One of the main headlines to come out of this year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was a question over why DRS was not enabled until so late in the race. The majority of the Grand Prix had a procession of cars unable to overtake in the damp conditions. Ironically, when DRS was finally enabled, this procession was in a DRS train so unable to benefit. Despite the new regulations, seemingly allowing cars to run closer together, there are still many people calling for more DRS zones. However, former four-time F1 Drivers’ Champion Sebastian Vettel believes that F1 should be aiming to reduce DRS and its role in artificial overtaking moves sooner rather than later.
This past weekend saw 28 years since the tragic loss of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola. Senna built up a legion of fans due to his daring overtaking in all sorts of weather conditions. Of course, this was a very different era of F1 with drivers changing gears with one hand and grasping the steering wheel with the other. Not to mention the fact that the cars on track back in Senna’s day were considerably smaller than the modern behemoths of recent years. As such, the cars of 2022, even with new regulations, are still a challenge to overtake.
Sebastian Vettel, a man who always loved the purest form of the sport, has been widely reported in the media, after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, saying that Formula One should be attempting to find a route to move away from the overreliance on the Drag Reduction System (DRS).
The debate about DRS has been in Formula One since the system was first introduced over ten years ago back in 2011. Formula one had sought for a way to find overtaking opportunities and this artificial procedure was implemented. A system which gives the car behind more straight-line speed as long as they are within a second of the car in front.
One of the strongest critics of DRS has always been Jacques Villeneuve. The 1997 F1 Drivers’ Champion famously stated “Overtaking with the DRS, I'm just falling asleep ... useless, boring, it's not even racing” Such an attitude is also held by many fans too. So, when it was announced that F1 would move to ground effect philosophy cars in 2022 (a year later than originally planned due to COVID-19) motorsport fans hoped that this would allow cars to travel closer together in a reduced level of dirty air. The fans believed that such an outcome could also mean a reduction in DRS as well.
Sebastian Vettel’s recently publicised remarks show that this is also the hope of the Aston Martin F1 driver. Although, having missed the first two races of the season due to testing positive for COVID-19, Vettel knows he needs more on track experiences in the new breed of F1 car:
“I don’t have that much experience yet, but you know, it’s very easy to judge straightaway. I think also testing, I think you can follow closer, there is less drag effect as well. I think you can follow closer, there is less drag effect as well. We do rely on the DRS probably more than in the past, to some extent. The interesting bit would be to take the DRS off and see how the racing really is, if you are able to overtake a lot better than, let's say, in the past.
"Ideally, we'd have a set of regulations that allows us to follow and race without DRS," Vettel said. "DRS hasn't been there for 70 years. It was brought in 10 years ago to help, as an experiment. I think an overtake should always be an effort and not dictated by you being in the zone and you get the DRS.”
DRS was already in the news last month following the cat and mouse approach seen by Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The farcical sight of a driver attempting to be slower than the other – in a race – to benefit from the DRS zone, did not go unnoticed by the former Champion.
"The race in Jeddah, where you had the leaders braking for the DRS line to try and be the
second one to cross that line, that's a different type of racing. I don't think we should go that way, so we will see…Definitely, you can follow closer. Overtaking is still hard, but it should be an effort and it should be a reward when you manage to overtake." Vettel concluded.
The reason for the new regulations was to see closer wheel to wheel racing. Sky F1 recently reported that fans want to see cars closer together as opposed to the leader of the race changing with every lap. In his recent comments, Vettel reminded people that DRS was “brought in as an assistance to help overtaking” but went on to say that now it feels as though DRS being enabled is “the only thing that allows you to overtake at times.”
The 2022 cars do appear to allow drivers to follow each other more closely through corners. Unfortunately, drivers have also remarked that even though they can get closer, the cars have had their slipstream effect reduced. Therefore, an overtake is still not possible and so DRS is still needed.
Nevertheless, modern Formula One has shown itself to be a sport eager to satisfy fans and teams alike so it is surely only a matter of when and not if in any discussion of DRS being reduced or even removed completely from the sport.