Even since its introduction in 2011, the Drag Reduction System and its application has been a point of contention among Formula 1 fans. Deemed by many as a feature too artificial to have a place in F1, calls for a review into whether DRS should be scrapped have regularly been made.
It’s now 2017, however, and DRS is arguably now more entrenched in the sport than ever, given the added challenges that the increased effects of turbulent air and lower tyre degradation have made to ‘unaided’ overtaking.
The question is, should we now consider DRS an essential key to creating a racing spectacle or a crutch that F1 should have long tossed aside?
Critical to this debate is the argument of whether DRS is artificial and if so, then to what extent. The problem faced by the system from the beginning is that F1 fans are largely ‘racing purists.’ While this may be a statement subject to change over the coming decades, with younger audiences typically proving harder to entertain, the suggestion of current and past fans is that overtaking is an art form and drivers should not be allowed a free pass courtesy of a letterbox in their rear wing.
I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment. On-track battles are where the sport is at its most exciting. DRS has always posed a threat of making overtaking too easy and removing the skill and spectacle of a driver nailing a manoeuvre that they have cultivated by hard work over several laps.
While it is undeniable that on a handful of occasions, DRS has diminished the value of overtaking, it is far from the type of artificial nonsense introduced into other series. NASCAR’s ‘competition cautions’ would surely steal an accolade for the fake racing that it cultivates.
On the contrary, DRS has been a welcome change to the sport on the whole, particularly with regards to the effect it is having this season. With cars being harder to follow in 2017, it is keeping battles alive. This year’s Chinese Grand Prix – an event that has been a prime culprit for the cheap DRS overtake in the past – was a race that was ignited by the system.
Drivers were able to keep close to their rivals by maintaining DRS service, but could rarely make the move into the tight hairpin at the end of the straight. Instead, they were forced to wait until Turn 4 where we witnessed supreme race craft and skill, particularly from Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel.
DRS made the overtakes possible by keeping the gaps between cars small, but it was driver bravery and commitment that made the difference and that is exactly how the FIA intended the tool to work.
That’s not to say that DRS in F1 is suddenly a perfect system and will remain so into the future. Despite being the first category to introduce the device, it could learn from those that have introduced an amended version into their categories.
For instance, both GP3 and DTM use an F1-style DRS, but have issued limitations regarding the number of times it can be used during a race. In GP3, drivers have six opportunities in the feature race and four in the Sunday sprint race. In DTM, the number of activations permitted is determined by the length of the race. At the Norisring – the shortest circuit on the calendar – drivers were allowed 75 activations on Saturday and 111 in the longer Sunday race.
These limitations add an additional strategic element to the racing, as drivers cannot afford to use up their allocation too early for fear of leaving themselves vulnerable at the end of a close race.
This is certainly an element that should be considered by Ross Brawn and his team of engineers looking to create a more competitive formula. At present, F1’s DRS application wouldn’t need such a limitation on usage to be introduced as drivers are naturally limited in their activations by what are often big gaps between them and their direct rivals on-track.
However, if the chasm separating the front and rear of the field was reduced, a GP3 style DRS system would be an excellent compromise to keep both the purists and casual fans content with the product, in line with Liberty Media’s ‘Grand Plan.’