The Drag Reduction System (DRS) in Formula 1 and why its failure at the 2019 season finale is important

During the 2019 Formula 1 season finale there was a period during the race when the Drag Reduction System (DRS) was out of action, providing a glimpse at pre 2011 Formula 1. In the week that followed the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, there have been articles written about the non-DRS segment of the race and how the system is still very much needed in the sport.

However this viewpoint depends on what a viewer actually wants to see, and what situation a competitor finds themselves in. If a viewer wants to see a midfield team score a seemingly unlikely top five finish then having DRS is a bad thing, as it just allows faster cars to breeze past slower ones. However if you are a driver in a top three team and have either had to start at the back of the grid, like Valtteri Bottas did in Abu Dhabi or have a nightmare of an opening lap and want to recover a decent result, then you would welcome DRS as it makes getting past slower cars easier.

DRS Enabled” by Nadir Hashmi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This is a fundamental problem that Formula 1 has as what is good or bad for it depends on what type of racing a viewer or competitor wants to either see or be a part of. Unfortunately there has to be some form of compromise as there is no agreed upon idea of what makes a Grand Prix ‘entertaining’. For a midfield team or driver may find a nervous race defending a top five or podium place entertaining yet others may see that as boring as a faster car behind was ultimately unable to pass and therefore denied the opportunity to potentially fight for a race victory.

As shown by the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and to a certain extent the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, DRS has a clear role to play in the entertainment value of a Grand Prix, allowing to facilitate overtaking and make sure cars of similar performance are close together and not hindered by slower ones, at the disadvantage of making it harder for a midfield team to score a big result. On the flip side of this is of course not having the system and increasing the chance of midfield teams scoring a big result, but at the disadvantage of potentially watching more processional races.

It is interesting that some teams and drivers talked about the change in strategy when the system was not working and how it meant that it switched to a priority of having track position over attempting to pit earlier or later than a direct rival.

Embed from Getty Images

Perhaps this, along with Daniel Ricciardo’s comment of needing the system at Abu Dhabi but not at tracks such as Monza, is something for the sport to consider in the future, where it could use the DRS in a similar way that Attack Mode is used in FIA Formula E, in that the FIA decide a few minutes before the race as to what lap it will be activated on rather than on a standard lap, currently the third lap of a race. This could be expanded to the DRS being active for a set number of laps before then being deactivated for the remainder of the race. The sport could take Ricciardo’s suggestion and decide that the system will be implemented for some Grand Prix, such as Abu Dhabi, but decide that it will not be used in others such as Belgium or Italy.

Many are focusing on the merits or lack thereof when it comes to DRS but its failure during the 2019 season finale showed the bigger debate that Formula 1 could potentially have about it and the sport as a whole. It may feel that having such a debate would be a mute point considering the sport is preparing for a major regulation overhaul in 2021, but there is room for those regulations to be tweaked, such as deciding that a ‘one size fits all’ DRS system should be reworked so that it is tailored to the advantages and disadvantages of each venue.


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