Kurt Verlin
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F1 Drag Reduction System May Be Changed After Chinese Grand Prix

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Renault RS17 @ Barcelona

In 2011, a new technology called the Drag Reduction System—or DRS—was introduced in Formula One that allowed drivers to open an adjustable flap on the car’s rear wing, thereby reducing drag and increasing top speed.

The use of DRS comes with conditions, which in Formula 1 are fairly simple: when the track is dry and more than three laps have elapsed since the race start (or since any restart), any car within a second’s time of another car ahead can activate DRS when within a designated zone. Because the purpose of DRS is to increase top speed, these zones are always placed on the straights.

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Red Bull RB13 @ Barcelona

The Red Bull car typically features some of the most advanced aerodynamics on the Formula 1 grid

One downside of DRS is that it is susceptible to fairness problems. If the DRS zone is too long, it makes it too easy to pass the car ahead and deprives the spectators—and drivers—of an actual battle. If the zone is too short, as is usually the case in Monaco or Hungary, drivers may never find an opportunity to pass.

One would hope drivers could overtake without the use of DRS in the first place, as this would seem more fair; unfortunately, the “dirty air” generated by high-downforce cars such as Formula 1 cars makes it very difficult for drivers behind to follow and overtake, which is what DRS was originally meant to counter.

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Sebastian Vettel @ 2016 Chinese Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel winning the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix

With the new 2017 F1 regulations, which have increased downforce significantly and thus aggravated the dirty air problem, following and overtaking F1 cars is likely to become even more difficult. Additionally, the benefit of DRS may not be as great as in previous years.

Because of this, the FIA will be closely studying how this year’s aerodynamic changes have affected the role of DRS until at least the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix before potentially changing the zones to better accommodate overtaking.

Nonetheless, there’s not much the FIA can do at tracks like the aforementioned Monaco and Hungary, where the DRS zones are already about as big as they can get. The cars are certainly faster and more exciting to watch over a single lap already, but as far as wheel-to-wheel racing goes, we’ll have to see how the 2017 season develops—and hopefully learn from it to improve the future of the sport.