 0-300 in 14 seconds with road tires, in a runway full of dust and bird poo… and it has a 2 years warranty and doesn’t need 8 engines for 1 year and the tires doesn’t blow up doing 200kph…
    This puts into contest how unapealing F1 is at the moment in my opinion….

    In my opinion (this is just me, don’t atack me if I don’t agree) F1 should be more like this, it would be better for public and teams, with better racing, and less cost.

    -Make way bigger engines, something like a 4 or 5 liter engine with up to 1000hp… (Road cars get faster each year… F1 gets slower, doesn’t make sense). That’s why V8 supercars look much better than DTM on TV, they look much faster (because they are going faster), and the croud like those number to go well over 300kph… Because those engines are so much bigger, 2 or 3 engines should be enought for an entire season. No silly things like KERS or DRS that cost a bunch of money and keep braking down

    -Fuel like in motogp. I give you a X amount of liters, now the best team would build the engine that would produce the most amount of power, but still being able to finish the race… That way, FIA would keep down engine stress, and would stimulate manufacturers to engeneer more fuel efficient engines… KERS didn’t help anything in fuel economy in road cars (and not realy much in F1 either)

    -Decrease aerodinamic dependance, increase mechanical grip, either with a bit more suspension development freedom, and bigger tires… suspension is way more relevant to road cars than aerodinamic downforce, because most grip from road cars come from the suspension, not aerodinamic (excpet so exceptional supercars)
    and by the way, start to make lower profile tires and bigger rims in F1… Road cars in this day and age have much bigger rims and smaller profile tires… that way tire manufacturers could relate some knolodge to road tires.

    I think this way, cars could look way better, racing would be better (less fake), non-f1 fans would actualy understand the cars, technology would be much closer to real cars, and the costs would be much smaller

    Tell me guys what you think? (this is just a example, I guess there are a lot more cool “future F1″ ways…

    • @oliveiraz33 I don’t agree that F1 needs bigger engines: I find it far more interesting to see how much power engineers can get from small engines as is the trend for road car manufacturers. F1 cars also have never been about going quick in straight lines: I’m pretty sure the McLaren F1 is faster than every F1 cars ever built on a straight (and that was built in 1992). However, through the corners there is nothing faster. A Koenigsegg would be annihilated through the corners compared to an F1 car and I’m sure wouldn’t be anywhere near as quick off the line either (since F1 cars have over 1000 bhp/tonne).

      I also don’t agree that KERS should be banned – in it’s 2014 form it’ll defnetly be worth the weight penalty and F1 is a great developing ground for the technology.

      On the fuel thing, F1 is way ahead of you! They’re only allowed to use 100kg during a race next year.

      • oliveiraz33 (@oliveiraz33) said on 31st August 2013, 16:26

        But big power from smaller engines means more engines per year due to bigger stress, so more cost… Plus, bigger engines means more cilinders, wich is just BETTER for you ears.

        Find me the person that thinks that 2014 engines are more exciting than the 2004 V10? In the end F1 is paid by the viewers, without viewers there is no sponsors, no F1…

        Small shoping cars might have small engines, but the “big boys” of hte supercars still have the big V8’s and V12’s, so making F1 cars V6 is the wrong aproach I think… F1 should be relevant to your sportscar not your renault clio hatchback…

        Of course F1 cars are going to be quicker on corners than a koenigsegg… it doesn’t have the tires, the weight, the downforce, and has to carry Air conditioning, leather seats, etc etc…
        With fuel and driver and driver a F1 and a Koenigsegg should have very close power to weight ratio… I reapeat, F1 car does 0-300 in around 12 seconds, the koenigsegg does it in 14 seconds with road tires and still carring a lot of weight, give him warmed up race tires and it could shed 1 or 2 seconds easly since is only rear wheel drive.
        I’m not talking top speed here, I’m talking Aceleration… The maclaren F1 had the top speed, not the acceleration the the Formula1 cars…

        The problem that F1 is facing is the same problem as rallying… rallying is dying becuase nobody wants to look at a Ford Fiesta drive by… people want to see the porsches and ferraris and cool stuff that they cant afford…

        Nobody wants to see a F1 car that is slower (even if is only in straight line) than a tuned toyota supra of your neighboor or the Honda civic that a teenager has on youtube…

  12. Bobby Balboa (@bobby-balboa) said on 31st August 2013, 8:05

    @keithcollantine

    I think this topic warrens a poll.

    DRS

    Total Ban
    Keep as it is
    Increase it’s use
    Limited by applications per race (eg. you have 20 applications per race to be used in the DRS Zone for attack or defence)

  13. Schlawiner (@bebilou) said on 31st August 2013, 8:31

    DRS is a video game gimmick wich make racing artificial. It should be banned.

    FIA should work on aerodynamics instead, and give the cars more mechanical grip.
    Why don’t they reduce the wings’ downforce by 75% ? It can be done easily (in order to have Indy 500-type wings).

  14. loudlol said on 31st August 2013, 8:34

    Keith you deserve COTD for that comment.

  15. It’s a combination of three things this season that have made me fall out of love for the sport.

    DRS – Less overtaking, more ‘come on through, I’m totally powerless to do anything about it’. The driver skill in a wheel to wheel battle had completely disappeared when it was first introduced, somehow they’ve lost even more of that skill this year with extra unnecessary DRS zones.

    Tyres – Pirelli went too far this year, drivers are not racing anymore to get the highest possible position. Spain was the most extreme case of this when Vettel didn’t bother fighting Raikkonen. The rules don’t help either.

    Stewards – In the last two races, I have seen two of the most ridiculous decisions. The Grosjean move on Massa in Hungary was completely brilliant but the stewards decided to give him a penalty for it. You know the stewards have messed up when even Massa thought Grosjean’s penalty was wrong. Worse was Gutierrez’s penalty in Spa. When I saw that come up, I didn’t even know what he did, let alone anything wrong? As far as I’m aware, his penalty was for racing other drivers…

    This has been possibly the worst season I have ever seen and I don’t see it improving in the near future.

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