You often hear commentators in Formula 1 talking about DRS (Drag Reduction System) and DRS zones. But what is it exactly? Since 2011, the regulations in Formula 1 have been adjusted, and the cars now feature a system known as the Drag Reduction System (DRS).
What does DRS stand for?
If you’re wondering what DRS in F1 stands for, it’s the Drag Reduction System. It’s the Formula 1 DRS system. In simple terms, it’s a system designed to increase the maximum speed of a Formula 1 car on long straight sections of the track by opening the rear wing. This system was introduced to enhance overtaking in Formula 1 and, consequently, the excitement in the sport.
How does DRS work in Formula 1?
For years, Formula 1 was criticized for becoming increasingly dull, often characterized as a procession of cars with little real overtaking. This changed in 2011 with the introduction of the F1 DRS System. On every Formula 1 circuit, you’ll find designated DRS zones, where this “turbo” function can be applied to the car. Typically, these zones are located on long straights because using DRS in Formula 1 on other parts of the track could be too risky. The rule is that a driver must be within one second of the car in front to be eligible to use this functionality. The driver has a button on their steering wheel to activate DRS in F1 from a specific point on the track. When activated, the rear wing shifts and tilts downward, reducing the downforce on the car. This makes the car less firmly pressed onto the asphalt, allowing it to achieve higher speeds.
When can you use DRS?
There are several conditions for using DRS in Formula 1:
- You must be within 1.000 seconds of the car in front at the DRS detection point.
- DRS in F1 can only be used in the designated DRS zones.
- DRS is disabled in wet conditions.
- During a (virtual) safety car period, DRS cannot be used.
- In the first 3 laps of the race, DRS is disabled.
- In practice sessions and qualifying, DRS in Formula 1 can be used without restrictions.
How often can you use DRS?
Furthermore, some circuits have 2 DRS zones in Formula 1, while others have 3. This means that overtaking is easier on some tracks than on others. For instance, at a track like Monaco, overtaking is notoriously difficult, and the DRS zone has little to no impact. It is usually located at the start-finish straight, where there’s the most opportunity to overtake. On tracks like Brazil or Abu Dhabi, it’s much easier to overtake and make use of DRS.
DRS Max Verstappen and Strategy
Today, we see drivers increasingly using DRS rules to their advantage. When two drivers are battling for a position and driving very close to each other, sometimes one driver intentionally slows down just before reaching the DRS detection point. This detection point is a line on the track that determines who can activate their DRS. If two drivers are side by side and battling for a position, it’s smart to back off just before such a point, ensuring that the driver in front crosses the line first. Then, you can stay within one second of them and benefit from DRS in Formula 1 on a long straight.
A notable example of this tactic occurred during the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. It was the penultimate race in the Formula 1 season, with Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton competing for the championship. Both drivers had been battling each other throughout the race, leading to a strategic use of DRS. In the 28th lap of the race, Max Verstappen had to yield to Hamilton due to earlier improper overtaking. In turn 26, the Dutchman lifted off the throttle just before the DRS detection point. Lewis Hamilton attempted to cleverly stay behind Verstappen but forgot to brake in time, colliding with the Red Bull car. It was evident that both drivers were reluctant to give up the advantage of DRS in Formula 1 to their opponent.