The DRS, the trick that gave Formula 1 a boost

For fans, the DRS has been part of the Grand Prix Sunday landscape for over a decade. The many new Formula 1 enthusiasts have to integrate this acronym into their reading schedule themselves without necessarily mastering the subtleties. Its introduction, a few years after the domination of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, came in fact from the desire to make a discipline in decline more spectacular for the general public: it was necessary to ensure that the collisions on the track were more numerous, even at the expense of certain artifices.

Thus, in 2011, this technical accessory designed to make overtaking easier, the ultimate maneuver that amateurs and the general public want to see. The DRS, drag reduction system, is a mobile device that reduces the air resistance of a car, making it less likely to get into the air. Specifically, the rear wing of the single-seaters, which contributes to their handling when cornering, is equipped with a kind of flap (flap). It is controlled by a hydraulic system and opens when the pilot activates a button, usually on his handlebars. Because the air resistance is then greatly reduced, the speed gain is enormous: potentially more than 10 km/h. The driver attacked by an open DRS opponent becomes an easier target on the straight.

Its use in racing obviously responds to a few refinements

But its use in racing obviously responds to a few refinements; during qualifying, it can be freely activated in the designated areas. It is not allowed during the first three laps of the Grand Prix or when restarting the race after a safety car period. The attacking pilot can only use it if he is less than a second from the one he wants to overtake in the so-called detection zone. This is materialized by a panel and a white line a few hundred meters before the activation zone. The DRS automatically closes as soon as the pilot lifts his foot or brakes. And it is forbidden in the rain.

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If the purists grinned when it arrived, most drivers and teams accepted it and incorporated it into their racing strategy. And even in the design of their machine, as Alfa Romeo team principal Frédéric Vasseur points out: “Twenty or thirty years ago, single-seater performance was less dependent on aerodynamics. Today, the DRS is fully integrated into the controls of an F1 car. In qualifying, three quarters of the lap is run with the DRS open. No other way can win a second over an opponent in a straight line. Without DRS there are quite a few circuits where there is no overtaking. †

Three DRS zones in Australia

This was the case in Monaco in 2021, where the straight is too short for the drivers to take advantage of the advantage on offer. But last season exactly 601 exceedances were registered (excluding start and first lap), an average of 28.6 per Grand Prix. If the International Automobile Federation (FIA) does not have statistics on this particular topic, it is necessary, in order to get an idea of ​​its impact, to compare these figures with those of the 2010 season, the last one without DRS: 441 overtakings were recorded there during the 19 races of the season, an average of 23.20. Still, this hasn’t stopped the Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton hegemony meanwhile, which could tire even the most diehard of fans…

“Without the DRS, the number of overtakings would be reduced,” said Spanish Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr, summarizing his company’s general state of mind. So it’s better to keep it, but we need to make sure the DRS advantage isn’t too great and overtaking doesn’t become too easy. † The FIA ​​claims to analyze the progress of the Grand Prix and the best way to adapt the influence of the DRS to the circuits so as not to disrupt the result. The Australian Grand Prix, which took place on Sunday morning (from 7 a.m.), would be the first to benefit from four DRS zones: for safety reasons, these were reduced to three.