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

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  1. Bumblebee (@redblue) said on 31st August 2013, 11:09

    Completely agree about DRS if we have to have it, both drivers should be able to use for attack and defence. Have to say though that the tyres aren’t completely free of guilt when it comes to damaging pure racing. Back in say the early 90’s teams may have been minded to “go for it” and hope the tyres would last but these days there are so many simulations and so much analysis that they know almost exactly when a tyre will go off so they “drive to a delta” which is a euphemism for saying “they pootle around the track at 3/4 speed and don’t try to decent their position if challenged on track because its more of an advantage to save tyres than keep track position” throughout history the winner of a motor race has been the one who’s strategy gets them to the line first, but this F1 fan would argue that when the rules both with DRS and rapid degrading tyres promote such strategies as letting cars past to save tyres and not defending a drs overtake because everyone knows its a lost cause then something with the rules needs to change. If you want to see a great overtake see 1998 Italian GP my heart was in my mouth in that moment, modern F1 does not move me in that way

  2. A great piece as always Keith and some great comments (albeit I don’t have the time to read them all) from a technical standpoint I’ll try to make some points on the subject.

    DRS was effectively born out of a requirement to increase overtaking and therefore the ‘show’ enticing new viewers to a sport that had lost many through the dominant Schumacher era (Please don’t berate me, I think what Schumacher did in the sport was fantastic) A survey conducted by FOM in the years leading upto 2009’s regulation changes highlighted the need for this.

    DDD (Double Deck Diffusers) ruled out the initial moveable aerodynamic device trialled by the FIA to increase overtaking in 2009. The adjustable Front Wing flap device that had 6 degrees of movement could be used twice a lap allowing the driver behind to be less effected by the wake of the car they were following. DDD’s however increased the wake created at the rear of the car and nulified the flaps use by the car following.

    After dropping the adjustable Front Wing for 2010 McLaren arrived with their RW80 or F Duct (as the media labeled it) causing controversy but inadvertently paving the way for the driver controlled rear wing drag reduction system we have now.

    2011 and on the face of it most people don’t really see this as a pinnacle year (mainly because of the Red Bull / RB7 dominance) but we had the re-introduction of KERS (more neatly packaged than 2009’s attempts), DRS and Pirelli’s first year in the sport. The latter perhaps had more impact than most are willing to accept, the tyre companies brief to increase overtaking in combination with the technological aspects perhaps making passing too easy on occasions.

    DRS – As with everything in F1 it’s about the margins and this is why we see teams designing intricate Rear Wing’s that compromise both downforce and drag according to the circuits requirements. DRS is no exception with the teams using a variant of flap sizes and shapes to leverage the required effect.
    2011 and 2012 saw the teams be able to use unlimited DRS for practice and qualifying maximising the potential to qualify well and perhaps be hampered a little throughout the race. For 2013 however the teams have been limited to using DRS in the activation zones putting some of the emphasis back onto a more levelled race setup. I detest the fact that the zone is no longer adjusted throughout a race weekend by the FIA race stewards as we had in 2011/12 to trim it’s effectivness and instead we end up with drivers making a pass perhaps 50m before the ‘get alongside zone’ that DRS should have in order to entice drivers into wheel to wheel action.

    2014 – We all know that the rules are changing significantly for next year and although most might not like it I’d suggest there will be perhaps 1 or 2 teams that will run away with the title as they simply got it right whilst others didn’t. In terms of DRS the 50mm aperture currently allowed whilst the top flap is active will be increased to 60mm as the height of the Rear Wing will be increased by 20mm overall. Drag will undoubtedly be a significant factor for 2014 as more cooling should be a standard requirement for the teams and cooling apertures = drag. Moreover Pirelli will likely be very conservative with their initial tyre designs knowing the impact the additional torque will have on the construction of the tyre.

    DRS going forward – The idea was right but it’s implementation alongside 2 compound tyre choices and the re-introduction of KERS only really helped drivers who found themselves out of position find their way back through the field. As a prospect to increase overtaking then the driver defending should really still have an opportunity to fight back and the best option for me then must be a time component either per lap to be used anywhere on circuit or so many activations per GP weekend (FP3, Qualifying and the Race. I say FP3 as this is the point at which the car enters Parc Ferme conditions) This would make DRS another element of strategy rather than a simple push to pass device.
    One other thing to consider going forward however is that DRS’s effectiveness may well be equalized as the component that ultimately decides how fast the car can travel at the end of the straight is the gear ratios. Bar a singular change during the season the ratio’s for 2014 (onwards) are chosen at the start of the season and locked in for the whole season. This in itself will lead to a small disparity between the teams next season. With the introduction of ERS next season the choice to defend from a DRS pass with KERS will also be minimized as the electronic controls will deploy the necessary energy already harvested by the car rather than being a push to use system.

  3. matt90 (@matt90) said on 31st August 2013, 13:54

    I prefer the idea of something like a more extreme version of the adjustable front wing flaps used a few years ago. If implemented again, like DRS it could only be activated within 1 second of the car in front, act on the front and rear wing, but obviously it would increase rather than decrease the angle of the wing so as to increase downforce. It wouldn’t be limited to any 1 section of track (or if it was, it would be in any corners leading to a reasonable sized straight). This would allow cars to maintain downforce when following another car and stay closer to them during the corners, which is where the loss of downforce is a problem in the first place. Then out of a corner the flaps can revert to their original position, and the driver may be close enough to try an old-fashioned slipstream-and-outbrake overtake. DRS is partly a problem because it tries to give the following driver back their advantage on the straights rather than the corners where they actually get penalised by dirty air. That is part of the reason it is such an inelegant solution.

  4. Sudha S (@cbeSudha) said on 31st August 2013, 15:19

    2 DRS zones on all the tracks is just overkill. In Spa, you simply dont need 2 DRS zones. Go back to having 2 zones on very difficult overtaking tracks and 1 DRS zone on the others. It will restore some parity

  5. tvm (@) said on 31st August 2013, 18:57


    I don’t know how you can call yourself passionate about F1 and defend those rubbish tires, “Should I defend… NO NO safe the tires” :(

    From your article:
    “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.”

    Have you not being paying any attention to what happens between lap 2 and the last lap in mordern F1?, there is NO true defending and NO true attacking, just driving the delta and NO tension just mindless drive by’s, DRS or not

    Not that I don’t agree with you on DRS, but I will challenge your right to call yourself passionate while having anything but contempt for those Pirelli tires.

  6. Makana (@makana) said on 31st August 2013, 21:45

    Amen to that.

  7. DVC (@dvc) said on 31st August 2013, 22:54

    I haven’t posted much lately. I haven’t watched much F1 lately either despite being a dedicated fan since I saw my first race on TV (Adelaide ’86). But I logged in just to say thank you for this article Keith.

  8. jre_f1 (@jre_f1) said on 1st September 2013, 10:32

    The tyres are rubbish, I’d get rid of that stupid run both tyres rule, all that does is make everybody run the same strategy. I’d also get rid of Vettel and Red Bull as they are killing most of the interest…!

    DRS, well there are examples of it working well; Silverstone for example, and other places where its very hard to pass, Budapest and Abu Dhabi last year. Cicuits like Spa, Shanghai, Montreal, just don’t need it. DRS should just be for the tracks that need it. Shanghai they were passing and getting back on the line beofre the corner! Ridiculous!

  9. maxthecat said on 2nd September 2013, 11:23

    I’ve accepted F1 will never be what it was. F1 was the pinnacle of motor vehicle achievement, now you can buy road cars that are just as fast and the skill required by the drivers to drive fast seems much much less. DRS, 1.6ltr (really) engines, limits to designers and engine supplies innovation and a pathological strive for safety has killed the sport I love.

    • Dave (@dworsley) said on 2nd September 2013, 13:27

      You can not buy road cars just as fast. There are none in existence… nothing is even close to a Formula 1 car as a package: combining acceleration, cornering, and deceleration.

      I would say the skill required is no less than the past, and that you simply require different skills to compete in modern Formula 1, something backed up by guys like Jackie Stewart time and time again.

    • pSynrg (@psynrg) said on 2nd September 2013, 14:08

      As Dave rightly pointed out no road cars come close to F1 cars in almost every respect ( one possible exception, 4wd traction off the line but that’s it for the first few metres, oh and maybe fuel consumption :) ) In fact no other type of racing car can touch an F1 car (over a single lap or 200 miles.)

  10. Michael Brown (@) said on 2nd September 2013, 15:17

    Get rid of DRS and make KERS more powerful. I think KERS is a much better addition than DRS.

  11. I somewhat disagree. While I don’t think DRS is great for the sport, I think the bigger issues are the tyres and the overall competence of the cars.

    I was watching Mark Webber’s qualifying at Indy in 2003 and was engrossed by the body language of the car ( The combination of tyres which wouldn’t quit and not enough downforce meant the drivers would man handle the cars (the power probably helped as well). Now drivers are all about smoothness like a bunch of middle aged men bragging about how kilometres they got from a set of tyres.

    Even now with DRS drivers are still sitting back and waiting for fear of burning their tyres out prematurely if the DRS zone isn’t a slam-dunk. If they had tyres that lasted, they could keep fighting and we’d see more attempts to pass. Better still, remove a massive amount of downforce from the cars so they can follow closely behind each other and we could do away with DRS without fear or making the racing processional.

    My personal preference would be to bring back refuelling but I know that will never come back onto the menu.

  12. Shimks (@shimks) said on 4th September 2013, 15:16

    Great article, Keith. Let’s hope things change. But I guess they only will if we all start turning off.

  13. Jere Jyrala said on 5th December 2013, 21:35

    I hate when people are never completely happy about something in F1, before DRS fans complained many years that ”races have never nearly any overtakes” then FIA reacted and invented DRS from 2011 onwards to making better chances for overtaking, but still fans keep always complaining about something, I agree that DRS should not be used for overtaking at places like Spa’s kemmel straight, these over 1km long straights (for example Shanghai’s back straight) S/F Straight of Interlagos and montreal circuit for example, these kind of circuits, where overtaking have never been any problem, should need only 1 zone or not at all, but vice versa circuits like Barcelona, Hungaroring, Yas Marina, Marina Bay for example would have just boring queuing races without it, so you should be happy that in these ”high downforce/low average speed” kind of circuit’s have it, the 2nd zone in these earlier mentioned ”high speed” circuits could/should only be for FP & Qualifying sessions but not for race.

  14. subsailorfl said on 8th January 2014, 17:09

    Get rid of DRS.

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