A different way of looking at DRS
The FIA and FOTA should be applauded for actively tackling the difficult issue of overtaking in Formula One. The sport’s officials rightly identified close racing as a priority 18 months ago and introduced measures that have had a profound impact on Grands Prix since. The revolutionary Drag ReductionSystem debuted in 2011 and serves no sporting or technical purpose other than to make racing more entertaining for F1 fans.
Unfortunately, DRS has not been universally successful. Whilst the system contributes positively to some races it also detracts heavily from others. It might be drastic to suggest abandoning DRS when the current racing is so exciting and competitive, but you could argue that it isn’t serving the right purpose in Formula One and that it could be used differently to add value to the sport.
DRS spoiling the racing
Lewis Hamilton drove brilliantly last weekend during the Canadian Grand Prix to claim a well deserved victory. However, the most exciting pivotal moment of the race turned into a massive anti-climax thanks to DRS. Hamilton simply drove past Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso towards the end of the Grand Prix and didn’t need to fight with them at all. His overtaking manoeuvres took no skill whatsoever and Vettel didn’t even bother trying to defend. Lewis simply cruised by his rivals as if they were ghost cars in a computer game. It was a fantastic drive from Lewis, but it was not fantastic racing.
If Hamilton had no DRS available to him in the late stages of the Canadian Grand Prix he would still have taken victory. Lewis comfortably had the pace to overhaul Vettel and Alonso and would have grabbed the lead with time to spare. Importantly, he would have earned first place thanks to a genuine battle for position and not simply because of a hole in his rear wing. Imagine how exciting it would have been if Lewis had fought for the lead instead of inheriting it?
Although it isn’t reasonable to use the Canadian Grand Prix as singular proof that DRS detracts from racing, there is a case for arguing DRS should be changed if not removed altogether.
DRS could be utilised in a different manner to generate exciting races and the FIA could do this without reducing the amount of overtaking.
DRS is not solely responsible for overtaking
A lot of the overtaking we have seen over the last 18 months has resulted from Pirelli’s short-life tyres. Nothing impacts car performance more than tyres given they are ultimately what links the chassis to the road. You could have the fastest car in the world but it would be useless to you on poor rubber. Since tyres have the biggest impact on performance they have the biggest impact on racing and degradation will generate more passing opportunities than anything else.
With exciting tyres, DRS simply isn’t required as a tool for overtaking. In fact, the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix is a great example of a thrilling race made possible due to tyre wear alone. The many great battles throughout this Grand Prix were covered in detail on EnterF1.com two years ago and they prove that Pirelli’s current rubber will generate plenty of overtaking without DRS.
Importantly, DRS does not generate breathtaking or memorable passing manoeuvres.
It is easy to remember some of the most exciting wheel-to-wheel battles in 2011. Mark Webber’s pass on Fernando Alonso into Eau Rouge at Spa Francorchamps is one great example. So is Sebastian Vettel’s move around the outside of Alonso at the Curva Grande at Monza, or Lewis Hamilton’s lunge on Vettel at the end of the Chinese Grand Prix, or Button’s move on Sebastian during the last lap in Montreal.
They were all thrilling racing moments made possible without DRS. Whilst it’s easy to think of those great overtaking manoeuvres, it isn’t easy to recall any great passes made with DRS. There is nothing exciting about a driver simply cruising past another in a straight line.
If the sport does not need DRS to generate overtaking, and if DRS does not generate quality racing, it could be used differently in Formula One without spoiling the show.
More short DRS zones
DRS is simply an aerodynamic adjustment to the car. Therefore it could be used more effectively to address the aerodynamic disadvantage that a driver experiences in the turbulent air of a rival. DRS could be used as a tool to let drivers race closer together rather than overtake.
For example, imagine the recent Canadian Grand Prix without the big DRS zone down the long back straight but with several smaller DRS zones at other points around the track. Each small straight could feature its own DRS zone giving a trailing driver small gains on a rival around the entire circuit. This would help ensure they could stay within reach despite running in dirty air. If this had been in place, we could have had an equally exciting race in Montreal but with actual racing for position.
Such a system would need to be tailored for each circuit but the FIA could remove DRS as an overtaking tool and simply use it to compensate for the loss of downforce in turbulent air. In that scenario DRS would let drivers run close to each other whilst Pirelli’s tyres would let them overtake.
Lots of short DRS zones could be a great way to use the system in Formula One.
Interestingly, DRS is already serving a purpose different to the one originally intended.
At the first ever DRS race in Melbourne last year the FIA said it was using the system on the main straight, as opposed to the longer faster back straight, because they wanted to create an additional overtaking opportunity on the circuit. They didn’t want to enhance the passing area that already existed. That was a sensible idea, but DRS hasn’t been used that way since. The system always features on the most prominent overtaking place on the circuit and is never used to create a new passing location (which would be far more exciting). The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, like most venues, features DRS on a straight where overtaking would happen anyway. Perhaps it would have been better placed leading into the hairpin, or even into Turn 8, where it would have given drivers somewhere else to attack and overtake.
Quite simply, DRS is currently being used to generate passing when it isn’t required.
Maintaining close racing
More DRS zones, and shorter DRS zones, could be introduced to maintain close racing without spoiling the number or the quality of overtaking manoeuvres.
In all honesty, you could probably get rid of DRS altogether but the FIA is never going to do that now with such exciting and competitive Grands Prix taking place. Any artificial influence on the racing is going to have pros and cons but at least the FIA has the power to manage those.
If FOTA and the FIA used DRS to let drivers race close together, without using it as an overtaking aid, we would still get exciting races with plenty of passing but we wouldn’t end up with anti-climatic battles like those we saw in Canada.
DRS might not have been universally successful so far but it can still have a positive influence on the sport.