Have you been watching Formula 1 much this year? It’s been great, hasn’t it? We’ve got Ferrari back on form, two teams fighting for race wins and competition up and down the grid. It’s fantastic. And after a few closely fought races, some fans argued that it might be time to scrap the DRS overtaking aid from the cars. But then, Imola came charging in and proved why we still need it.
The Drag Reduction System (DRS) has been a part of Formula 1 since 2011. Alongside the original Kinetic Energy Recovery System, the two were implemented to help improve overtaking and make F1 more exciting for fans.
The DRS on an F1 car is a large flap in the rear wing that can open and reduce the drag of the car. Less drag means cars can go faster in a straight line, so the system is there to try and increase overtakes over the course of a race.
Since its debut in 2011, it has done just that. Cars have been able to pass each other on the straights and the number of overtakes in each race has gone up. But, since the unveiling of the all-new 2022 F1 regulations, some people thought this might mark the end for DRS.
The 2022 cars were designed with close racing in mind. And so far this year, it seems to be working. The season opener in Bahrain had some great battles that were followed up with even closer racing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a week later. And after the checkered flag fell at these two races, onlookers began to whisper that DRS’s days might be numbered.
Then came Australia, which originally planned to have four DRS zones across the track, rather than the usual two or three. And people got so fed up of the easy passes this could induce that, come race day, organizers had scrapped one so there would be just three in the grand prix.
Clearly, the tides were turning against this miraculous overtaking flap. But then, Formula 1 landed in Europe and set about racing around the historic Imola circuit.
Sunday’s race started after heavy rainfall over the track, so every car on the grid began on intermediate tires. According to F1’s rules, DRS can’t be used in the first two laps of the race, and it is also prohibited if “racing conditions are deemed dangerous by the race director.”
This meant that on Sunday we were subjected to 34 racing laps without that magical flap opening on a single car. That was more than half of the full race distance around Imola.
And, because this is a narrow track and this year’s cars are pretty damn wide, this meant that overtakes were fairly slim on the ground, as the similarly-paced cars struggled to pass each other.
Sure, an out of position Ferrari or Red Bull could easily sweep past a back marker, but that wasn’t the case for everyone.
Instead, we were left with a train of cars from basically seventh to about 15th all racing within a second of each other but unable to pass. Sure, drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were able to close up to the car ahead, but overtaking was a different story.
And the frustration was felt by drivers and fans alike. In the aftermath of the race, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo told The Race:
“I was asking them, please activate DRS. I don’t know why they waited so long to activate it because no overtakings were going to happen. Nothing was happening.
“You still need it. I know some people are not that much in favor of DRS these days, but I’m definitely still a DRS kind of person.”
And that was a belief shared by Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda and Williams racer Alex Albon.
Onlookers were surprised to see the race directors wait so long to enable DRS as well, with former driver and Sky F1 pundit Karun Chandhok voicing his concerns on twitter.
So, while we may have started the year with fans and drivers praising the new car designs for creating closer racing that negated the need for DRS. It hasn’t taken very long for those opinions to change into “Please, sir, can we have some more?”