One of the big changes in 2011 was the Drag Reduction System, but was it a success or the first step in the decline of F1?

Anyone who can recall the 2009 and 2010 seasons will remember the whole 'dirty air' scenario, where a car following closely behind another would lose downforce and cornering grip, meaning that passing opportunities were limited to the straights, or times when drivers got things really wrong. This led to many races becoming little more than processions after the final round of pit stops, which was hardly good for F1.

In some ways the predecessor to DRS was the F-duct, pioneered by McLaren. By sending air piped from the front of the car out of a vent near the rear spoiler, they were able to accelerate the air passing over the top of the wing, lessening the aerodynamic downforce, meaning less drag and better acceleration and top speed on the straights.

The McLaren system was activated by a drivers braking leg, but as the other teams couldn't build it into the monocoque due to the design rules, they added the conduit much higher, activating it with the back of a drivers hand. As this required the driver to drive one handed for high speed corners, it was banned at the end of the season when they introduced the Drag Reduction System.

The DRS works on the same principal as the F-duct did, namely by lowering drag to increase speed. When activated the rear wing flap is raised to an almost horizontal position, allowing more air to pass through, giving the car an aerodynamic advantage, making passing much easier. The system can only be used in certain zones when a driver is within one second of the car in front and disengages outside this zone or when the driver brakes.

Some circuits feature one zone, such as Melbourne, whereas several had two DRS straights. A couple, like Montreal, had one detection zone, meaning that a driver who passed using DRS in the first zone could use DRS to build a gap in the second. Others like Yas Marina had two detection zones as well as two DRS zones.

Late last year, Mercedes GP Petronas released their overtaking analysis, showing that once you exclude passes made on the first lap or overtaking damaged cars, DRS accounted for 20 of the 45 average overtakes per race - peaking at a staggering 89 percent of overtakes at Yas Marina, with the fewest at Monaco (13 percent) largely due to the DRS zone being on the smaller straight rather than the main tunnel straight as a result of safety concerns.

Several drivers have come out in strong support of the system, including Michael Schumacher: "To me, I think it is very obvious that we have improved big time [the entertainment with DRS]. We have had incredible races this year [2011]. I take one particular example and I think it's pretty fresh still, and that's Korea. If you think about the fight that Mark Webber and Lewis [Hamilton] had together over there; without DRS, it would have been nowhere near as close, we wouldn't have seen anything. It would have just been a normal kind of old traditional kind of race. It may not always work out perfectly - there's a little room to improve the situation - but in general it has contributed a lot to some great racing."

Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello have also voiced their support for DRS, while many other drivers have shown various levels of enthusiasm. Mark Webber stated in his own column on the BBC Sport that: "Inevitably, there have been some races where overtaking has been a bit too easy, such as China, Belgium and Turkey, others where it has still been too hard, such as Valencia, Barcelona and Korea, and others where it has been bang on. That's to be expected."

So, is it a good addition to F1?

When breaking down the impact of DRS, it's hard to ignore the spectacle (or lack of) at Yas Marina with its two zones and two detection points. With the season's positions largely decided and a track that is hard to pass on, the DRS zones made it look even worse with the cars swapping back and forth. It made the zones and overtaking on them farcical. One example is Webber passing Button on the first straight, only for Button to have the DRS on the second to re-take the position from Mark, who did not.

On the other end of the scale are the races like Shanghai, Yeongam and Spa. DRS created an added spectacle in these races that they would otherwise have been missing. Sebastian Vettel would have been held up by Nico Rosberg at Spa, costing him a victory, while in Korea, Button and Rosberg had a magnificent see-saw battle thanks to DRS. Button passed, Rosberg re-took in the zone only for Button to pass once more in a fantastic manoeuvre on the next lap. Shanghai was possibly the most exciting race of the season thanks to the tight controlled racing and spectacular overtakes by the likes of Kamui Kobayashi and Webber on his way from 18th to third.

The main criticism of DRS is that it is 'artificial' and makes racing more of a video game. While there is certainly room for improvement, practically any design rule can be considered artificial. From KERS to the new, intentionally mediocre Pirelli tyres, we're seeing more limits on design than we did previously, but we're also seeing more battles between front runners than we would have otherwise.

With all this in mind, when considering DRS as part of F1, it should be remembered that it's still being developed. [F1 race director] Charlie Whiting has often said that he is experimenting with the set-up, cautiously balancing the racing spectacle, safety and software limitations of the system.

2012 will see the system revised again, with Whiting predicting that the Melbourne GP could see two DRS zones, with only one sensor zone, giving a driver two chances at passing.

As the system evolves and is refined we should see fewer instances of slower cars holding up faster ones after pitting, rewards for the aggressive drivers and a lot more wheel-to-wheel overtaking, which can only add to a spectator's enjoyment of the races.

by Josh Eddy


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