Breaking Down DRS: A Guide To Formula 1's Overtaking Aid


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The Drag Reduction System (DRS) remains a contentious tool in Formula 1, aimed at facilitating overtaking and fostering closer racing between competitors. This driver-controlled device, introduced in 2011 and still in use under the reset rules since the onset of the 2022 season, allows drivers to manipulate a flap in their rear wing, reducing drag and increasing speed when trailing within a second of the car ahead. Despite its intentions, DRS has sparked ongoing debate among both drivers and fans.


DRS was Introduced in 2011

DRS came into play following the 2010 championship showdown between Fernando Alonso and Vitaly Petrov, where Alonso's inability to pass Petrov at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix cost him the driver's title to Sebastian Vettel. The turbulent air generated by modern F1 cars has made it challenging for drivers to follow closely behind others, prompting the introduction of DRS to aid in overtaking opportunities. Without this system, overtaking maneuvers would be exceedingly rare due to the difficulties in maintaining proximity to other cars on the track.


The primary purpose of DRS is to facilitate overtaking by allowing drivers to increase their straight-line speed through the manipulation of rear wing drag. However, critics argue that the system artificially enhances overtaking opportunities by providing drivers with a speed advantage at the push of a button, detracting from the skill required for genuine overtaking maneuvers. While DRS isn't a guaranteed pass, its influence on overtaking remains significant, particularly in scenarios where cars would otherwise be hindered by turbulent air. Despite advancements in car design aimed at reducing the impact of turbulent air, DRS usage persists, fueled by concerns over the diminishing slipstream effect and the continued influence of engine performance disparities. As Formula 1 transitions towards ground effect rules to mitigate the effects of turbulent air and enhance wheel-to-wheel racing, the debate surrounding the necessity of DRS in the sport persists.


What is the Drag Reduction System (DRS) and how does it function?


Opened and Closed DRS

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DRS employs an actuator to manipulate a flap positioned within the rear wing of an F1 car. This flap can be opened by drivers upon pressing a designated button on their steering wheel when entering specific sections of the track known as DRS 'Activation' zones. When activated, the open flap decreases the surface area of the rear wing, consequently reducing aerodynamic drag and facilitating a rapid increase in straight-line speed. During races, drivers are permitted to activate DRS when trailing within one second of a car ahead, even if that car is being lapped. In practice and qualifying sessions, DRS usage is allowed within the predetermined activation zones but not elsewhere. Prior to 2013, drivers had the liberty to use DRS at any point on the track during qualifying runs, resulting in teams optimizing setups solely for qualifying performance, which often hindered wheel-to-wheel racing.


The crucial one-second gap between cars is assessed at specific points preceding DRS zones, known as 'detection' points. Here, electronic timing loops embedded in the track surface measure the distance between two cars. If the following car is determined to be running less than one second behind, a signal is relayed to enable DRS activation in the subsequent zone. Drivers are typically notified of DRS availability through dashboard lights on their steering wheels. Teams may also communicate with their drivers to alert them if a rival car is within the critical gap. Activation of DRS is initiated manually by the attacking driver via a steering wheel button, which can be positioned either on the front or back of the steering wheel based on driver preference.


Rules of DRS Functioning

When the DRS is active and the rear wing is open, drivers can deactivate the DRS and close the flap by lifting off the accelerator or pressing the brake pedal. Additionally, pressing the steering wheel button a second time per activation cycle will close the rear wing flap. Drivers have the option to close the wing before braking into a corner to mitigate concerns about aerodynamic load reattachment to the full rear wing, which could lead to instability during corner entry. DRS cannot be utilized during the first two laps of a race or following standing or rolling restarts subsequent to safety car or red flag periods. Race officials may also opt to disable DRS if conditions are deemed unsafe, such as in the event of rain or track debris.


Defending drivers are only permitted to activate DRS if they too are within one second of the car ahead, often resulting in a phenomenon referred to as a 'DRS train,' which neutralizes the advantage of DRS as multiple cars gain speed simultaneously, maintaining stable gaps between them. Furthermore, defending drivers commonly employ electrical energy redeployment through the hybrid components of modern F1 powertrains, often referred to as an 'overtake' or 'SoC' (state of charge) button, to accelerate more swiftly onto straights. This racing tactic aims to minimize the risk of being overtaken by a pursuing car with DRS active by the end of an activation zone.


Various DRS Zones


DRS Zone

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The quantity of DRS zones fluctuates depending on the track, with additional factors also influencing the determination of this figure. Typically, each primary straight on every circuit incorporates a DRS zone. However, in instances where a track is notorious for limited overtaking opportunities, supplementary zones may be introduced, which might encompass sections with gentle corners. Examples of such sections include the extensive, winding zones leading into the final corners and onto the pit straight in Baku or between Turns 9 and 11 in Miami. During the 2022 Australia Grand Prix, the reconfigured track initially designated four DRS zones. The rationale behind this decision was to utilize two zonesthe stretch along the pit straight and the newly configured curving section replacing the previous chicane in Melbourneto enable drivers to close the gap on their rivals and then attempt overtaking maneuvers using DRS through the remaining two zones into corners conducive to overtaking, characterized by significant braking zones at Turns 3 and 11.


However, the DRS zone between Turns 8 and 9 on the 2022 Albert Park layout was removed due to safety concerns following lobbying efforts from certain teams. Nevertheless, it is anticipated that this zone will be reinstated in 2023. Although DRS can be activated on corners with shallow anglessome of which may not even be officially recognized as turns by the FIAit is generally deemed unsafe to maintain an open rear wing slot through most corners. While reduced drag may enhance top speed, the consequent reduction in downforce significantly compromises vehicle control, potentially leading to serious accidents, particularly since DRS zones typically conclude at the end of extended straights or acceleration sections. In certain specific corners, the FIA permits drivers to attempt them with DRS active.


One notable instance occurred during the 2018 British Grand Prix, where a third zone encompassing the Silverstone pit straight and the high-speed opening corners was implemented. However, incidents involving Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson at the first cornerAbbeyduring practice and the race, respectively, prompted the removal of the zone for the 2019 season, and it has not since been reintroduced at Silverstone in subsequent seasons. The prospect of DRS failure may prompt officials to display the black flag with an orange disc to drivers if their rear wings become stuck open. In such instances, drivers are required to return to the pits to have the flap manually closed by mechanics. If repair is not feasible, the DRS must not be utilized again.


What can drivers do with DRS?

Drivers can activate DRS only within designated activation zones and when trailing within one second of a car in front during races, including encounters with backmarker traffic. In practice and qualifying sessions, DRS usage is not restricted aside from confining activation to designated zones. Juan Pablo Montoya has described DRS as giving Picasso Photoshop. Ferraris Charles Leclerc said after the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix, I was trying to be as clever as possible using the DRS as much as possible, so I was trying to brake early into Turn 1 just to be behind him at the DRS detection, and twice it worked out.


What other series use DRS?

DRS is also utilized in Formula 2 and Formula 3 as part of the F1 support program. Introduced to FIA F3 in 2017, when the series was known as GP3, DRS initially allowed drivers to activate and utilize the system for a maximum of six laps in feature races and four laps in sprint events. Since 2019, F3 DRS usage has aligned with F1 regulations. DRS has been a feature of F2 since its previous iteration as GP2, dating back to 2015, and it has remained part of the series with the introduction of the new F2 2018 car for the 2018 season. Other series have employed DRS similarly to F1 in the past, such as the DTM, before transitioning to GT3 regulations in 2021. Various motorsport series incorporate overtaking aids, ranging from engine performance boosts for a designated duration per race, as seen in IndyCar's push-to-pass and Super Formula's Overtake System, to Formula E's attack mode, which allows drivers to temporarily operate in a more potent energy deployment setting, with the specific time allocation varying from race to race.



The Drag Reduction System (DRS) remains a pivotal component of Formula 1 racing, serving as both a catalyst for overtaking opportunities and a subject of ongoing debate among fans and competitors alike. While its introduction in 2011 aimed to address challenges associated with aerodynamic turbulence and enhance the spectacle of wheel-to-wheel racing, opinions regarding its impact on the sport's integrity persist.