One of the most interesting stories to come from this week’s Autosport Show in Birmingham was FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting’s stout defence of DRS in F1.
Introduced in 2011 the aim of the Drag Reduction System was to aid a driver in overtaking the car in front, in practice and qualifying the top flap in the rear wing can be opened each time the driver passes through the set zone(s) on the circuit, during the race the driver has to be within a second of the car in front passed the activation point to then use on the following straight.
Before it was introduced drivers often struggled to stay close in the dirty air of the car in front and therefore were unable to get into the slipstream to pass the car in front, however, in the three years DRS has been part of F1 the need for a slipstream has almost become irrelevant as the speed difference has seen the car behind simply breeze past.
Before it was introduced there was much among fans, who thought DRS who described the concept as ‘artificial’ and a ‘gimmick’. Personally I was pleased the device was entering the sport because while strategic races are good occasionally it is better to watch an overtaking fest on the track and that has been lacking for at least the last decade.
For sure there are tracks which are easier to overtake but any device that helps at tracks where overtaking is almost impossible can only be good for the sport.
Of course something that is classed as an ‘aid’ will always make the purists feel that the racing is becoming more artificial but what was added to the spectacle this year was a new strategic element that saw drivers have to work to get inside the 1 second gap needed to activate the DRS in the zone(s).
While that might sound fairly easy with much of the field covered by a couple of seconds in terms of raw pace, the aerodynamic effect is still such that a 1 second gap to the car ahead can disturb the air flow over the car following.
Indeed speaking at the Autosport show, Whiting pointed at that as being a reason why DRS has not made racing artificial.
“I’m a great fan of it,” he said giving the annual Watkins Lecture run by the Motorsport Safety Fund at the annual event“I know some people are opposed to it and really think it is not pure enough. I completely disagree with that view.
“It still requires extreme skill from the driver. It is not as if it’s turn on, overtake, go, done.”
However, Whiting did admit there have been races that have been spoilt by DRS making overtaking too easy, in particular he spoke about the DRS zone along the Kemmel straight at Spa in Belgium which runs just after the famous Eau Rouge corner.
“Sometimes it does appear like that [too easy] but Spa is an example of how if you come through Eau Rouge a bit quicker than the car in front and deploy DRS it’s dead simple,” he explained.
“But it’s only because of the exit speed of the car. If the cars are at an equal speed, a driver will have to be within 0.3s of the car in front which is no mean feat in itself.
“But if they are at the same speed at the beginning of the DRS zone, they will be alongside at the braking point. That’s the whole theory of the DRS.
“You have to pre-suppose that the cars are at the same speed but you have no idea what speed they are going to do that.
“If you understand the reasoning about it and what is required to actually overtake, it still takes a great deal from the driver.”
The DRS can however, be praised for increasing on track action at tracks where overtaking is harder. The best example is at Abu Dhabi where despite two long straights into tight corners overtaking has been very difficult indeed DRS accounts for 80% of overtakes at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Overall I do believe DRS has added to the spectacle and has not taken away the skill factor required. Indeed only 45% of all overtakes during 2011 were influenced by DRS with 55% being termed as ‘normal’ overtakes. The ratio of races where ‘normal’ overtakes outnumbered those that were DRS assisted was11-8.
However, in a time when we see drivers unable to defend against a car going 20kph faster down a straight there will always be those who would be very happy to see DRS disappear.
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